“Story Science” With Louie del Carmen & Jim Zub: Live From Emerald City Comic Con

StoryScienceThumbnailI was honored to support the Emerald City Comic Con this year by hosting a panel with seasoned storytellers Louie del Carmen and Jim Zub.

Louie is a legendary storyboard artist with credits on Rise Of The Guardians, The Croods, Kung Fu Panda, Kim Possible and Invader Zim to name a few.

Jim Zub is the creator of the Samurai Jack comic and his popular indie projects Skull Kickers and Makeshift Miracle.

Click through to hear them share professional insights about how to create an emotionally engaging experience through storytelling…

Do you like this video? If so, would you consider sharing it on Twitter?

Industry Topics Covered:

  • Behind the scenes of the How To Train Your Dragon animated series!
  • Behind the scenes of the Samurai Jack comic!
  • Jim’s process for pitching the Figment series at Disney – plus abandoned concepts!
  • How to get a big studio on your side.

Indie Topics Covered:

  • How to learn from awful movies.
  • Which story ingredients are necessary to start writing?
  • The value of brainstorming, world-building and backstory.
  • How to practice storytelling.
  • How to find the emotional core of your story.
  • How to connect emotionally with your audience.
  • How do you know if you have a good story in mind?

Awesome Links:

Louie del Carmen

Jim Zub

Jealousy Is Creative Poison by Jim Zub

Jim’s Storytelling Tutorials

Download our free digital book about creating compelling conflict!

What Do You Think?

Have you ever become lost during the process of writing a story?

I know I have…

How did you find your way out?

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Tegan Clancy

I love this! and it can be applied to anything, know your characters and story inside out, and all the following decisions will be easier. Another great example of having a strong foundation and building up from there.


Chris Oatley

So true.

Writing (and story craft the larger sense) are an incredible test of focus and patience. You even have to exercise focus and patience when you don’t know that you need to exercise focus and patience!

But the creative payoff to patience and focus are immeasurable.


J. Kevin Carrier

I’m struggling with the “focus and patience” thing, for sure. Most of my previous work has been short stories, and my habit was to work very improvisationally — just dive in and see what happens. But currently I’m working on a longer story, and forcing myself to slow down and do all the proper prep work (outlines, research, design, et. al.). I know it’ll make the book better in the long run, but there’s this voice in the back of my head going “Just get ON with it, already!” Shut up, stupid back-of-the-head voice! 😛

On the “have you ever become lost” question: I was working on a comic once, and started thinking that my planned ending was just too pat and predictable. There was this side character who’d been portrayed throughout as an innocent victim, and suddenly I looked at him and thought, “You know, we only have this guy’s word about what happened to him. What if he’s been lying to make himself look good?” That put a whole different perspective on the story, and I was able to see a way to a more interesting ending.


Hayley Macmillan

Really enjoyed this episode of the ArtCast. (If this was what you were hinting at for so long Chris, it was definately worth the wait)

One thing that really stood out to me about the talk was how (sorry, but I forgot who exactly said it) a person can get too twisted up in making the story but never moving forward with it and how the actual act of ‘finishing’ something is really important (he also mentioned doing short stories and such). I think I really needed to hear that today as I think I’ve been kicking around in that trap recently.

I’ve been working on the story for a comic and I’ve been getting rather frustrated at my lack of progress. Part of me wants to go ahead and start writing the script (definately won’t be the final version, but at least something more concrete) and another is afraid that if I do, I’ll not be able to return to the earlier planning stage. I’ve sort of experienced this before when I thumbnailed a comic up to where I’d left the script and then had an incrediblely hard time continuing the script. I suppose it comes down to a balancing act? (one side is moving your progress forward, and another side is doing more planning/preproduction stuff.) I’ve always been the more ‘timid/planning’ type person, so I suppose I’m learning now to just jump out of the nest sometimes, whether I think I’m ready to or not :)


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Hayley!

I announced this back when ECCC first announced that it would be happening. So I don’t think I ever “hinted” at it since it’s been out there from the beginning. …but I have been hinting at many of the other fun things we have in the works at Oatley Academy. 😉

The planning conundrum you describe is shared by many (I’d guess most) storytellers.

Yes, there’s a point where you have to make a decision. You can’t keep your story “liquid” forever. …but that can be really scary if you don’t know where you’re going.

That said, even if you’re writing an ongoing series, I recommend having a strong, clear “armature” as ‘Invisible Ink’ author Brian McDonald says it: http://otly4.me/bmcdink

Also, here’s his first appearance on the Paper Wings Podcast. Amazing: http://paperwingspodcast.com/brian-mcdonald/


Britny Arnett

This is the BEST thing since sliced bread! Holy cow. Talk about inspirational pep talk. Wow!

