What’s Best?

LWA-34_1Having been born without the sports (or math) gene, I’m not much into statistics. Numbers make my head hurt and, frankly, I’ve got enough problem with the manipulation of words that I don’t need addition headaches trying to keep track of numbers too. Personal best? In prose, I’ve had a couple of 6,000 word days and a few more 4-5,000 word days, while in comics, I once wrote an entire twenty-two script overnight.


Shortest blog post. Ever.

Still, I like to think it’s the quality of the words one produces, not the quantity, that counts. I’d rather have a few hundred really great words than several thousand merely serviceable ones. But unlike word counts, that’s tougher to quantify. It’s more a matter of how a sequence fits in and works with the story as a whole, what it reveals about a character or a relationship, and how it serves as a pretty but relevant little ornament on whatever story you’ve been knitting together.

Several years ago I wrote JSA: Ragnarok, a novel based on the DC Comics title (and don’t go searching Amazon for it; due to technical difficulties beyond anybody’s control, it’s yet to be published). At some point, the good guys, as is their wont in such tales, fall into the clutches of the bad guys. One of the heroes, Mister Terrific, aka former Olympian Michael Holt, blames his becoming distracted for their plight, which triggers a memory of an earlier incident in his life in which distraction cost him a victory. It’s a compact little vignette, all of about 650 words long, telling how Holt allowed a Kenyan competitor’s behavior in the 400 meter race to distract his focus from his own performance, thereby losing to the Kenyan by .05 of second, but it’s a nice, tight little piece of writing that sheds some light on the character’s personality. I don’t recall if I wrote it in the middle of a longer run of prose or as its own separate section, but if all I produced that day had been those 650 words, I would have been a happy writer.

A lot of what I write are comic books, recently for Archie Comics’ Life With Archie magazine. The premise of LWA is, briefly, the Archie gang as twenty-somethings in two alternate realities, one in which Archie is married to Veronica, the other to Betty. LWA is a really “quiet” title; it’s a lot of scenes with characters sitting around the Chocklit Shoppe or hanging out in the park, interacting, for the most part, the way real people do. Very little of which makes for interesting visuals, a prerequisite for your average comic book, even one in which the reader doesn’t expect a whole lot more than people talking. So in order to shake things up, I try to find interesting bits of business for the characters to perform while they talk, or unusual settings for them to talk in. I think one of my personal best efforts in that vein was in the most recent issue of LWA, #34, in which Archie is on a job interview with a billionaire industrialist…on a harrowing, stomach churning flight over Riverdale in a Korean War-era helicopter piloted by his perspective boss.

My favorite scene in my Crazy 8 Press mystery novel The Same Old Story is another one of those personal best moments, where story, character, and a great bit of business came together. In the pulp-story-within-a-story, police detective Inspector Solomon is tracking the movements of a victim the night he was murdered, which leads him to a diner down the street from the victim’s office. There, while questioning the owner and waitress, Solomon indulges in his passion for pie, consuming several slices as a sampler of the diner’s fare. At the end of the interview, when the owner tries to decline the detective’s money for the pie and coffee, Solomon insists on paying his way so that he can feel comfortable returning for more of their delicious pie as a customer and not be seen as a freeloader.

It’s another short sequence, a little over 1,500 words, but it’s successful not only in moving along the story but in advancing the character as well. Two characters, in fact; that of the fictitious-within-the-story Inspector Solomon, as well as that of Max Wiser, the writer of the fictitious Solomon, a character he created based on his own father.

So while I don’t keep a record of how many words or comic book pages I’ve managed to pound out in any given sitting, I can’t help but keep in mind those scenes, sequences, and chapters that I consider a creator’s true personal best. It is, after all, what we’re trying to accomplish with everything we write.

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