Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Tag: writing

A Reconsideration of the RKL 10 Writing Rules/Tips

I stumbled back across this old post and I thought it might be interesting to think about how these 10 writing rules/tips I came up with 4 years ago hold up in my mind and my life and my heart. Here’s the old post, and I’ll intersperse with “personal thoughts” along the way.

THE RKL 10 WRITING RULES-ish – Old Poste

I’m getting the feeling people don’t like Writing Rules, they don’t want a rigid structure of how it works to get worlds out of your brain, and they certainly didn’t warm to those laid down by Jonathan Franzen, but I’ll admit, I find them fascinating. A word I choose carefully.

“I actually want to put together a collection of every writing rules list I can find. See what I can sift out of the collective hive mind.”

I want to know what the masters think we should hold in our highest esteem, I want to know it from my peers, and nascent writers, and plenty of others. I want to look into everyone’s head and see what roads they follow. I won’t necessarily follow those rules, or even care about them, but the process of having them to read absolutely fascinates me. It’ll tell me more about the person’s mindset and style than it will about any universal truth of writing.

I dig books about writing, I dig blogs and podcasts and tweets about writing. I use them like I’m building up a pantry, but when I write I’m just cooking. I might have everything stockpiled, but I’ll only take out what I need for a specific recipe when the time comes. You dig?

“I absolutely cannot think without an analogy involved, can I? I’m like a mule with a spinning wheel… :[“

But, in the spirit, I wanted to attempt to carve out my own ten tips, just suggestions, just from me, and then I could see what I thought rose to the top, so here goes:

“How arrogant to think anyone would care. But I think, at its heart, all writing is a form of arrogance to some degree.”

The RKL Top 10 Writing Rules Tips

1 – Your story must be about stuff. And that stuff isn’t just a list of the things that happen, it’s why those things will matter to the reader, the truths beneath it all, the theme. Your writing will be amateur until you have something of meaning to say.

“This is a tricky one, because we don’t often set out with a theme at first and then start writing. Though I know some writers who absolutely do have an area or an idea on which they wish to say something, and then they craft a story around it. I don’t quite work that way, but this rule is mostly something to consider because you know the inverse – when you’ve written something and it’s completely hollow. Maybe this shouldn’t be #1 – and maybe it should be more about reflecting on your work and finding the truth you’ve laid down. Hrmm.”

2 – Write so 1000 people will absolutely love you, not so 100,000 will think you’re kinda alright.

“This I stand by. Don’t chase fads. Don’t water yourself down. Writing is an act of bleeding on the page, don’t try to bleach out the stains.”

3 – Write about whatever gets you excited to sit down and write.

“You know this is true whenever you try the inverse.”

4 – Set small writing goals. 500 words/2 script pages a day. Then blast through them, sometimes.

“Set goals. Sometimes meet them. Perfect compromise.”

5 – Have only one tab open while you’re writing.

“Don’t do what Donny Don’t Does. I stand by this rule, I wish I could do it more often. Hyperfocus.”

6 – Think on paper.

“I proselytise this in every classroom I occupy. The brain just works better this way.”

7 – Are all your default lead characters straight white dudes? Why?

“One of those rules that’s also to remind myself.”

8 – Write whatever you want. Any genre, any length, any format. You might not find a paying home for it, but you’ll be true to yourself.

“Is this too similar to #2 and #3? Am I padding to hit 10 tips? Maybe on all counts. But it’s about form. Don’t lock yourself into being only a poet, nothing else. Remember: even Dickens wrote a weird ghost story.”

9 – Be inspired by your heroes, but don’t ape them. Let them fuel you with the courage to be yourself.

“Find those authors and those books and fill a room in them. Then spend time in that room.”

10 – Recharge your brain so it has more to write about. Read comics, watch movies, study the world, live life.

“This, when done well, should cycle you back to #1 – have something to say. Your writing will have something to say when you have something to say, and you’ll always want to say something about the things on which you are passionate. Find things in your life that stir up those muddy waters within.”


These points are very clearly by me, for me, and just for me. If you find them interesting, I’m glad. If they help you sharpen your own Top 10, fantastic. If your 10 are the polar opposite of mine, fill your boots, I bet we can still be mates.

I write about stuff like this all the time in my newsletter, statistically, there’s a chance one of you will like it, so here’s the link – ryanklindsay.substack.com 

“I like stuff like this because it allows certain ideas and thoughts to be brought up to the front of my brain for a minute. It’s like any cool information, it’s not that we don’t already have it in our head, it’s that we don’t access it a lot. I know tiger sharks fight in the womb and eat their sibling before birth, but I don’t think about it often, so when I do it fills my brain with wonder about nature, and ideas about characters, and I’m all the better for having the idea brought to the top of the brain soup for a minute so I can dine on it momentarily.


ymmv .08 – Writing Something That Goddamn Matters

I’m proselytising from my high horse, wearing my high hat, once again. It must be the second Tuesday.

ymmv .08 – Write Something That Goddamn Matters [LINK]

In which I discuss how the recent AIRBOY and TOKYO GHOST are books about things and how you should try to sometimes write stories that have a core that’s about something. And something that’s actually important.

