Making Things Manifest: Mock-ups and outlines

Because I’ve been teaching some classes on creativity lately, I’m getting preoccupied with the steps between having an IDEA™ and actually creating a thing that exists in the world.


So many problems get solved by doing. But more than this, I find ideas — like cats — tend to flow to fill the shape of the box that you give them. It’s not just limits and borders (which are so useful for letting ideas, like waves, pile up against). An idea fed into a four-panel comic takes its own story-rhythm. An accordion-folded strip of paper quickly concertinas a rough story into a full draft. And a full draft of anything is already something that can be usefully shown to other people.


This was a story for patrons

There’s also a cruising gear the mind shifts into. Making mock-ups can be a form of procrastination, of course, but also it’s a very useful anaesthetic. Sometimes you sit down to do a rough treatment of some personally-tailored ideas-cards you wish existed, and look up a considerable time later from a completed deck of 50.


These all also have the advantage of having taken on a tangible form outside my own head. Ideas and sketches and outlines alone don’t always have this. They rely on a degree of emotion and momentum and excitement in my mind, and if I revisit the notes later, I can’t always recapture that, or work out what it was. Or read my handwriting.

This works for prose, too. Once an idea achieve a certain gravitational pull, I sometimes use a template loosely based on Susan Dennard’s 1-page synopsis (for fiction) or a standard intro-3-points-conclusion numbered outline (for prose) to make sure all the necessary parts are roughly accounted for, or given placeholder options. Then I pin them in place in a form I can easily store indefinitely, and come back to and pick up again.

And occasionally (e.g. for the few comics I’ve done) I’ll write a quick “treatment”-description first, which covers the overall story, its feeling and mood and key visuals/words, but isn’t actually a draft, so doesn’t have to bear the weight of those particular anxieties.

8 thoughts on “Making Things Manifest: Mock-ups and outlines

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