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Written on December 7, 2010 at 2:47 pm, by Doug Lefler

For those who are curious, here is the Home Page of my new site.


Written on November 22, 2010 at 7:37 pm, by Doug Lefler


At this time I would like to ask readers of Seven Extraordinary Things to tell me how the navigational controls are working.  With 7XT you can move around the story using the Pages menu above the viewing window, you can advance to the next panel by clicking the image, you can use the directional controls below the window, the thumbnails below that, or the Chapters sidebar menu.

Please let me know which of these are useful to you, what is your preferred way to navigate the story, and any changes or improvements you would like to see.  Your feedback will help me fine tune the new site, which with any luck will be launching the Monday after Thanksgiving (November 29th).

In The Moment – Part Two

Written on March 18, 2010 at 6:41 am, by Doug Lefler

When we read a story, or watch a movie, we want the protagonist to do what we can’t: live in the moment.  The events of the story may, or may not be Earth shattering, as long as they are so important to the main character that they consume every ounce of his or her attention. We demand this as an audience.  If we are going to invest the time to watch, or read about a character’s life we want to feel that character is paying attention.  If he doesn’t care enough to offer us an immediate reaction to the events at hand, why should we?

Although most of us don’t live moment to moment, we’ve all experienced it.  There are times, however fleeting, when something happens that drives out all other thoughts and quiets the internal monologue in our brain.  One of the things I love about directing is that it forces me into the moment.  This is partially because of the production challenges (which are always a little more than you can comfortably handle) and partially because I have to get actors into the same state.


With Kevin McKdd, James Cosmo and Ben Kingsley

I once had a scene with three actors all speaking in quick succession (not the scene pictured above!).  I thought the scene was playing well, but during one take a cast member got one of her lines out of sequence.  Suddenly the scene was alive in a way it hadn’t been before.  The actors were off script and didn’t know what was coming next. They had to listen, and respond in the moment.  It’s an argument for always having something new to introduce to a scene, something that hasn’t been rehearsed and keeps the performances fresh.

There is a paradox in all of this.  If we are trying to create a sense of believability in our stories, why would we want our characters to behave in a way that’s unnatural for most adults?  In fact, adding distractions (often referred to as “secondary business”) to a scene is usually a good practice.  It can make us feel the characters have a life outside of the moment we’re witnessing, and that they will continue to live after the scene ends.  There have been times when I’ve given actors the direction to think about something completely different from their dialogue in order to make their performances more natural.  These are often transitional moments in a sequence.  It’s our job as storytellers to shuttle readers, or the audience, into and out of those states of heightened awareness where the characters are in the moment.

In real life, if someone says something hurtful, we often suppress our response.  It’s a defense mechanism that gets us through our daily lives.  We might not even feel the pain of it until much later.  But we won’t tolerate that kind of behavior from the hero of a story.  We want him to react with immediate anger, remorse, or affection.  We want him to punch the person who offends him, kiss the girl in public, or kill the villain who’s just done something unforgiveable.  We want to witness these emotional responses and see the consequences be dealt with.  If the protagonist will do this for us, it brings us a little bit closer to knowing what it might feel like to live an unsuppressed life.

In The Moment – Part One

Written on March 15, 2010 at 5:40 am, by Doug Lefler

One thing that amazes me about my Miniature Schnauzer, even more than his ability to rend zombies limb for limb, is his ability to live in the moment.  Animals and children do this naturally, actors practice it as part of their craft; the rest of us neglect to do it, or have forgotten how.  I have a great fear that one day I’ll look back and realize I lived exactly the life I wanted to, but forgot to enjoy it along the way.

When we’re young, living in the moment is easy.  We laugh when something makes us happy.  We sleep when we’re tired.  We cry when we don’t get ice cream (I no longer cry when I don’t get ice cream, but I’m still not happy about it).   Eventually we go to school and learn to think before we act and to not say things we’ll regret later.  We begin projecting into the future and reliving the past.