I’m still working on doing this myself, but this isn’t a ‘do as I say and do column, this is just me blathering. Hey, like I said, ymmv.

Comic Rewriting – Teaching Words through Pictures

Take a single page of comics you love and rewrite it as a prose narrative.

This is a simple activity but one that you’ll find draws together myriad skills involving literature analysis, image to word synthesis, and great language exploration. It’s also crazy fun to do.

You can do this with a class [I’ve done it successfully with kids aged about 8 and up] and you can also do it yourself for fun or to hone your writing craft.

All you need is a quality page of comics. Be sure to pick something you know will translate well to prose [and easily depending on the class you are instructing]. Also try to pick something moody, something rife to describe. The idea is that in writing the prose you describe the scene in detail [using figurative language and turns of phrase for effect] and you also get into the characters’ heads.

This can be done in books, on printed line sheets, and the example I’ll give below uses Google Drive for the classroom.


I selected a page from SECRET AVENGERS #1 with art by Michael Walsh and colours by Jordie Bellaire.

Secret Avengers - Hawkeye AIM

I picked this page because it’s got pace, it’s relatively simple [yet with room to take it places], and it has a start [in media res] and an end moment [cliffhanger].

I had each student type their prose version of this page in a shared folder so I could easily access them all, and they could access each others’.

Once typed, I had the students use the Texthelp Study Skills add on and start highlighting the text with the following factors in mind:

Screenshot 2015-10-12 22.21.55

Once done, I then copy-pasted all the prose pieces into one file [though I could have the students do this themselves in the future with nearly as little fuss] and I put together a front page for it:

Screenshot 2015-10-12 22.24.41

From there, a quick check to ensure that every prose piece has the student’s name on it, and that it fits one page each like Goldilocks [not to little, not too big – and just select what you want and resize the fonts to make this happen], you can export it from Drive as a PDF – and PDFs are wonderful because you can print them in booklet form, which automatically prints it to A4 so you can fold it and the final product is A5 in size. [Hint: if the total pages count doesn’t equal a multiple of 4 then you’ll have blank white pages at the end – if you want, fill these pages with Curriculum links, or any other kind of stuff you might like, maybe a class ‘printing house’ logo for the back page]

You can then print your booklet off and fold it. I staple it with a special turning stapler that can do book spines a mate of mine located in Japan for me. And once this is done, you have a resource for your classroom, and your kids will feel ‘published’ [and they’ll be paid like they are too – #womp]. But it’s something they can share, cherish, learn from, and it looks great in the spinner rack up the back of the room.


You can also set this as a writing warm up gig for yourself by getting a warchest of quality comic pages that suit your writing style [or don’t, if you feel like growing] and you set yourself 5 minutes to rewrite one. Maybe do one a week and at the end of a year put them into a booklet like this – comic page on the left, your prose reinterpretation on the right – and see what comes of it. Anything that gets you writing, stretches your brain out, makes you push, has a deadline, and you enjoy is always going to help whether you are a tween student exploring language and its practical and emotional uses or a thirty-something writer climbing the sheer cliff face of writing one precarious handhold at a time.

For clarity, I put my own rewrite in with the students, and it was a blast to do. Here it is:


by Mr Lindsay

This looks bad. I know.

Lasers whistle by like broken radios and Clint Barton sprints like he can beat them.

Hint: he can’t. He never can.

Clint is the world’s unluckiest man. Or the world’s worst superhero. Ask him once a day for a week and get seven different answers, with twenty one varied [though universally lame] excuses.

He sails over the gap between buildings – because he’s always been good at doing recklessly silly things. Usually for fun, sometimes to save the world.

It’s a Sunday morning and the sun is rising. Most people are on the street buying bagels and reading the latest Calvin & Hobbes. They have no idea what’s about to transpire above them.

A slew of underpaid and over-important henchmen from A.I.M. [Advanced Idea Mechanics] float, preen, and posture behind Clint. They might be fools but that uniform still looks good today. Clint thinks about Kate on the West Coast and then stops. He’s got things to do right now.

He momentarily pauses, an itch on his ear, and one of the henchman coughs. Clint is mostly certain the boomerang arrow is the third one in the quiver.

I know this looks bad. But trust me, it’s worse for them. I’ve got them right where I want them, stupid A.I.M. goons…

And that’s the comic rewriting activity. I hope it finds you well. I’ll try to collate and share some sample comic pages on here soon.

ymmv .03 – Casing the Joint

Over at Loser City, I’m flapping my gums about writing for practise because your first stuff is not up to the game.

I’m assuming you might have a script in your back pocket. Enjoy the feeling, then burn it. Maybe.

ymmv .02 – 2 [LINK]


Big question: how many scripts/pages did you write before cracking something worth pursuing?

NOTE: ymmv is an abbreviation for ‘your mileage may vary,’ which means an idea might be rad for me but won’t work for you. That’s pretty well the mystical truth behind any advice, knowing it when giving as well as receiving it is key.

