Writing Tips: Ryan Howatt

By Ryan Howatt

Alright everybody, get out your narrative arc graphs from high school and follow along. Just kidding, I’m sure most people have already seen that before, but I think fewer of you have ever considered ditching it altogether. There are a lot more options in storytelling than you think if you truly understand that all stories are: ‘somebody is doing something, they are interrupted, the course of their journey shifts toward a goal’. In a nutshell, that’s it, and it’s not restricting, it’s liberating. Once you have this framework down, everything else is pretty much just salesmanship. The easiest way to build an engaged audience is to be honest in representing yourself. Try to make some sort of a point, but leave it vague enough for audiences to draw their own conclusions.

Now, I may be just three raccoons in a trench coat, but I believe good writing, as with any other art, is all about contrast. Frame interactions like scenes as if you were making a movie, and inside those scenes, you should subvert the audience’s expectation by subverting your character’s expectations. Don’t just do stuff; have the reason behind the conflict be something that challenges your character’s resolve or worldview. The easiest way to do this is to truly understand who your character is. How were they raised? What do they believe in? Are they well-educated? Stuff like that. Once you truly understand who you’re working with, you can identify what gets on their nerves and put it in front of them. This is the foundation of character development. Don’t tell your audience that Frank likes tennis and is very competitive when you can show him sweating and cursing in a tournament against the guy who stole his high school girlfriend. See? I didn’t say a damn thing about Frank other than explain what he’s doing, but made it interesting by making it a conflict and adding a lot more depth to his character and therefore the story.

Write what you already know; you don’t have to reach far to impress people. If you insert your own perception into situations that come up in your narrative, it’ll be a lot more believable and honestly make scripting dialog way easier. They’ll feel like real conversations because they’ll be very similar to conversations you’ve had, which brings me to my next point: Pay attention to the way people talk. Remember what I said about understanding your character, especially their educational background. The way a character chooses to represent themselves speaks volumes more than exposition. A lot of what I’ve been discussing so far is clearly demonstrated in the conflict between goblins in Badger 3. The different leadership styles between the two goblin chiefs, the diction of the party compared to the goblins, and even inside the goblin ranks themselves—a lot of variety in personality and opinions—all expressed by how they choose to communicate.

The best way to express characterization is to look at the situation from their perspective. Don’t railroad the situation to make your point, but let it play out naturally, and your point will hopefully read as an open-ended critique on society instead of some hammy sermon. Trust your audience to draw their own conclusions, and they will appreciate it.

Write confidently! Stephen King has a couple of good bits in his book ‘On Writing’ about this. Get comfortable and pretend you’re crafting the whole thing with a person in mind; King calls this ‘The Ideal Reader’. This exercise will help keep your work grounded and focused. If you don’t know where you’re going, you probably need to step back and imagine who is going to be reading it. An even greater piece of advice from King is to read whatever you can whenever you can, especially trash. Nothing will make you feel more competent than reading something and feeling ‘how the hell did this get published!?’ If you feel like you can do better, use that urge to get off your ass and go prove it. It’s kind of petty, but dammit, it works, so just go for it.

When all is said and done, there really isn’t any ‘wrong way’ to do this, so write! Just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. These are just some patterns I’ve read about and found to work. Make sure you believe what you’re saying, and others will believe it too. Have fun putting yourself out there!

Ryan Howatt is an Eastern Canadian underground cartoonist living in Fredericton, New Brunswick. His self-published series ‘Badger’ has garnered international acclaim and is available on Amazon.com. Ryan is a passionate advocate for indie publishing and business mentor to fellow cartoonists. He can be reached through his linktree.

Views: 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comics Illustrated