Many years ago my wife and I were visiting Disneyland and observed a party of mentally challenged adults being escorted through the park.  There was a man in his forties, with stubble on his chin and wearing a bright yellow windbreaker.  Someone had purchased him a small stuff animal, which he was staring at with wide-eyed amazement and tenderly stroking with his big hands.  It was an image both sad and wonderful.  Instead of feeling sorry for him, I found myself envious.  For him, that toy, at that moment, was the most marvelous thing in the world.


It’s interesting that this incident pulled me into the moment, and (for a brief time) consumed all of my attention.  I’m sure this is why I remember it so vividly. That and the fact I made a sketch of it when I got home.

Knowing I’m not alone in my inability to live in the moment doesn’t make me feel better, but it does bring into focus an important point about storytelling and character development. I’ll go into that in part two of this post.

Rough Sketches and Rehearsals

Written on February 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm, by Doug Lefler

I once had a conversation with a director who just completed a frustrating day on the set.  A young actress he was working with had delivered a heart-wrenching performance in a scene where she watched her father die. Unfortunately she did this during the rehearsal and was never able to recapture the moment when filming began.

“It was stupid of me to let that happen,” the director said.  “Rehearsals are not performances!”


On set in a Slovakian castle

It was a lesson I took to heart when I started directing.

It’s also one I think about frequently when I’m at the drawing board.  I’m fascinated by parallelism in art; how principals from one discipline can be applied to another.  For instance, if your intention is to create inked drawings, then the inks are the performance and the roughs are the rehearsals. Artists have different opinions on how tight they should make their roughs before the finishing work begins.  If someone else is inking your pencil drawings then the answer is usually “pretty damn tight”.  Even if you’re inking your own work, a lot of professionals feel it best to leave nothing to chance. Others think you can save valuable time by doing the cleanup work last.  But the most compelling argument to me is that by leaving something to be discovered in the inking stage, your line can have more vitality.  The ink line is the version of your work most people are going to see.  It’s essentially the same as saving the performance for when the cameras are rolling.

How much work should you put into a rough sketch, or a rehearsal?  The answer to both questions is relative to your level of experience.  In the above mentioned example of the frustrated director, the actress he was working with was talented, but hadn’t done a lot of professional work. I believe she was anxious to show she could deliver the emotion. And she did. But only the people on set that day got the benefit of witnessing it.  She learned from this incident (I directed her many times in the years that followed and never saw her make the same mistake again).

Seven Extraordinary Things was my first graphic novel (although I’ve been drawing professionally for decades) and I wasn’t confident about inking.  I tended to refine the drawing before I committed to the final line.


Oddly enough, I didn’t refine the shading. Most of the black and white contrast in the panels came as a surprise to me. It had been my intention to keep the inking simple. I didn’t succeed.

The objectives for sketches and rehearsals are exploration and structure.


Rehearsing a scene with Colin Firth and Aishwarya Rai

When working with actors you spend time exploring possibilities.  What might the character have been doing before the scene began? What if this sequence was about revenge?  Maybe these two characters had been sweethearts in grade school. You discuss options and opportunities with your cast before, during and after the time you work on the staging.  I find I get the best results when I give actors precise blocking (enter on this word, turn to face her at the end of this sentence, leave the room as soon as he starts to reply) but with the disclaimer that it is only a starting point.  In most cases this kind of dictatorial staging frees actors from the mechanics of a scene and allows them to concentrate on their performances, but it works best when your cast knows you’ll be flexible and not force them into something that feels awkward.

With drawing you want to explore poses and compositional placement.  You can try drawing an arm in three different positions to see which one feels strongest.  The structure are the things like perspective, anatomy, the folds in clothing, and those difficult ellipses that will make that coffee cup look like it’s sitting on the kitchen table.  Work out all of the mechanics, but leave a little to be discovered in the final stages, so finished art looks both spontaneous and solid.




An actor came to me right before we were going to shoot a scene where he had been captured by three beautiful female spies (it was that kind of a show). “Do you think I’ve slept with any of them?” he asked.

“Every one,” I replied.

He nodded and stepped in front of the camera.