Have a great day.

thoughtballoons Cracks Half a Decade

thoughtballoons is the writing challenge site I created 5 long years ago [LINK]

tb logo1 - 700

There, we would choose a character for the week and then each write a one-page script around that character somehow. An opening splash, a dense fight scene, the penultimate page of an imagined issue. Anything was fair game, just one page, that’s all. Get in, get out.

I started this writing commune of experimentation and collegial feedback because I needed a reason to write. It was hard to find collaborators, and I think deep down I knew I was still chewing on my 10k of pages of dreck like a slab of gristle between my grinding molars. I wasn’t ready and the only way I’d get there was by working my ass off, regardless of being published or having it finished or [CHOKE-GUFFAW] getting paid.

For two years, I wrote at least one 1 page script a week. I spent time plotting it, writing, editing, and I took it seriously. I wanted to put up my best, where possible, and sometimes the deadline drew and I was typing into blogger to see what I had. It was exhilaring, and it was 104+ script pages I wouldn’t have without the site.

I am the writer I am now, 5 years later, because of thoughtballoons. I went from a guy who knew nothing and have now levelled up to a guy who knows he knows nothing. It’s a step in the right direction. I improved because I was producing, I improved because I got feedback from the other writers on the site, as well as some randoms. I improved because by offering feedback to others it got me thinking about process and craft and different four colour aspects a lot more. For those two years straight, I loved this site and the very good friends I forged within it.

But eventually I had to bow out, finding the time was hard, I had to keep pushing real comic pages out, and I know I had t go but be damned if I don’t miss it a lot. So for this anniversary week, I’ve written a text piece about what thoughtballoons meant to me [LINK] and then I try a one pager for a subject I missed in the past 3 years, which is the brilliant D4VE [LINK] – and it’s funny, my script isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. You always have to start somewhere.

I cannot stress enough if you are looking to break into comics as a writer, and you need the practise, and trust me you do need the practise, then you should hit thoughtballoons up. It was something really special for me and I love seeing it bounce through the lives of others.

Also, if you are an artist looking for practise, find some scripts here and have a lash. I guarantee the writer won’t mind if you run it past them. Have fun.

Write, feedback, enjoy, repeat – thoughtballoons [LINK]

Recap of 2014 as a Year of Writing

This has been an amazing year. I’ll flat out call it, it’s exceeded my expectations. The writing has gone well and it has been fun.
In March, I launched HEADSPACE at Monkeybrain Comics, with Eric Zawadzki cocreating and on main art duties, Chris Peterson drew addition pages, with Marissa Louise on his colours. Dan Hill edits the whole beast, and Chris Kosek designs our back matter – which consists of me prattling on about myself and my work. Then from issue #3, Sebastian Piriz flew in and has taken over from Peterson on extra art.
The book is about Shane, the sheriff of Carpenter Cove who comes to discover he’s actually inside the mind of a killer. So he has to figure out how he got there, why he’s there, and how he can survive to get out when the killer’s mind discovers the town and wants to purge it with manifested fears and memories. It’s sci fi/PKD pulp/thriller fun for all.
I actually spent most of 2013 writing HEADSPACE so it was nice to see it finally land. The 22 page/99c download debut from ComiXology was well received with reviewers loving it, readers digging it, and me not entirely loathing myself in its wake. There are currently 5 issues available, with the last 3 coming thick and fast in early 2015, and another piece of good news to follow. Without a doubt, HEADSPACE is the biggest book of my career, so far, and it’s possibly the one I’m currently most proud of.

DEER EDITOR was an issue I cooked up with Sami Kivela over a long period of time, and in between his other art responsibilities. Once finally completed, I decided to throw my piss into the wind and Kickstart the comic. I was staunch on needing this Kickstarter to have minimal-to-no postage. This was a digital experience, hence why I set my goal so low ($1000) – because I legit didn’t ‘know’ I’d make it.
However, we did make it, we made it at ~230% of funding and got the book into a lot of people’s hands. It was a scary and humbling and awesome experience. I’d definitely do it again.
This book has been a special project for me, something a little different with the black and white aspect of the art, and I’ve been humbled by the feedback it has received.

I think the GHOST TOWN tpb landed early in the year. I did that with Daniel J Logan, and Brian V Dyck on colours, at Action Lab Entertainment’s Danger Zone imprint. The trade has the issue #1 in it with art from Justin Greenwood and words by Dave Dwonch. It’s got some beats I’m proud of. If you can find it, hook in. But good luck, it’s nowhere — except on ComiXology for $7.

At the very beginning of the new year, I was invited to pitch for the Vertigo Quarterly series and was steered towards the Magenta issue. I was stunned and honoured to get the look in and was also determined to not lose it, so I set aside everything else (it was right at the start of the new year, at a new school, in a new role, I felt mentally swamped, so I managed to wade through the first rejection to land with the second). The resulting story was GLOVES, a story I did with Tommy Lee Edwards on art and John Workman on letters, and edited by the fantastic Sara Miller. I am exceptionally happy with this story, if I was going to debut in the big leagues with one short I’m glad it was this one. It’s a boxing noir tale, so it shows more of my wheelhouse than less, and it’s got a twist that I think works, and it’s a character deconstruction as well. If you picked up the Magenta issue of the CMYK anthology then I thank you, and hope you dug it.

