*Note: This is the second part of my series about creating Rebirth of the Gangster. The first part focused on brainstorming the big idea and plot, and this one will focus on brainstorming all the details and outlining them into a coherent whole.*
Dead-ends, forks, and finally finding the Yellow Brick Road
Five years and a failed comic book had passed since I first wrote that poem (mentioned in the first part). But no matter what I did, I couldn’t keep it out of my mind. It kept bobbing above and beneath the surface of my conscious thoughts. Finally, I’d had enough! It was time to start turning this poem into the long-form narrative I’d always wanted it to become, but by now, I was completely set on making it a comic. Instead of writing a detailed outline and sticking to it right away, I wanted to brainstorm as many ideas as possible. After this process, I’d be able to delete and add ideas, combine characters and events for a more streamlined story, and recraft character motivations and relationships. See below for the various brainstorming documents and notes I created.
At first I started jotting down random ideas on random pieces of paper, but I don’t have those (I do have handwritten notes for later in the process though). Eventually, I looked at those notes, and compiled them into emails I sent myself.
First set of notes I emailed to myself
(Spoiler alert–kind of, since some this stuff will make it into the comic, and some definitely won’t; if you don’t want to read this, though, you can skip down to look at the reflection I have after it–the reflection starts after the italics end at the next bolded part):
Use birth poem beginning to piece on:
1) father figures–one dead, one alive, both former partners in crime, one double crossed and killed the other; has since retired into a comfortable anonymous life
2) sons–one doesn’t know what his dad’s done and is living comfortably post college; one knows what happened to his dad and is an addict (drinks and smokes) and works temp job while also getting socked into life of crime
3) wives–one has come to terms with what her husband has done in the name of family but distant from husband and becomes more distant as series moves on; one loves her dead husband but can’t come to terms with what he did and what happened to him: remarried and in a tense marriage and drinks: wants best for son and has to get over her need for revenge to help him avoid his father’s fate
4) love interest–starts off juggling both sons: middle of book goes with LD son but eventually ends up with DD son
5) two sons come into conflict over love interest: DD son finds out truth about each other and DD son pretends to be friend: convinces him to help him with a score w/intent to double cross: at story’s climax he changes his mind bc he’s finally moved on: to stay out of cops hands LD son sacrifices himself to save DD son: don’t know when but LD son finds out truth about father
6) use variation of “birth” to intro each character and what they let define themselves
7) DD wife toward climax kills LD; she gets away with it but realized the emptiness of her revenge and talks to her son about it; he rejects her talk at first and goes to mug someone out of anger; feeling nothing but rage and self disgust he starts to see his moms point but not fully yet
- A) first chapter starts with LD son birth and flashes to his life–happily working, happy hour with friends–and he is going shopping with love interest (not girlfriend but dating). While shopping DD son robs the place, recognizes LD and cracks him one with his gun; leaves and we see him escaping as he pulls off his mask to flashback to his birth scene and the scene of LD killing his dad
- B) second chapter starts with DD wife recounting her “birth”–meeting her husband after some traumatic event. At first she doesn’t know what he does but she finds out and eventually convinces him to quit. He’ll do it after this last score; but he doesn’t get to quit because he’s killed as she gives birth to their son–echo “birth” in her narration to close chapter
- C) third chapter starts with “birth” of DD son–new one, where he learns about his dad; starts doing worse in school and hanging with bad kids; his mom finds out and gets him to avoid this life for awhile but on a chance encounter he sees LD son happy which infuriates him; chapter ends with his first crime and an echo of “birth” in his narration
- D) fourth chapter starts with “birth” of LD wife: her first robbery, done with her husband; chapter follows them joining DD and clashing with his wife; fearful that the DD wife is going to police after seeing argument they resolve to kill him; chapter ends with DD death, wife and LD come home to celebrate and fuck (conceiving son) and she echoes “birth” narration as they go become a legitimate family
- E) fifth chapter starts with LD’s “birth” he just killed his partner and goes legitimate, albeit not in a legitimate way at first; as son grows up he softens and tries to forget his past; DD wife won’t let him though and she blackmails him every few years; chapter ends on one of them as he echoes “birth” narration to feel anger, and self-loathing, but indecision bc of his love for his son and family
