2017 · Comics: the making of

On writing, part one

Yeah, that’s a good and descriptive title, isn’t it? There’s no way that’s not going to be vague and confusing and explode into thirty-eight parts before you know it.

Anyway. I want to talk about writing theory, or more specifically, share some resources about writing in general though I apply it mostly to comics specifically. This is more of a jumping off point than an in-depth analysis, though I’m sure that’ll come sooner or later.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the Hero’s Journey  style of story structure. It’s a classic, used in epics like Star Wars and Harry Potter and I think the one story structure that I’ve been recommended the most. While I still understand the importance of this structure, I’ve found that it’s not really that flexible or fun unless you’re writing a classic fantasy or scifi story. I’m sure it can be applied to other genres as well but it’s hard to deny that it’s not as adaptable as you might want. Not every story benefits from a mentor figure. Not every hero will refuse the call of adventure. Using this as a way to help you structure a story you’re not too familiar with yet may even make it flat and boring – you’re just filling in the blanks, rather than using a tool.

There is a better way: I present to you Dan Harmon’s Guide to Story Structures. It’s similar to the Hero’s Journey but since it can not only be applied to literally any genre, it can also be scaled down to structure a single scene as well as the overarching plot. I use this almost exclusively when I try to make sense of what I’m writing, whether it’s a long sci-fi story about the origins of religious worship or a more mundane thing about a couple of friends getting pizza. It’s more of a guideline than a structure that relies on certain narrative elements, and I like that a lot.

Before this, I was a fan of the Three-Act Structure, more commonly used in script writing. I took a class in dramaturgy when I was in art school, where we had Making A Good Script Great by Linda Seger as mandatory reading. It’s considered THE book on script writing and while I don’t rely on it quite as much anymore, it’s a good and educational read on story structure that makes good use of examples. It is aimed for film writers so if you’re doing anything else there may be a need for adjustments in regards to pacing, but I’ve long believed that comics are more similar to movies than any other media so I think it’s still worth mentioning it. Actually, I may be due for a re-read soon.

Last but not least, an unexpected addition to my story structure library. As some of you may know already I’m a big fan of Critical Role, GM’d by Matt Mercer. He’s been doing short videos on GM tips over the last year and the most recent one is about how to construct a one-shot campaign. While it may seem like tabletop roleplaying has little to do with creating comics, that’s super not true. Storytelling is storytelling regardless of the medium and while these structure tips may be looser compared to those aimed specifically at writing scripts, I still think there’s a lot that can be gained from an alternative point of view.



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