After the stirring success that was the OXYMORON HC on Kickstarter last year, I was keen to get into the world of Joe Mulvey’s SCAM. THREE CAR MONTE is my story in the Ultimate Scam Collection HC with Adam Masterman on art. It’s a tale about a scam with three possible leads to take. The pages were broken down to chase all three leads at once, and in different narrative ways. This was a nice short to experiment with and try new things.

I continued to write back up material by way of essays. I wrote in a fair few issues of SHELTERED where I wrapped up my investigations on the way the world will end and I started a series of interviews with preppers. These interviews were each written in fury storms of words and thoughts and feelings and I’m actually really bloody proud of how they came out. Alongside this, I also has my back up essays about cryptozoology and weird stuff as featured in modern fiction/media run to the end of the first arc of STRANGE NATION in issue #8. Those were also wicked fun.

Just the other week, a package arrived from IDW and I had no idea what for and I found inside MLP: ADVENTURES IN FRIENDSHIP, an MLP collection of 3 one-shot issues put into this little HC picture book-style book and my issue runs first, with gorgeous art from Tony Fleecs. Pretty cool. The issue is technically from last year, March last year, but this presentation was too cool to ignore.

And then, to be honest, with all that stated above, the year suddenly doesn’t look that impressive. I’ve got HEADSPACE, and DEER EDITOR. Then some shorts. Or that’s how my brain sells it. I mean, hell, I even look slack. But here’s the dirty little secret:
Most of these things from 2014 were written in 2013. And a lot of 2014’s writing has been in prep for 2015. I hope.
At present, I am:
-polishing the second issue script of a mini with a beyond rad publisher that’s not yet been announced (I’ve also looked at prelim colours for the cover, and thumbnails for #1, and I am very happy)
-art continues to roll in for HEADSPACE, it’s going to end strong.
-polishing a script for a spy short with an artist I’ve wanted to work with for years – at present, it’ll just be self-pubbed
-waiting for art on three one-shots that have been placed with artists
-have a script for a one-shot unattached to an artist – it needs the exact right one
-another one-shot script just waiting for the attached artist to come back and be available again
-another half-issue script where I’m just waiting for that artist to come back and be available again
-waiting for word on a pitch an editor at an insane publisher asked for – and which I’m very aware will get knocked back, and I’m cool pessimistically saying this because if you knew the publisher, you’d know I’m actually just being pragmatic – and I’m also just honoured to have been asked to pitch and that they dug it enough that they wanted to see more, that’s the big win in this situation, trust me
-waiting on art for another short to be self-pubbed/uploaded
-waiting on art for another short already with a cool anthology
-discussing with an artist which of two projects we have lined up we might want to kick into high gear in the new year
-there’s this gargantuan writers room/multi-artist book that’s been ticking over for about 18 months now that I’m hoping and thinking might just hit in 2015…maaaaaaaaybe
-talking with two publishers who both want non-fic books about comics from me – which I’ll do, if I ever get the time
-and there’s also talk (mostly in my house, but there’s talk) of more prose work seeing daylight in 2015

So, yeah, if even half this stuff makes it to the page it’ll make 2015 look rad even though it was 2014’s hard work.
Writing is funny like that. We are two days shy of the year and I’ve already written and attached artists to more pages than I completed in total for 2014. You just gotta sit tight and wait and hope it all plays out, and also know it ALL can’t and won’t play out. Which is cool.

And as for goals for the new year. Well, I generally keep those close to my chest. My goals for 2014 were these two:

1 – get some more short work out the door…and I did.

2 – set up the next mini beyond HEADSPACE…and I did. Oh, boy, did I.

So for 2015, yeah, I have just one goal. Beyond finishing all of the above, natch, I have one goal. But that’s just for me for now.
Anyway, I hope your 2014 was busy and productive. I’m off to go ensure my 2015 looks like it should.

Write, drink coffee, and be merry.

What To Do Next

There’s always that moment where you stop and wonder to yourself, “Huh, what’s next?”
You’ve just wrapped a script and it’s off to the editor/artist brainhive, or your pitch is off to the publisher and you have to wait for a greenlight, and you know there’s nothing ‘next’ that needs your immediate glance.
So, what’re you going to work on? What’re you going to dream up?
I mean, there’s always revisions to do, snark to drop on twitter, fractions of something in your future in ideas and lines and fun, there is always ‘something’ to do but some days you gotta start prepping the materials for the next gig.
There’s lots of ways to break new ideas into your headspace but here’s something to consider.
Widen your scope. Stretch yourself. Be bold.
You just did a crime book, try a romance book. You’re waiting for art on that sci fi horror book, try some slice of life on the side.
I got thinking about this idea when I was considering the chronology of some of my favourite creative minds. Let’s have a look at the progression of genius. Because you don’t need to limit yourself, and maybe you don’t know how well you’re going to tell that steampunk bromance.


I love the Coen Brothers. So many of their films sit high atop my must see lists and I find it inspirational to look over their career path and see how insanely headstrong they quite clearly are. Look at the fact they never pander, they don’t make Oscar Bait – though I’m sure it seems that way these days but cast back to a time where they were the kooky uncles of quality cult cinema.