Revealing Characters through Dramatic Situations

Written on February 8, 2010 at 7:04 am, by Doug Lefler

I got this responses to “The Rat-Catcher’s Son” from my friend Josh Becker:

I want to know what happens next?  I think Bartholomew went out to his horse to get his sword and is coming back for Tom, whom he knows put the rat down his shirt.  Now, what will Tom do when he’s confronted by the greatest swordsman in the realm (I just assume he is)?  What will Sarah do?  Which brings us around to another lesson in character development.  What if previous to this incident we learned that Tom doesn’t feel worthy of Sarah’s love because A. he’s the rat-catcher’s son, and B. he doubts his own manhood (rats scare him; girls scare him; everything scares him).  Now, Bartholomew returns with his sword, points it at Tom and states, “I’m going to kill you!”  OK, who is Tom really?  Is he a man or is he a mouse (or a rat, as the case may be)?  An interesting character not only does interesting things, but when they’re put into a dramatic situation they reveal themselves.

Josh and I worked together in New Zealand, directing episodes of Hercules and of Xena.  More about him at

The Rat-Catcher’s Son

Written on February 1, 2010 at 6:43 am, by Doug Lefler




















Click here to return to the Home Page of this site, where new panels of Seven Extraordinary Things are posted daily.  New readers to my online graphic novel can begin here.

Do Not Create Characters That Are Interesting

Written on January 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm, by Doug Lefler

This sounds like heresy. Why wouldn’t you want to create characters that are interesting? Isn’t that the point?

When I began writing my process was simple.  I put a sheet of paper into a typewriter (yes, a typewriter) and commenced writing.  I created an adventure where people said things, did things, and stuff happened to them.  When I finished that first story I gave it to a friend.  “Hmmmm,” he said.  “Needs better characters.”

I hunted down books on writing.  One of them was the excellent Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri.  I read it cover to cover.  I dutifully created back stories for the players in my drama, filling their lives with complications and tragedies.  I defined their desires, their fears and their fatal flaws. With all of this in mind, I returned to my typewriter.  It came as a bitter disappointment to find none of it made my story better. None of it even made my characters more interesting. Where did I go wrong? Had Lajos Egri lied to me?  Was there some concept I missed?

Yes.  A ridiculously simple concept.  To explain what it is I’ve drawn a short visual narrative called “The Rat-Catcher’s Son”, which I will be posting Monday, February 1st, sometime in the morning (PST).


Character Design – Using Reference

Written on January 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm, by Doug Lefler

When designing human characters, or primarily human characters, it is often useful to base their appearance on a specific individual.  This can either be someone you know, or someone you know of.  One great advantages of drawing an original story is that you can cast anyone, famous or obscure, living or dead, in any part you choose.  However it’s a good idea to avoid outright portraiture, or caricature unless your intention is to let the reader know who the character is based on.  I get around this problem in a clever way. I can’t draw likenesses well.  Never have been good at it.  Still, having someone in mind for a character makes you draw them in a specific way.  Being specific is always a good thing.

When picking people to base your characters on (we’re only talking about physical appearance at this point) it’s good to keep the concept of unexpected juxtaposition in mind.  Using Buddy Hacket as a model for a professional assassin would be a more interesting choice than using Max Von Sydow. In film and theatre we call this casting against type.  It’s an idea everyone in Hollywood is familiar with, but few are willing to practice.

I’m reluctant to offer my own work as examples (there are other people who design characters better than I do), but my work is handy and I don’t have to get permission to use it.  Alfred Hitchcock as the inspiration for this hunter —


In Seven Extraordinary Things I based the character of Ken Ryan Smith on Ray Bradbury.  When I was the age of the protagonist I was lucky enough to know the famous science fiction author.  Maybe “lucky” isn’t the right word; it took detective work at the local library to find his office address, a carefully written letter and a detailed drawing of a triceratops to get a reply from Ray.  The inspiration I got as a result of our association was worth the effort. I may not have learned anything about drawing from him, but I learned about writing and creativity.


Unexpected Juxtaposition – Part 2

Written on January 14, 2010 at 6:19 am, by Doug Lefler

In a previous post I wrote about how juxtaposing unexpected elements could be useful in creating titles, and developing characters.  It can also be applied to the development of story concepts.  Here’s an example:

What if a spaceship crashes in a jungle?  The passengers are killed and the ship’s robot is damaged.  It wanders outside and reprograms itself by observing the animals around it.


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