- F) sixth chapter starts with the “birth” of love interest as she also lost her parents and is adopted; story follows her growing up and feeling loved and unloved at the same time; middle of chapter we see her as a teacher, trying to help make sure no one feels what she did; chapter ends with echoes in narration of her double “birth” as she hits it off with both sons
Next email and set of notes:
Of below outline definitely don’t use #4 (bc a love triangle doesn’t fit) and don’t use most of #5 (LD son doesn’t die and sacrifice himself, but does knows truth about his dad and is trying to redeem himself)
Third email and set of notes:
LF killed DF bc DF was planning on killing LF’s father; LF stops DF’s hit man but kills his own dad anyway
LF wife helped kill DF; she shot him in the leg; the first time we see DF’s death we see that wound but not her; we see her later in one of her chapters, third or later
DF wife is atheist which clashes with spirituality of cop/old friend of DF son, subtly not melodramatic, and not all the time
LF and LF wife got are religious but hypocrites obviously–most of the time they don’t see this of themselves
The night of the grandfather’s death is not the same as the night of DF’s death
Fourth email and set of notes:
DF son has a friend from the neighborhood who is just paroled from prison and is facing a Cutty-style decision from The Wire. His dad is some blue collar worker who works two jobs and is barely home. We see some of this storyline in the present and in flashbacks, which will also cover his experience in jail (review the book Unfair and some Oz). Like Cutty, he at first tries to get back in the game but won’t end up there. After getting out of the game, he ends up with a Latina woman who is a teacher. Unlike the cop, she had a present and working father and isn’t religious.
Another member of the gang–who was in jail with him, which we’ll see in some flashbacks–gets out at the same time but sinks back into his old life with his old girlfriend, a real rider like in the book we read for book club, written be a UW professor of social work I believe. This storyline would be introduced in the second act.
The LF son is a prosecutor (review that section of Unfair); the LF is a real estate developer; the LF wife is a business image contractor like Cheadle in House of Lies.
Maybe the DF son says he’s got a plan on how to extort/blackmail LF but he’s really just looking to kill LF and then the LF son. He at least doesn’t kill the LF son. Probably he can’t kill either of them and the LF son kills his own dad. The DF son gets killed by police or arrested after the fact? LF son lies and says the DF son killed his dad?
Title idea: Rebirth of the Gangster/Return of the Gangster
Second meeting between the two sons: DF son has one of the members of his gang stage a mugging of LF son that the DF son stops. Of course, because of the previous robbery, the LF son is fearful and angry toward the robber and appreciative of the DF son, his “rescuer”. This leads to the beginning of his fake friendship with the LF son. Most likely tell this story from the perspective of the LF son.
Outside Help with the Outline and Plot
Around this time, I felt I needed some more guidance in how I approached creating this story–yes I had a lot of ideas, but I wasn’t quite sure how to make them all work in a satisfying story arc, much less make them work as concisely as I needed. I turned to two texts to help me with this stage of planning: Writing for Comics by Alan Moore, which mainly helped me think about the best ways to structure an individual issue (see below my handwritten breakdowns for the product of this reading and thinking; I still do this for every issue, although I sometimes find that I need to add a scene/make a scene shorter/make a scene longer, etc…).
I still felt lost, though. On a visit to Chicago, I met some old college friends. One of them has traveled the world, shooting advertising campaigns, writing scripts, and so on. He looked at my notes and gave me some feedback, and then pointed me to Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (I know, I know, this isn’t really a revelation, since it’s been a go-to guide for many years. But it was a revelation for somebody who was focusing only on books that taught comic writing).
While I don’t agree with everything Blake Snyder writes, his book did help me combine some of the disparate elements in my notes into scenes that had multiple purposes (one of which is to create tonal shifts), and he did make me realize that my main character, Marcus, had to be more active. (I kind of resent the idea that there has to be one main character, so my comic will have him and Hunter as a focal point, but will develop other characters on a similar level, kind of like Game of Thrones.) He also helped me structure the story for certain beats (like the turning point, the all is lost point, etc…). Again, while these ideas aren’t necessarily revolutionary–and not even really new to somebody who spends way too much time consuming entertainment like I do–it helped remind me of certain, proven story beats and how I needed to change my story to fit them.
Below is the outline for the series as a whole, based on the story beats Snyder describes:
That’s it for part two folks! I’ll be back soon with the next part, that focuses on writing the synopsis and getting feedback on that, before moving onto writing the script.