Look at how they would conquer a genre and then move onto another genre straight after it. It never felt like the Coen Brothers were colouring by numbers, they were telling stories they absolutely had to tell. Genre be damned. Audience demand be damned. Never let it be said they phoned it in, these guys delve right into their narratives like it’s Scrooge McDuck’s money bin.

The Coen Brothers started with a simple bang, a crime story. BLOOD SIMPLE put them on the map with this visceral noir punch. Brutality, death, terrible people. This was a huge stake to drive into the ground as a debut.

So, how did they follow it up? With a slapstick gonzo trip about babies, and a mythical bikie bounty hunter, and how far we’ll go for true love. While RAISING ARIZONA is centred around a crime, it is miles away from BLOOD SIMPLE.

It’s such an incredibly bold move to just go from this black crime flick to something that’s bright and innovative and zany. Consider this, Quentin Tarantino debuted with RESERVOIR DOGS, a darkly comedic straight crime flick. How did he follow this up? He made the darkly comedic straight crime flick PULP FICTION.

It’s natural to want to replicate success, and feed the beast, but sometimes you gotta follow your heart.

Now, the Coen Brothers followed RAISING ARIZONA with MILLER’S CROSSING which is a little closer in heart to their debut. But whereas BLOOD SIMPLE was very new wave, MILLER’S CROSSING is very much more classical. This is Dashiell Hammett opposed to Gold Medal paperback pulp – both crime, each different.

From here, we can see the common vein in Coen flicks – besides vomiting fat men – is crime. But the crime is always tinted with very different lenses, and even genres. The Coen Brothers like to study flawed people, which nearly always strays to crimes of various levels, but the way they attack these narratives changes so often in fantastic ways.

Look at BARTON FINK, there are certainly crimes committed but it isn’t a crime flick. This is a deconstruction of a creative mind breaking in its own heartbreaking way. Then they roll into THE HUDSUCKER PROXY – a flick whose title alone tells you these guys just don’t care – and the farcical approach to this flick is genius but almost defies definition.

It would take over a decade before the Coen Brothers would tell another story close in tone and theme to BLOOD SIMPLE as they allowed people to end up in woodchippers, and wives to be kidnapped. And with FARGO they finally cracked the code and were allowed into the winner’s circle. They became touted as something we’d known they’d been for years – genius.

They dial it back with THE BIG LEBOWSKI – the sort of tonal fall from grace that saw them once more shunned at the Oscars, despite making the flick that would now have the deepest and most avid fanbase. You’d think once the brothers got into the Oscar Auditorium they’d scramble to stay there? Nope. And not for some time.

O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? is kind of genre insanity in that it’s a loose adaptation of a classic text via the film tropes of the 20s. It’s Clooney looking weird and acting weirder. It’s so well put together and yet those who came for/from FARGO or even THE BIG LEBOWSKI were going to have no idea what would hit them. A film with layers, that’s aged well, but not the sort of surefire follow up to anything. Because what the Coens want to do is explore genres, which they then show with their next two outings.

THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE is straight up James M Cain (you can see them slowly go through all their favourite crime authors in good time) and in doing so it’s staying so close to the original tone of those flicks from the 50s that you know it turned some people away, but no doubt lured in the purists, who they have to have shunned by that final scene. It’s like they didn’t want anyone in particular to be the core for this flick, and yet the people they’d get, the few, would be there for life.

And as for INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, well now we can just see they want to play in genres that are about as close to box office poison as you can get without trying to replicate the magic of a GREASE2/TEEN WITCH double bill.

I guess we can all forget THE LADYKILLERS – which is a shame because a Coen/Hanks jam should’ve been better, but I guess all this navel gazing genre crushing fun leads us to…

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – a film so far removed from the past five outings – count ’em, FIVE – that it’s like they were putting that cattle gun to the past decade and wiping it out. And it worked. Everyone forgot THE CAREERKILLERS and the golden siblings were back. This is nowhere near their best flick, and it certainly didn’t deserve to beat THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but it’s straddling that line of tight storytelling, brutal Coenesque world views, and commercial appeal without asking for it that this was the revival they needed/deserved. FARGO worked, so did this, the data shows the formula, and so then they instead stay true to heart and make…

BURN AFTER READING – because apparently every BLOOD SIMPLE needs a RAISING ARIZONA, in the same way THE BIG LEBOWSKI clearly cleanses the palette after FARGO. They go deep and dark, and then they become bioluminescent. It’s a wonderful skill, but I get their agent – trying to skim from profits and not street cred – hates it. This flick is another genre mess. Crime, yes, but totally wacky and weird and Malkoviched out.

The brothers sink really deep again for A SERIOUS MAN, a flick more towards BARTON FINK in that it defies genre or audience expectation or dollar drive. And you could never foresee this flick leading them towards TRUE GRIT, a Western, a remake of a classic, an adaptation of a classic. Or by now, maybe we should see that coming. Maybe we should know when we are in the weird calm before the bombastic storm. Because this is what the brothers do, they defy you to guess their next step. I guarantee no one saw INSIDE LLEWELYN DAVIS coming.

