Dennis O’Neil: The One Right Way to Write?!

Sound-Effectsby Dennis O’Neil

Splat! Splibble! Ghosh!

Uh oh, here comes another one.

KLATLAM!

Okay, let’s close the metaphorical door…no, let’s slam the door on my cutsey way of sneaking up on an answer to the question I posed last week, which was something like: If I can’t teach writing — and I admit that I can’t — why do respectable institutions pay me to teach writing?

We’ll get to that gibberish at the top of the page in a bit, but first, let’s make a distinction between writing and creativity. I don’t know of anyone who has sussed out a reliable procedure for teaching creativity and I’m sure multitudes are trying. So let’s just drop the subject.

But writing? Different thing, and that brings us to the gibberish, which is supposed to be the noise information makes when it strikes a student because that, dear companions, is what I have done while standing in front of whiteboards. No, not fabricate sound effects, but hurl information at the eager faces: give them everything I know about the subject of the day, hoping that they will remember some of it and that what they remember will be useful. I’ve found that I can talk for… oh say twenty hours over the course of a semester about facts pertaining to writing – left-brain stuff that will fit into English sentences. Then, if I allow myself a little blue sky, or bring in a guest, or have responsive students willing to enter into dialogues voila! job done and where’s the nearest Starbucks?

Note: When imparting information, I never claim to be teaching the way to do anything. We have a mantra: There is seldom any one absolutely, inarguable, unimpeachably right way to do anything. There is just what’s worked for a lot of people a lot of times and maybe you’ll benefit from knowing about it.

Can I hear an Amen?

The matter of script format is sure to arise in any comics writing discussion and at first glance this seems like a no-brainer. I mean, a format is a format and all the instructor has to do is show one to the class and then take a bathroom break, right? That would indeed be the case if the subject were writing for television and/or movies. There is a widely accepted format for screenwriting and you’d best adhere to it. (But fear not: your friendly neighborhood software dealer will supply you with all you need.) Comics, though? I can’t show you the standard comics script format because there isn’t one. Every prolific writer seems to find, or evolve, a format that suits them and these range from the minimalist to the dense and detailed and I say blessings upon all. If it’s okay with your editor and with your collaborator(s), it’s okay.

We’ll probably revisit this topic, maybe not next week, but soon. For now, another amen and I’m off to play hooky.


Dennis O’Neil is one of the top writer-editors in comics, having guided the careers of just about every superhero the world has ever heard of. He’s also a damn fine writer of TV. LB still remembers that time he and Denny collaborated, without ever knowing they were doing so. Or knowing each other either. Ah, the magic of TV! This post was first published in Denny’s column at ComicMix.