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December 14, 2011

Jim Zub: MAKESHIFT MIRACLE and Establishing Your Core Idea

Posted by Katherine

MAKESHIFT MIRACLE is an online graphic novel I’m writing that’s being serialized online right now It will be released as a book in mid-2012 by UDON Comics, publishers of manga art books including STREET FIGHTER, MEGA MAN, SILENT MOBIUS and VALKYRIA CHRONICLES. Working on this story has been a wonderful journey and I can’t wait until readers are able to hold a copy of the finished book in their hands. I’ve had a lot of people ask me how to develop an idea and build that into a full story. Every project is different, but talking about the core of MAKESHIFT might help other people understand how these things come about.

The first step, for me, almost always grows out of inspiration. Personal projects like MAKESHIFT MIRACLE are a way for me to craft the kinds of stories I enjoy reading. It grows naturally out of books, movies, comics and games I really dug into when I was younger. Looking back at particular times in my life allows me a chance to perceive them more clearly and sum up broader ideas about who I was and how I felt back then. In the case of MAKESHIFT MIRACLE, it’s built around thoughts and attitudes I had in high school.

At that time in my life, I stopped reading superhero comics and moved on to manga and mature fantasy series, most notably Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. The many genres and subject matters broached by manga I read blew me away. There was so much variety and it seemed like an endlessly fountain of new material. At a time in my life when I was socially awkward and feeling inadequate, there were manga that bolstered my confidence with stories of adventure, history, science fiction and romance. At the same time, Sandman changed the way I thought about my dreams and feelings. It was a really exciting time to be reading comics and I have really clear memories of how I felt and how those books affected me. There was fear and excitement of transitioning from a teenager towards being an adult, starting to understand more about myself and wondering where my life would eventually lead. Those ideas and feelings are pretty universal, so I felt like they would make a strong foundation for a story. That’s my initial inspiration. Makeshift has a foundation of teen angst meets a mystical coming of age story. It’s essentially a romance manga by way of Sandman. It’s not a copy of those things, but it draws upon the same broader ideas and, ideally, leaves the reader with a similar feeling by the time they’re done reading it.


From that initial foundation I started planning the major plot --- who are the characters and what are they going to do to keep the reader engaged? At the earliest stages I don’t want to shut any ideas out, so I try to jot all of it down --- personalities, characters, places, big visual concepts, even lines of dialogue if they come to me. I want a big well of ideas to draw upon later when I start to solidify the story. From there I jump to the end. I almost always nail down an ending for my stories before anything else. Once I know how the story ends I can start to unravel the many steps needed to get to that ending. How do the characters change? What needs to be learned? How difficult can I make this journey for the characters? What has to be sacrificed?

Putting all these concepts down and then trying to build proper paths for them can be daunting. When I start to lose my way I look back at my core concept --- teen angst meets a mystical coming of age story. Does the idea I’m developing enhance that concept? If not, then I need to bring it back into proper focus or ditch it. This is the most exciting part of the story development process. The foggy initial ideas start to take focus and decisions get made about plot and character.

From there I start to structure that story into major sections or chapters. Does each part have enough interesting developments? Is there enough happening in each chapter for it to be worthwhile? At each stage the story gets clearer.

Having that broad plan for the story really helps me once I start writing the actual comic script. I still have room for spontaneity and the ability to change aspects of the story as I go if better idea pops up, but I have an overall structure I can adhere to and an end goal in sight. At each stage I can bounce it off of my core concept and where I want the characters to end up and see if it’s moving forward.

Everyone develops stories in their own way, but this is the method that works for me – inspiration, theme, brainstorming, plot/character structure and then the full-on writing. If I’ve done my job properly then when you read Makeshift Miracle those core ideas will come through loud and clear. I’ll keep you guessing with where the story will go, but all of the twists and turns will feed into the bigger concepts and feel like they hang together by the end.