And true, they haven’t done horror, or war, or every genre, but you can see each project stretches them in new ways. That’s clearly a good thing when you look at the quality they produce, and that there’s no burn out on what they do. You can barely compare flicks because they’re all so different.

Whereas if you look at the godfather of ganster crime flicks, I sometimes struggle to compare because they’re all playing strings on the same harp. But let’s try, just quickly, to look at the diversity of:


You’d think Scorsese’s flicks would all be the same, and so many of them are. After some rough and tumble early indie credits, Scorsese lands on the scene with MEAN STREETS, a very street level view of crime on the streets of New York. And while he follows up with the dramatic romance of ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, he’s back into the NY filth with TAXI DRIVER. He’s tried and been shown that his dark NY crime flicks are going to work, and going to work exceptionally well. So how does he treat the news of having a guaranteed successful genre on his hands?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK might reference his useful location but it doesn’t hold the same flavour at all, even with the screen stand in of Robert De Niro yet again taking the lead. You could call this flick a mistep and not many would argue. From perfect crime to some music/romance/slice of life hybrid, the flick just didn’t register as the usual Scorsese goods and so it flopped. From there, we get nearly the whole decade of the 80s with Scorsese hiding inside the genre that works.


Scorsese packs a lot of crime into the 80s, but it’s skewed through different genres. RAGING BULL is certainly a step removed from the mean streets, a boxing flick with black heart, and it’s a raging success on all levels. THE KING OF COMEDY defies expectations and reflections, a genre Frankenstein’s monster that’s ultimately a failure but stands proud because it shows Scorsese was happy to play the game, but on his terms. He’d do dark people – none of this saxophone playing anymore – but he’d still be trying out new irons on the green to see how to get the ball to move.

AFTER HOURS is the black mirror version of NEW YORK, NEW YORK, and while again a flop, it’s certainly worth its place in the back catalogue. It just also marks the end of the slide for Scorsese, as he accepts a sequel, THE COLOR OF MONEY, and while it’s good enough to land him his next flick – the very personal THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, about perhaps man’s greatest crime – it all swirls inevitably towards the next flick that will define Scorsese’s name for an entire generation.


This flick is the obvious next step from MEAN STREETS –> TAXI DRIVER, and yet Scorsese took a decade and a half to get there. Those many years were spent looking at romance, and sporting flick as introspective downfall, to the Greatest Story Ever Told. Scorsese didn’t rest on his laurels, he didn’t go back in for the easy beat, he worked his ass off to do things that mattered to him. Maybe this is why he came back stronger and defined the genre with GOODFELLAS?

CAPE FEAR follows, then we dovetail into THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, before hitting GOODFELLAS-lite in CASINO. Scorsese knows how to game the system and he delivers one for them so he can do one for him. KUNDUN is his exploration, BRINGING IN THE DEAD, and to some lesser extent GANGS OF NEW YORK is what we expect but it’s not a carbon copy. He’s pushing niches into the crime genre he now owns. THE AVIATOR is for him, then he gives them THE DEPARTED and by this stage he’s doing the same genre but in a totally different way. It’s not the 70s anymore and this flick is the clear signifier of his growth.

SHUTTER ISLAND is such a fun pulp paperback, dropping down to HUGO which is a beast unto itself, and WOLF OF WALL STREET is something new in a myriad of ways – tone being a huge slice of it.

I know I think Scorsese just did crime flicks, with a few personal puff pieces between, but upon inspection you soon see a Coen level of differentiation.

And these are just two examples. You can look at so many creatives and see them stretch themselves constantly.

BKV did weird sci fi/travel/growth story, while doing political cape book. A masterful slice of life anthropomorphism allegory on war (PRIDE OF BAGHDAD), or the slice of life book about comic creators and what it is to create (THE ESCAPISTS). Now he’s doing romance as sci fi and dystopia sci fi as a PI commentary on social media on the side. You can see his throughline, sci fi, but it’s always something new, always pushing himself.

RICK REMENDER is currently doing a hard sci fi book, a weird school of assassins book that’s navel gazing into his teen years (and is absolutely brilliant), an underwater sci fi journey tale, and an upcoming weird looking sci fi book. This is all on the side of a mammoth Marvel event. Again, see the throughline, but see how it’s constantly different. BLACK SCIENCE might be a true sister title to FEAR AGENT but DEADLY CLASS is like nothing else.

MATT FRACTION is writing SEX CRIMINALS, to defy genre because it sounded like some warped sci fi time stopping tale but is really one of the sweetest relationship breakdown stories going. He’s also writing some crime homage to the early days of television, and a Marvel book that’s really just this lazy PI tale, and he has upcoming Odyssey meets sci fi book coming on. And all this atop a history of a talking gorilla, the greatest superspy fu comic ever, and a variety of Marvel books from wacky to straight up cape style. He’s constantly expanding his horizons, and is always better when he is.

The exception that proves the rule, for me, is ED BRUBAKER. He’s writing crime fiction, always crime fiction. He has a dash of spy in one of them now, and in the past injected capes into the mess, but otherwise, Brubaker, mostly with Sean Phillips, just rocks the mic for crime and rightfully so because he’s become a master of it.

