Learning to tell stories

For the last five months, I've been working consistently to improve as a comics artist.  Note the word artist - in making comics I've always focused on the artwork, not the stories, and my improvement efforts involve figure drawing sessions, copying other artists' work, and getting ink all over my hands.  As a result, it shouldn't be surprising that the longest comic I've written has consisted of three panels!  Even with three panels, I keep hitting a wall when it comes to writing a story.  Where does the story start? Where does it finish? What process can be followed to generate a story based on an initial idea? What questions do I need to ask myself, for the answers to take the shape of a graphic novel?

In an attempt to get past that block, I borrowed several books from the library.  The only really useful one has been Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box by Alex Epstein. The book's instruction is both conceptual and practical, so while you feel your understanding deepening, you're also gathering ideas on practical steps and tools for making story.

After reading a few chapters about story structure I re-watched the pilot episode of Bones, jotting down a list of all the "beats" and "act outs", along with notes about questions they clearly want the audience to be asking ("did the senator kill the young woman," "will Brennan's cowboy antics get Booth fired," "will Booth and Brennan get romantically involved") , conflicts that arise and are resolved during the show or left open for further exploration, and character motives that are communicated as a basis for the series.  

This has been totally enlightening.  I'm starting to see the gears turning in the story, the simple pieces that make the whole thing work.  I hope the way I watch television has permanently changed - not to enjoy the magic of good stories less, but to appreciate the art of good stories more.

Of course, the point of this is to be able to apply tv screenwriting ideas towards the writing of comics or a graphic novel.  I've got a lead character, some backstory, some world and culture already built, some ideas for "episodes" - now I need to use the ideas in this book to turn this into something concrete, and hopefully fun to read.

Unfortunately, this is all prep work; such a large project can't commence in earnest until after the Zine Symposium.  At least there's lots of time for the ideas to steep...