I want to talk about the part where they discussed watching bad movies. My husband and I thought it would be funny to watch one of the ripoff movies. The one we watched was Legend of the KungFu Bunny. And we lasted 20 minutes. It had so many flaws. Then we watched the 20 minute Christmas special of KungFu Panda. It was so much better.

I never once took a pencil and wrote it all down and thought about how to fix the bunny movie. I’m definitely going to do that now! What a great date night idea! Thank you for posting this, Chris!


Britny Arnett

I just realized I missed answering the question about getting lost during the story process. The answer is yep. I have a part in my story where one of my characters just made no sense. I had no idea what part he really played in the armature. I spent last weekend restructuring his character and his motives. I drew a chart of emotions and motives for my protagonist, which really helped determine where I had strayed. So. Yup.


Mandy Milliron

I know how that feels with getting lost in story telling. But, I ended up stuck from being away from the story so long that I lost forgot the story. One of the downsides of the time eater known as college. Hence why I don’t want that to happen with future stories. However, I am finding Jim Zub’s blog very helpful right at this minute! I am using his “Rambling About How I Write Comics” blog posts to help me out with my fan-comic one-shot script as I realize the reason I having issues was I was I hadn’t planned out pacing as well as I should have. Though, I am going to apply all my stories to what he explained in his blog posts.


Hannah Spangler

This was so encouraging, and I watched it at a good time. I know I’m one in hundreds of thousands of people who want their stories to be known and loved, and it means a lot that you guys would encourage us to do these things. Because I understand that their are PLENTY of artists and writers who want to tell a story, but only a handful have the passion and emotional investment to complete a wonderful and engaging story.

I want to be that person SO badly. I have a story now, that I’ve been emotionally invested in for a couple years (almost it’s 3rd anniversary since its conception) and I’ve begun script writing it for a future web comic/graphic novel. I was afraid it wouldn’t be a big hit, but watching this ArtCast lifted my spirits!

I love the process of storytelling, and I love its challenges and secrets. I’m going to be a freshman in community college this year, and I want to take this passion with me. So thank you so much for posting this, I love listening to your ArtCasts and reading your blogs. I always leave inspired and encouraged.


Mandy Milliron

If you are going to community college, let me give you a warning. Make SURE to plan your schedule to include doing your personal project. If you don’t, you’ll lose it like I did for a good deal of stories I was working on. I did not properly planned and that caused college to eat up all my time and my ideas for my stories. So if I wanted to go back and try again, I would have put a whole lot of research and planning to get something similar up again. Though, I am thinking of doing that again as it is worth the effort at a later date, once I figure out a better system to keep my stories going, both my original and fandom ones. Hence why I came to this place to begin with.


Hannah Spangler

Thanks for the tip! That was the one thing I was concerned about going to college, that the homework would devour my personal time doing what I wanted. Even though the education I’m getting there is to help me grow my knowledge in my storytelling skills, I can see how I can let it slip away.

I’m glad you told me, thanks again! And good luck with your stories!


Mandy Milliron

My tip for you on the homework. Always, and I mean ALWAYS do it as soon as you get it from the professor. I am not talking about procrastination. I found that by doing it right away, you will have time to talk to your professor about questions you have on it, be able to make sudden changes to it, and the professors will help you out if you are willing to do the work. This is especially useful for art and writing fields where the extra time you put on the work, the better(well, most of the time) the piece will become. Though, for me, homework did not eat my time, it was having to do marching and concert band compounding all the demand of my art studies(with art, your classwork counts as homework as well at times) that ate my time and kept me even focusing on my old stories. But, I had to keep up the hard work in order to get out of college with minimum debt. Community college and online stuff is starting to become the only option in this area with how the state college I went to keeps upping the price to where scholarships and such barely cover it anymore. If I had a time machine to go back right after I graduated from high school, I would have gone and smack younger self across the head, showed her Chris Oatley, Will Terry, and other places to learn from and told myself to self-study with only taking a few classes from college on figure drawing and such. As well as work on what I was already doing then. I was actually doing better then as I just now got back to where I used to be writing wise the last few months. Art, though, I improved on and is probably the only reason I won’t invest in a time machine now.


Chris Oatley

Thanks so much, Hannah!

I’m delighted that you found the video helpful.