So while looking at all this, I consider myself. What’s next?
I’ve just done this sci fi/thriller mash up, as well as an anthropomorphic/journalism/crime tale. I’ve tackled fatherhood, as well as a sci fi/Australian political/thriller mash up. I did boxing noir for my Vertigo short. So what’s next?

A PKD-sci fi/thriller about depression

An all-female Viking ghost story

An intergalactic espionage sci fi

An all ages sci fi romp

A hard sci fi journey periodical

A straight up lady kung fu bonanza

I hope an Australian warped historical thriller

And hopefully more anthropomorphic/journalism/crime, too

Maybe eventually that beach noir surf crime tale…

There’s other stuff, but let’s not prognosticate beyond our abilities.

My point is – I have a throughline, but I’m constantly poking what I can get away with. All ages, hardcore fight fu, devastating ghost tales, depression. I have a lot of sci fi, but it’s nearly always a different level of it. I’m also interested in looking into different emotions, themes. I’m not necessarily doing it perfect, the Coen Brothers are the true masters of diversification, but I know I want to knock about a bit, try lots of everything before I, hopefully, settle into mastering one or two of them very well. I’m keen to continue to ape that PKD style I dig of tone and a warped reality but I’m also excited to see what else I might do well. I have yet to do war, or cape, though I have a prison take in the works, and I’d love to try my hand at a western of sorts. All in good time, just gotta make sure I don’t get bogged down spinning the same wheels I am now.

Lord knows I’ve yet to get deep into my Cronenberg romance book. Yet.

tl;dr version – as a creator, are you trying brand new genres, or mash ups, or takes on genres, or are you doing the same old formula every time? Expand your horizons, most of your heroes do.

Words about WORDS FOR PICTURES – and Breaking In Links

The subheading for this book by Brian Michael Bendis is ‘The art and business of writing comics and graphic novels.’ And that is exactly what you get.

words for picturec over

I get asked at cons a lot about what sort of things can help you write comics. I’m not asked this because I’m anything special but more that I just talk about process so much that people assume I know what I’m saying. Jokes on them but it whiles away the hours on the con floor.

So when people ask me for tips and advice and whathaveyou, I invariably tell them to get Scott McCloud’s stuff and simply devour it. Set up the bbq, decant the HP sauce at room temp, and imbibe those pages like your future career writing Spider-Man depends on it. Because it most certainly does.

There is no denying the dominance of McCloud and his complete coverage of the comic medium structure and the accessible way he lays it all down. That layer and level of craft has been owned and so I was so pleased to see Bendis’ book is not an attempt to go this path. No, Bendis instead delivers the perfect partner volume to McCloud’s work.

WORDS FOR PICTURES treads water in a few ponds and all of them really important.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is ‘must read’ stuff for people right when they make the decision that they want to make comics and break into comics. I wish beyond belief that I had this book a decade ago. It’s full of the little tips and tricks about breaking in that I had to hunt around and find or stumble across over the course of years of living the life. Here, this book presents it all to you in one handy weekend read.


There is no way around this, there are lessons here you need to learn. There are lessons here you have no doubt been told by someone else already but you weren’t sure if it was right. It is right. It’s here in this book, please read it a few times, learn it, love it, and then jump into the four colour waters, it’s always warm in here.

To give a quick rundown – this book drops knowledge and science on some of the early tripping blocks creators, and especially writers, face.

The editorial round table on how to meet editors, stay in contact with them, and not be a pest is worth its weight in gold.

The artist round table about what they dig and loathe in scripts is fantastic. Learning how to write for your artist is super hard – and a lot of that is because nascent writers don’t have many artists with which to collaborate and experiment so we have too many scripts written in a vacuum and not considering the collaborator. This chapter breaks down a lot of what you need to hear and the sooner the better.

The page with Kelly Sue’s pitch docs on it is just glorious. These are the sorts of things we don’t see anywhere near enough of. Trying to find, share, download, hack, ask politely for, and imagine pitch docs is hard so here we get a peek into some good ones – especially because Kelly Sue is irreverent in hers and that will free your mind – it did for me.

If you need to learn the art of comics, read McCloud, if you need to learn the art of making comics, read Bendis. I think it’s that simple.

Now, I know the book isn’t without its faults. It almost felt a little too quick to read. I would have liked to see more process about script breakdowns and real craft – though once you start talking about scripting gutters and the like then you run into McCloud territory so I see why this line was drawn. This book might not be perfect in the way McCloud is but I don’t know of anything better, and I know Bendis drops enough knowledge I wish I had five years ago that I know this book is completely worth it.

So the next time someone asks me what they need to help them make comics I am going to send them to this book, in a heartbeat.


If you dig this book, or want to know more about the things you need to be a writer with a level head, click these links.

