Writing Tips: Dave Brink

When I was approached by Comics Illustrated for their segment on Writing Tips, asking me if I’d be interested in sharing some of my wisdom on writing, I was initially hesitant. It was, of course, an honor to even be considered, and I’m very grateful that people enjoy my stories, but the fact is that I find it difficult to talk about the process of writing. I mean, I’m still figuring things out for myself.

While I do think there are some basic principles to writing that make stories resonate with readers, I’m not convinced that these are strict rules that need to be applied for every story. It all depends on what kind of reading experience you’re going for. I can only sum up a few personal guidelines that work for me consistently, and have become the foundation of my own stories.

1. Know your characters and know your story

Readers want to latch onto characters who are more than tourists in a plot that needs to happen. Weak characters get bounced around in a story that moves independent of them—they’re simply there to react to it. But when you have well-developed characters, you’ll find that much of the plot you had planned simply won’t work anymore, no matter how cool you thought it was. Strong characters will tell you where to go instead of the other way around—they make the story their own. Not only does this provide the reader with a human drive that they can connect with, but it also offers the writer unexpected plot possibilities.

Of all the primary characters in your tale, there are two core elements you must know in order to have them move the plot forward: their want and their need.

A character must have a goal—they have to want something. What this want is has to be clear to the reader because it affects the character’s behavior and forms their decisions. The stronger the want, the more it’ll determine the story.

Then there’s also the need. This is a factor the character doesn’t have to be aware of, but it has to be there. The want and the need are not the same, and can even be at odds with each other. In a story, the main character may get what they want, but until they get what they need, there won’t be any resolution. Combine this with other characters who have competing or opposite goals (their own wants and needs), and your story practically writes itself.

2. When everything else fails, turn things up to eleven

Occasionally, the writing process will slow down or even come to a halt when you find your protagonist in a situation with no obvious path of story progression. Or, when there is progression, it’s just not that interesting. You feel a rewrite is necessary, and you might be correct—if you don’t see exciting story possibilities ahead, you may want to go back a few steps and take a different route.

However, in my own experience, interesting things can happen when you take the opposite approach—push things to their breaking point. Stacking or combining elements that might feel a bit boring on their own can lead to intriguing results and new story potential. Throw a curveball at your protagonist, see what happens. Force your character out of their comfort zone. Shatter their reality. Experiment. You never know what you discover.

Life is full of surprises. As long as you avoid a Deus Ex Machina, readers can go along with exciting new directions. Which brings me to…

3. Don’t underestimate your readers

Readers are smart. They can figure things out. There’s no need to explain every character’s background or every detail of your world. Information should matter to the story. If it’s important, provide it. If not, leave it. Clutter can only frustrate the reading experience.

4. Your audience is you

One of my biggest mistakes as an early writer was trying to figure out what my target audience wanted and crafting stories and characters based on that. At the time, this made perfect sense to me—I wanted people to like my stories so they’d buy my books. Of course, I still do. If people don’t care about what you produce, what’s the point, right?

Yet, I came to realize that what I did was not sustainable. I was writing from my head, not enough from my heart. My comics could potentially appeal to an audience, sure, but I wasn’t really part of it. And in the end, art is about passion. To keep your head above water as an indie creator is challenging. But it’ll be impossible if your goal is to please anyone but yourself. You are what you put your heart into. An audience built from something you truly care about is simply telling you that your passion is appreciated.

Just be Genuine.

Dave Brink is an independent comic book creator and publisher from the Netherlands. His company, Genuine Comics, primarily produces English-language superhero fare. Dave created and wrote several titles, including Earthling and Dreamgirl Sleeper Agent, but is mostly known for his work on the series Perfect 10, which won three Critical Blast awards. For more information, follow him on Twitter/X: @GenuineComics.

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