How William Gibson Writes A Book

January 12th, 2012 | paper and process, researchmaterial

I already knew this – he told me, a few years back – but it still baffles and fascinates me.  From a long and interesting interview with The Paris Review:


How do you begin a novel?


I have to write an opening sentence. I think with one exception I’ve never changed an opening sentence after a book was completed.


You won’t have planned beyond that one sentence?


No. I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list—the novel becomes my shopping list as I write it. It’s like that joke about the violin maker who was asked how he made a violin and answered that he started with a piece of wood and removed everything that wasn’t a violin. That’s what I do when I’m writing a novel, except somehow I’m simultaneously generating the wood as I’m carving it.

E. M. Forster’s idea has always stuck with me—that a writer who’s fully in control of the characters hasn’t even started to do the work. I’ve never had any direct fictional input, that I know of, from dreams, but when I’m working optimally I’m in the equivalent of an ongoing lucid dream. That gives me my story, but it also leaves me devoid of much theoretical or philosophical rationale for why the story winds up as it does on the page. The sort of narratives I don’t trust, as a reader, smell of homework.

Partly, it fascinates because it’s alien to how I’ve worked for the last fifteen or twenty years.  In comics, we’re working in serial form and very rarely have the luxury of finishing the entire manuscript before it begins publication.  So one has to have a structure before the writing begins, because we can’t go back and tweak something in chapter 1 due to having had some story-changing bright idea in chapter 10, because chapter 1 probably saw print seven months ago and you’re still wanting the thing to hang together as a coherent whole in a collection.  Which is a terrible thing, really, but endemic to the commercial form.  Even FREAKANGELS, which I began with no real long-term plan at all, had a structure roughed out for the first 144 pages or so.  But even the bunch of notes and lists I had for FREAKANGELS at the start turns out to be more than Bill has when he sits down to write a novel.  When he began SPOOK COUNTRY, he had nothing more than a single interesting image in his head. 

It’s a horrifying, intimidating way to work, and I want to try it one day.

July 2nd, 2011 | paper and process


Digital devices are great work tools.  But always keep a notebook and pen or pencil handy.  They don’t use batteries, are as instant as use gets, and can help you think in different ways.  And then store them somewhere convenient so that you can sort through them when necessary.

SVK Approaches Invisibly

March 21st, 2011 | paper and process, Work

We’re getting there.

SVK is shooting for a mid/end-April completion, currently.  A completely jinxed project, this.  I got really sick twice, so did Matt Brooker (and his back went out to the extent that he couldn’t sit and draw), AND there were moments like this:

Warren sits down to work
Warren opens the SVK script
Warren just starts typing
A waterpipe explodes in the bathroom

Absolutely fucking cursed from start to finish.  But, as you can see above, it’s looking good, because Matt Brooker (better known to comics folk as D’Israeli) is the king.  I probably shouldn’t be leaking that bit of art out, but fuck it.

Have you signed on to the SVK mailing list yet?

The mailing list is there because our partners in crime, BERG, are not distributing it in comics stores.  It’s going to be mail-order only.  Which is why we’re not too worried about the extended production time – there’s no solicitation process to comics stores, a thing that adds two months from completion to publication.  On SVK, as soon as we’re done we go to print and mail them out when they’re back from the printers (complete with attached UV torch).

There’s a UV torch because… well, it was announced in WIRED UK, and you can find that link at the SVK mailing list site.  But the deal is that when you use the UV torch on the page, you can see what most of the characters are thinking.

That’s what SVK is.  A Special Viewing Kit.  Among other things.  SVK is a story and a design experiment.  And, I think a sign of bigger and better things to come from our collaborators and enablers at BERG.

What I’m Working On Tonight

March 20th, 2011 | paper and process

No, really.

The stuff in block caps there is the dialogue.  The comic is going to be lettered in upper case, so I write the dialogue etc in upper case, which gives me an idea of how it’s going to look when it’s lettered.  Which is important.  Some text effects in sentence case simply don’t translate to upper case.  I indent it for ease of reading and also for the same reason as above – I can kind of squint at it and guess roughly how the balloons will look.  Also, I have a rule of thumb – if one of those pieces of dialogue had run to a third line, then it’s getting a bit long for a single balloon.  If it runs to a fourth line, then it’s going to need cutting, or be the only balloon in the panel unless it’s a really big panel.

FAQ: Naming Characters

January 21st, 2011 | paper and process

When you’re starting a new story how do you decide on what to name the characters?#

That is so complex, for me, as to be almost unanswerable. Weirdly overdeveloped instinct, if you like. Sounds. Character background. That which evokes. While trying not to end up with character names that’d make even Don McGregor throw up in his mouth. (Don McGregor’s a comics writer who did groundbreaking work in the 1970s, and also did some of the most overcooked captionwork and character naming ever.) I do sometimes overdo it.

For instance: I’m working on something right now where I think I’ve nailed the character name finally. Birch. Birch = wood = connotes a degree of strength and basic groundedness. But also birching = flagellation. Also, “John Birch Society,” skeevy and untrustworthy. And it’s a hard, sharp word. There’s a lot about the character that unpacks out of the name. I tend to look for a name, particularly with protagonists, that somehow strikes sparks off elements of the character.

Or not. You can easily reverse that out. Michael Jones, in DESOLATION JONES: as ordinary a name as you can get. Which — at least in my head — indicates that what happened to him could have happened to anyone, given the right chain of rotten luck. (And also, in my head, a good name for a confused detective, because something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?)

(Yeah, I know. These things only have to happen in my head. The flow of notions and themes around a name only have to be visible to me, to give colour and direction to the writing.)