Mandy Milliron

I needed this Panel video and the link to Jim Zub’s blog. His tutorials on writing had just helped me realize an issue I was having with my fan-comic script and I can apply them to my current fanfiction as well as I have them planned out, but not as well as I could have with seeing how he does it. I realized how important planning is too late due to college and hence now trying change my bad habits into some better ones(Painting begins with Pain seems to applies also to writing). Though, I watched all sorts of movies as my father will just watch mostly anything at any time(and on the main television which is really loud). Bad, good, silly, ugly, I have seen quite a bit… And sadly, can’t remember a lot of the names due to college junk still being pushed out to finally be able to do that and other people’s names. Some stuff I watch I have to hear them tell out the plot or story some of a movie they watch and then I realize I had watch it, but forgotten the name. It’s a problem I have with people’s names as well and decided to play around with it for one of my fanfiction since one of the protagonists lost his memories(but not in a normal way like hitting his head).

I agree with them on the highest order with “knowing it all.” Writers and artists have to always keep researching and knowing what’s going on in order to make all sorts of amazing stories. Even something simple like spinning thread and making it into clothe can become a complex story once you know all terms and such about it. Though, now I need to make sure to hit watching movie and reading books more. Maybe now that I am not cramping into my head how to do super complex math problems that I will be able to remember the names of movies and link them back to the plots I know from them. I’m at least know beginning to remember street names!

Also, can’t wait for tomorrow’s ArtCast! This is an awesome little teaser to the main show tomorrow, even if they are not connected in no way what-so-ever since this was from the Emerald City Comic Con.


Chris Oatley

Hey, Mandy!

So glad you found the interview helpful!

Yes! We’ll see you at the live ArtCast tomorrow!



Wow, this is one of the best articles/interviews I have ever seen!

I know that feeling very well. For a long time I was just hovering around my story but didn’t dare to put it to a “definite” state.

One reason was that I might have had issues with a consistent structure of a script, so I watched at movie scripts to get a good feel to it’s structural text.

However, I still had this fear of writing it down, as I always revisited scenes and explored something new. My fear was to write the stories down and being caught in an endless “remaking” circle, where I would eventually lose interest in the storywriting.

But it was just a fear and to defeat it, there had to be a step (like a prestep towards the finished project) I could feel comfortable with.

So I started to write my stories in multiple development stages:

Step 1: Writing down random ideas BY HAND (important!), that way I would kinda memorize my ideas by linking them to my muscle movement (so I could remember things while drawing and think about it).

Step 2: Writing the story as if it were a Questbook. Per example:

You know a scene where your hero opposes the villain on a bridge, or rooftop, rain everywhere, you know the dialogues, etc.

But instead writing all of it, do it as if it were a Quest for you to play in a videogame:

– The hero reached the rooftops and the villain is waiting for him. The villain has to be defeated.

– During the battle, the hero lost his sword and an unexpected character joined the fight. The hero has to get his sword back and support his ally who is distracting the villain.

And so on. Basically giving yourself quests and writing everything down that has to be done by the characters. That way you can finish a whole bunch of the story’s content at once.

Step 3: Here is where you see what kind of detail will happen/occur and what kinds of dialogues will occur, you just have to read your “questbook” and decide how many chapters it might need to lead the characters towards the actual goals.
So you kinda lay down what will happen between each “task”, so that the characters will get a step forward.

Finishing a kind of “questbook” that kinda tells you what the characters will have to go through feels very good and will help you to keep your thoughts focussed. At the end it is all about the details and the solution the characters will come up with to complete the task or to solve the problem.

This way and by looking at movie scripts I was able to finally do steps forward instead of floating around my pool of ideas.

To keep my imagination flowing I scripted my own “Murphy’s law” spreadsheet and a “foreshadowing spreadsheet”. With each time I press the button it will confront me with “something” to think about (the spreadsheet uses an event randomly from another row).

Building my world’s nature is an essential thing here, because now I can just ask myself one question: “What would character xyz of my story do?”

I can toss my characters into a videogame setting, per example an enemy base, and just let them do what they do according to their nature. There are a lot of absurd events, but that is what makes your mind running on autopilot, so you are faster with brainstorming.

Another thing is to have a best friend or colleague that shares the same passion. My best friend and I constantly think and discuss each other’s stories and one wouldn’t believe how much fun those brainstorming sessions are.

All this keeps me motivated. My story named Forlorn Knights might be written as a “questbook” (so I am at step 2) for the first half of the overall project this year. What I already wrote so far is now available and I don’t have to worry about each thing anymore.

