Future Shocking

Yesterday was the first of day of a six week course on creating future shocks (and really any short comic book story) I was running for the Irish Writer’s Centre in Dublin.

It’s on a tuesday running from 6:30 to 7:30 every week for the next six weeks.

I’ve run a few one off courses, often with young kids, but more-often-than not I’ve focused on the art side of things (because, well … of course).

Having written a few shorts (more cowritten) but having drawn a substantial number of strips, there’s a little bit of imposter syndrome seeps in, because – who am I to teach anyone else to write short stories. But, you know, I know what I like, and I’ve a good solid sense of what makes a future shock work and I figured that knowledge has value.

The entire course is built around the idea of crafting a simple short story – start with an idea, write up a script, edit it, layouts, pencil it, ink it, letter it.

Roughly each week we’re covering one of those topics. Week one was about explaining what a future shock was and how to write one.

Week two will be about writing a script for an artist to draw.

A quick run down on week one.

I’d planned to get the bus down nice and early and to get some work done on it. Working on a bus, it turns out, is impossible. So next time I’ll be getting the train down.

It’s kind of fun to commute to work.

Arriving early, I drew up what I thought would be a fun little mood board of quotes of short stories on the white board:


I mean, I believe those words, especially Alan Moore’s – no better way to learn how to write than in short stories.


So I then talked through a couple of the classic future shocks – the Time Machine (absolute belter of a classic, that really isn’t a sci fi story at all) and Chronocops – because, if you think four or five pages can’t fit much in, you need to read it.

Talked about breaking a story into four pages, and having some sort of small twist/turn or even just a reason to continue at the end of each page. And that denouement on the last page.

As an exercise I stuck a bunch of words on the board as a way to think through some story ideas, the words were:


The idea was to take one of those words and tease out some ideas for stories, so, picking one of the attendees at random I asked for a one word thought for “Inversion” – he said mirror.

Taking that as a starting point, and looking at four squares on the white board (representing the pages) I started to dig up a story (and not writing this down, at the time, this is my best remembrance of it:

About a man who wants to be alone, but he comes from a big family, his father dies and he inherits a large mansion including a strange mirror, that, every time he looks into it he sees just his own reflection and noone else.

He becomes obsessed more and more with the mirror, and brings it down to the living room, he works from a home studio – and is constantly interrupted (this is the writers life) and yearns to be alone, but is afraid of the mirror so keeps it covered.

He spirals into worse shape, obsessively driving his family away, and looks in the mirror to see all his family and friends reflected in it, but they’re not in the room. He smashes the mirror and finds himself alone again, but he’s on the other side, trapped and from that side he sees his family, holding a funeral for him.

Ok, it’s not much, but it’s a start and it’s from one simple idea.

I asked everyone to pick a few words and see if they could come up with something, which we’ll hopefully knock in to script form.

Another of the words picked was fear – this, I admit was a little harder to tease a story idea out of, but we went from fear to fear of the past. To the idea of the past literally trying to kill you. To a man attempting to invent a time machine, despite everyone protests that the grandfather paradox is proof that time will not allow paradox. Time, in fact, hates paradoxes so much, that as he tries to build his time machine he’s continually thwarted by accidents – accidents relating to old things, old books falling, statues dislodging, until finally-on a visit to a museum-he’s impaled by the bones  of a dinoasaur and we end with the caption “The past was literally trying to kill him. And it succeeded”

I think what I was trying to get out of this workshop is the notion that ideas are everywhere, you just pluck them from the air and work and work at them. Ok, those two stories – not classics – but there’s something in them worth exploring, and for a short story, it may be fun to write/draw them to completion because then you get to actually finish something. And done is better than perfect. Every time.


Author: PJ

PJ is a Belfast based comic artist, and has been for some time.