THE MANGA WRITER: SHOJO HEARTBEAT

Written by: Brenda Greggson

HEART SKIP BEBOP

I’m not a mangaka, nor will I pretend to be one for the purposes of this short and hopefully insightful little guide on manga writing in the shojo genre. What I am is a lover of manga, particularly the ones that feature love blossoming eternal and people finding romance during the most awkward phase. I also want to write my own series one day and perhaps create even more of them when I’m done. I think what I’m trying to say is that I absolutely, positively and wishfully hope to be a mangaka.

Of course, wishing to be something doesn’t necessarily make you what you want to be, right? So the only thing you can to make your dreams come true is to go out there and do it. If you want to be a star quarterback then go out there and practice and practice until somebody notices you determination and ball-handling skills. If you want to be an famous ice skater, girl, hit the ice and skate until you’re shivering from the cold and somebody notices your technique. If you always wanted to be tall … well, there’s not much you can do, really, unless you’re comfortable wearing high heels or platform shoes all the time.

What I’m saying is go out and do it. A little green fellow who has an intimate knowledge of the Force once said that there is no try … you do or you do not. So I wrote my first draft for a one-shot shojo manga I called “Tango Kiss.” Of course, the nearly 200 pages I wrote were easy because the manga script was autobiographical rather than fictional but it was my way of getting to know to tell a romance story, get to know the format and then the joy of having to work out the visuals with an artist.

Writing, of course, comes first so I followed a simple and clichéd rule fiction writing instructors always say: write what you know. So thinking back to all my favorite shojo manga titles that I collected over the years (believe me, all of them take up a whole wall space alone) and a number of favorites I’m reading now (from “Love Attack” to “High School Debut”) I began writing what I know. I know myself and my life and one part of that life consisted of a romance that blossomed between myself and the Editor-in-Chief of this very site. Of course, back then we were freshmen in our High school in Southern California. Back then I was a sort-of-shy-sort-of-awkward girl that was great at dancing and he was a friendly-and-outspoken cute boy who just didn’t know how to approach the girl he wanted the most.

FIRST DATE

Writing was, surprisingly enough, not the hard part. The hard part to me was the format that would be easy for an artist to follow. I tried my hand at drawing and thought it was horrible so I knew I couldn’t be a mangaka who could pull double duty. So I knew I had to be as descriptive as I can possibly yet still give my artist enough creative freedom to inject his or her own unique artistic style to the project. I’m not a very demanding person so in “Tango Kiss” I gave my artist – Tokiko Sanada – the freedom to be as creative as she want to be with her style and flair for detail just as long as the characters and our school look the way I need it to look.

I read somewhere that manga and graphic novel writers must learn the Hollywood art of screenwriting because they almost go hand-in-hand with comic book writing. The truth is that there’s no ONE way to write a manga script just as long as it follows a consistent format all the way through. I voted for a more screenplay look to my scripts but left note for my artist within the descriptions of the actions.

Every story, of course, has a beginning, a middle and an ending. “Tango Kiss“, in a nut shell, is about a shy girl who falls for an outspoken cute boy who has a crush on a somewhat popular girl in school. This boy goes to great lengths to try to pursue the girl and comes to the conclusion that if he can become the popular girl’s dance partner he could get close enough to her to tell her how he feels about her. Of course, the boy has two-left feet and turns to the shy girl who is taking dance arts on campus. Soon the shy girls befriends the boy and comes to realize that she is falling in love with him despite the fact that said boy only has eyes for the popular girl. A conflict arises when the popular girl starts noticing the boy more and the shy girl just goes for it by kissing the boy. Will the boy put aside his quest to win the popular girl and stay with the girl that loves him more or will he break her heart and turn to the popular girl? Let’s just say that happy endings are nice but they’re not necessarily what happen in real life.

Of course, along the way other things occur outside the Beginning-Middle-End and you can inject those into your story as long as you keep the central story and main characters intact. Once you have that down you can write the story whether you plan it as a one-shot deal or a whole series. So it’s story and characters first, then work on the format and finally plan things out with an artist. Personally speaking, I found it useful (but not necessary) to buy a program called Manga Studio. It’s essentially a program for manga artists but I use to make thumbnails of how a scene will break down. Don’t worry if you can’t draw. Anyone can make stick figures, right? It’s just something to help your artist realize how the scene should look. It’s the artist that will take your thumbnails and bring their own style and creativity to it.

LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH

Tango Kiss followed a consistent and screenplay-like format that I didn’t necessarily came up with but it seemed to work when I took my script to Japan several months ago. You don’t have to go to Japan to get a manga done (I’m half Japanese so I was there because I love visiting relatives there). You can find an artist on your own and collaborate with them and have it printed here via publishing services you can hire.

Oh yeah, we were talking about format. Well, as I said, keep it looking consistent in order not to confuse your artist. Here’s a sample from “Tango Kiss” to give you the idea of my style.

PANEL 1

The quad again only this time it’s bustling with the lunch crowd that uses it as a hangout. To the right are three Goth kids … the girl working the Gothic Lolita look for all its worth. To the left are the hip-hop kids that, while multiracial, look like Hollywood’s version of urban kids. One of them bares a striking resemblance to rapper Eminem.

Sitting in the center is BRENDA and EDDIE who are sipping their Big Gulps and checking out the scene in front of them.

PANEL 2

CLOSE UP on EDDIE noticing something we don’t see just yet.

PANEL 3

It’s TIA in a cheerleading outfit. She has her pom poms and is cheerfully walking and talking with a group of other perky cheerleaders. All around them there are guys practically with their eyes glued to the group of curvy girls.

PANEL 4

BRENDA has her eyebrow raised as she eyes EDDIE watching the object of his affection walk past them. EDDIE is sporting a rather goofy grin on his face.

BRENDA: You know, I didn’t think she would get any more air-headed but –

EDDIE: She’s NOT an airhead.

PANEL 5

BOXOUT – BRENDA is eyeing EDDIE more curiously now.

PANEL 6

EDDIE, slightly annoyed by her glance, is practically glaring at his friend.

EDDIE: What!?!

BRENDA: Nothing. I just can’t see you dating a cheerleader.

BRENDA 2: It doesn’t suit you.

There it is, friends, my format. You can develop your own but bare in mind that some publishers have their own format in mind so if you are sending a script to, say, TOKYOPOP, just make sure you check with the format they are comfortable with or if they require you to have an artist with working with you.

Other than that all I can say is good luck. May you make your dreams of becoming a mangaka come true and hopefully one day your work will inspire other writers to do the same. Do it for yourself or do it for the love of manga but just do it.

Oh, just a side note here. “Tango Kiss” is not on sale. I wrote it for myself but also to have something to show publishers when I do have a project to sell. Consider it a business card of sorts to get your in the door. And, for those curious, “Tango Kiss” does not have a happy ending but the epilogue has a meeting of the two characters again in their college years when they do become sweethearts.

Their meeting, in a banquet hall during a friend’s wedding, reveals how much these two people actually did love each another. A band is playing an old Argentinean tango as the two, realizing they love each another, hold hands as they look into each another’s eyes.

BRENDA: May I have this dance?

EDDIE: That one and any other dance as long as it’s with you.

Now that’s a happy ending.

 
BRENDA GREGGSON lives in Southern California with her tea cup-sized puppy Chihuahua named Chibi and hopes to be a mangaka soon. Her hobbies include reading manga, playing tennis, traveling to Japan and hopes to write reviews for Animanga Nation.

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