As for so called “generators” that are there for keeping your mind running and confronting you with spontaneous, unexpected “problems”, there is a great website done by a great guy who is very experienced with worldbuilding:

http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-writ.php (This link should lead to the generators focussing on writing)

Once I started to let my world be the way it is and evolve the way it does, not forcing it to any direction, the stories and characters that build them appeared by their own. I just have to write down what they have to go through, so I can look closer as to how they solve their problems.

I highly recommend the “questbook method”, provide your characters a set of goals (according to your rough ideas) and see what they will do. This will work very well when you have most of your story written as rough notes or if you built a lot inside your mind already.

Maybe it helps. I hope it will at least a bit.

Have a good day everyone!


Chris Oatley

That’s great advice, David!

Thanks for sharing!



You’re welcome!

Also, I followed the advice yesterday to finish something, so I finished a small draft of a quick prologue (manuscript-wise/ or like a movie script) for another story. This felt quite good indeed.

Surprisingly I figured out something else while doing it:

– It is about the issue of sitting there in front of the canvas and, although there are lots of ideas flowing, there is nothing that wants to be captured for a scene, or character, or environment, etc. It is like trying to grab water out of the idea-pool, almost impossible to do.

I have always been a very “imaginative” guy, it was never easy in artschool. Because we had to do moodboards and tons of optional drafts to choose the final design to work be worked out. We had to show that we can capture all these ideas, to show our process.

And I was just sitting there, thinking. And I came up with my result, by my own, within my head – I got many complaints from teachers, however they knew the way I function and stood fair.

Now… normally one would start with doodles and stuff to get into the right mood. And if there is anyone else knowing what I mean: Sometimes even the doodles wouldn’t make any sense, so that’s when one sits in front of an empty canvas.
My solution might be a little odd, maybe, but it might also help others:
– Write a little manuscript of what is in your mind. Stay simple. Sometimes it seems, or mostly for some cases, that writing starts another “engine” running our mindset. Reading that script, per example about a scenery, will fuel the own imagination. And then, doodles, sketches, rough digital concepts, or paintings and drawings, will have a base to exist on.

Alright then. All the best and hope there will be more to discuss. :)


Chris Oatley

Nice! Way to go, buddy.

What it sounds like is that you’re attempting to excavate the true “story” inside of all the big world-building stuff.

…which sounds to me like the best of both worlds.


Abrian Curington

Hello! I’ve been catching up on ArtCast and PaperWings podcasts for the past week or so and I must say there is so much that has helped me! My latest “getting lost in the story writing process” moment was a little different than in the past. Last September I took Cory Godbey’s The Art of Personal Work (I highly recommend it) and stumbled in making my series of works because I was drawing pictures from a world that were supposed to tell a story without writing a story!

One day I went to a coffee shop, ordered some tea and I listed by hand everything I knew about my world and anything I could add. I realized that I chose the wrong images to tell the story of the land and that’s why they weren’t achieving my goal. From this a story developed. I used to get stuck at the “research and develop skills” phase but I’ve since just started doing. I wrote out my story and started my first multi-page webcomic (http://talesofelgon.wordpress.com/). I went to ECC this year for the first time and handed out a print version of the first 11 pages of my comic. I don’t know where I want to go but I’m certainly growing more now!



Hey there! I’m a long-time Oatley Artcast & Paperwings Podcast lover (Oatwingster! Or something…)

This was an awesome interview, chock-full of insight, honesty, humor and witticism. I paraphrased some points I found particularly useful.

Independent projects vs. Corporate client work: A freedom to create model vs. having to draw things you otherwise wouldn’t makes all the difference in where we’re in our creative evolution. The notion of having to fit into a brand that hires is something many forgo when pursuing the studio dream. Meanwhile the creative juices are flowing (more than we can handle at times,) and urging us to tell our own stories. In creating a personal brand, ultimately we mainly need to realize communication is at the foundation of our output. So staying true to that voice is what will make or break the infrastructure. Weather it’s sound, or flimsy will come down to how much we retain our truth.

When Jim was asked by IDW “How long will you give me? How long will you let me stay?” I laughed outright. It really is about diligence! Everyone has ideas. It’s those willing to plug the hours will emerge victorious.

“The internet is the ultimate leveling field. With all these phenomenal outlets at our disposal, the premise of making our own stories has never been more possible than it is now.” If the success of Penny Arcade, XKCD, Questionable Content, Hark! A Vagrant, Wormworld, Boltcity (Amulet) is any indication of what’s coming, I for one am oh so glad to be part of it.

It’s a brave, brilliant, beatific new world after all (and a small one at that.)


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