Bendis runs a process blog – dig it – http://bendiswordsforpictures.tumblr.com/

Bendis also runs his own tumblr where you’ll get a stack of comic art to adore but he often goes on jags of answering tumblr questions and some great stuff can be found therein – http://brianmichaelbendis.tumblr.com/

I have delivered a comic writing workshop before and you can download the presentation here – https://ryanklindsay.com/2014/05/18/comic-writing-101-at-comicgong/

I also run the Process Junkie tumblr with Dan Hill – it wants to be Bendis’ page pretty badly – http://processjunkie.tumblr.com/

The Comic Writer Services 2.0 page, curated by Dan Hill, has enough process links to fill a month – and I heartily endorse you calling in sick for a month and just getting your read and your learn on – seriously – do this – http://comicwriterservices.com/

Chuck Wendig is a guy who writes often and with passion about writing and all that craft jazz – I wouldn’t tell you to try to be like him, only so many people can get away with that sort of malarkey without alienating themselves completely, but he does drop some great grist for the mill – http://terribleminds.com/

Buy Scott McCloud’s books – http://www.bookdepository.com/author/Scott-McCloud

I like reading film scripts – I have scored many for download from this great flick site – http://cinearchive.org/

Stephen King’s ON WRITING could possibly round out my personal holy trinity of books about writing/making comics – http://www.bookdepository.com/On-Writing-Stephen-King/9780340820469

I like my writing craft books to have a personal tone. King’s author writing voice is something I could read for months on end – and I dig STORY (to degrees) and some of those other staples but if you want great ground level sensible stuff that has worked wonders for me, hit up the McCloud/Bendis/King triumvirate.


That’s it, now go read something every day, and write something every day.

Go. Enjoy.

My Comic Plans for 2014

This is not a post of comic resolutions. This is a plan moving forward.

I wanted to write down some plans for 2014 to keep me focused, to show me I’m on the right track, and just as an open process thing to see what someone on my level (Dante puts me down on the 8th circle) is doing. Here’s what I want to achieve in 2014.

What I Hope 2014 Can Do

My Best Work Yet – I’m dropping a series in the first half of this year that is the best long form thing I’ve done yet. I want to spend the time to do this right and show growth. I have something to say and my art team are beyond compare so I’m looking forward to this happening. I also have another series and two one-shots in the works and the aim is for these to bring the thunder in new ways. There is no room to rest on your laurels, you need to be charting up constantly.

More Shorts – I’d like to add a few more shorts to my list this year. I have a few sniffs in places so we’ll see what happens. I also want to collaborate with some cool people for kooky DIY 5-10 pagers we can just throw up online. Fingers crossed.

One More Greenlight – In a dream state, I’d like to get one more mini greenlit before the year is out. The ball always needs to be rolling and it can only be greased with the carcasses of previous comics work completed. This one will be the real test of the year but I have the faith.

Yep, that’s it. Other than that, I’m not going to ‘aim’ insanely high. No Daredevil gig just yet, or Image mini, or anything like that. I want to be realistic and set a plan I can reel in and stuff an air tank in its mouth before pulling the trigger.

This is my battle plan for 2014. I want to do what’s set already as well as I can, I’ve got lead time so I’m working my ass off to make every script really pop. I also want to aim for the next stuff with precision rather than with a scatter shot approach. Hopefully I’m doing it right.

What are your comic goals for 2014?

Maybe You Can’t Write It Today, But Tomorrow…

Three days ago, I had a scene in a script I didn’t mind at all. It wasn’t the shining gem of the issue but I had worked hard on this scene and I enjoyed much of it.

Two days ago, I realised the scene had to go and I was going to drastically rewrite it. I mapped out a plan and the five pages were planned loosely but in a way I thought was clear and would be fun/easy to write.

Last night, I started writing those five pages and found them incredibly hard. I managed to salvage much of the original first page so it cleared smoothly but the other four wouldn’t play ball. I found I could lay out the pages panel by panel but I could not fill them with anything except terrible terrible words. I hacked at these pages like I was taking a machete to the vines in the jungle and eventually went to bed annoyed that I didn’t nail any one of those four pages – and I also went to sleep wondering if maybe I had become a sub-par writer, y’know, maybe I had lost it. Maybe I’d never write a solid page again.

Note: seeing that the Page One still popped because it mostly used words written by a Ryan from weeks ago only seemed to reinforce the fact I had lost it for sure.

Today, while playing with the kids (cars and ramps and water pistols and snacks) I started getting little lines popping. I would periodically look at the woeful script pages I had and let them stew and then I’d get another little snippet. I’d race off and punch in a line, or a phrase. For some panels, I’d have 2-4 possible lines, I was slowly circling what I needed and how I needed it.

Cut to the kids having a nap/rest and I got half an hour to come into the office and so I quickly managed to string some lines together and now one page is nailed and the other three all sit very close. I just need another pass before they’ll feel cohesive and somewhat clever.

My lesson today/this week was; sometimes if you’re not able to write a scene then you won’t ever be able to write that scene…during that writing session. Work on something else, read a book, have a sleep, play with the kids, whatever. Admit defeat, retreat, reroute, and flank that script like it’s your job. Which, if you take this seriously enough, money be damned, it is.

This doesn’t work every time, I’ve broken scenes through persistence, but I also know scenes have broken me through my persistence so you need to allow yourself permission to walk away.

It’s like my knuckle tattoos always say: walk way and live to write another day.

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