Comics: How to Focus Your Story

LacunaSupportLacuna is a comic based upon the world and ideas of Ed Jowett from Shades of Vengeance. This is the first in a planned universe of stories about characters from his game Era: The Empowered. The comic is currently available through Kickstarter so please take a minute to check it out and pass it along. Every bit of help gets us just that much closer to publication!

 

In my first comics related post I thought I’d start with the topic of focus. A few weeks back, I wrote an article for Shades of Vengeance in regards to focusing short stories and much of that information applies to comics as well. So, my first lesson in comic writing… A Comic Is A Series Of Moments.

Comics1

I know this isn’t a massive revelation. After all, isn’t every type of story just that, a series of moments strung together to make one larger moment? Yes, however I believe that comics, more than any other type of writing that I’ve done, are steeped in singular moments.

When I started collaborating with Ed (creator of Shades of Vengeance games) I found that my usual approach to writing wasn’t working. I would send him long scripts full of background, dialogue and detailed information. He would ever so politely copy and paste that into our working doc and proceed to squash my three pages of notes into two panels of succinct action. There’s no time for slow build up in a comic where you may have only one or two images to hook a reader’s interest.

Your short story should be like a child’s magnifying glass.

The visual nature of comics drives so much of the plot, the action and character development that all my details proved to be a bit overkill. That information is good to have when you’re discussing with your artist but much of it’s not going to end up on the page.

After realizing that I was looking at the story in too wide of a lens, my struggle then became knowing what moments to include. I could start my hero having breakfast and maybe work in a tense argument with his uncle over a bowl of Cheerios. But on second thought, starting with the moment he sneaks back into the house after a rough night out sounds like a whole lot more fun.

Lacunasneak

In a comic there’s only so much space to get your ideas across. As opposed to a novel, where I could tell you all about the micro-economics and generational history of my little suburban family (which you shouldn’t probably include in a novel either to be straight honest with you), a comic affords you only the space of one or two panels to give the reader all the background they need to know. So, how do you peel back your story and get to just the bits you need?

Choosing the right moment to center your piece. Or, as I like to call it “Where am I and how did I get here?

I’ll use an example from my short story article (the entirety of which can be found here):

Let’s imagine you’re telling the story of a new recruit bound for unknown parts of the galaxy in an experimental spaceship. Where do you set your magnifying glass?

  • Her first day exploring her new position on the starship.
  • As she takes unsteady command of the helm while the captain shouts orders.
  • The first inkling of something wrong in the ship’s design and our recruit now has to fight to maintain control.
  • An explosion somewhere in the ship because of the faulty design. Our recruit is barely hanging on as officers scramble to help the wounded.
  • In a moment of chaos, the deck is a confused jumble and as the smoke clears, our recruit realizes all her training hasn’t prepared her for taking command after the death of the captain.

As you can see, with each peeling back or getting deeper into the action, there is an obvious increase in tension. Which of these moments to include and where to begin your story is your first big challenge. Should your first image be the tense grip of your recruit’s hands trying to stabilize the ship or of the recruit’s face in the smoke filled control room?

Remember that the right artist can display much of the hidden details in your story. So, that two page argument over a bowl of cheerios can be condensed into one image of a teenager stalking from the table where an uncle broods over his spilled breakfast.

Try this:

Take a story you’ve already got started and pick a scene; maybe one that you’ve been having trouble with. Try to dig deeper into your scene, focusing only on the most visceral elements and forgetting about things like setting details. What about that scene pops with action or sizzles with drama? Pull in even closer to see the nervous eye twitch or the slow drip of sweat. Now, rewrite your scene keeping these details in the front of your mind and making them the focus. How does it change the feel of your story?

We’re not covering the entire fall of Rome, just the point when the first or last brick hit the ground.

Images are powerful and if you have a good relationship with your artist there’s no end to the amount of detail you can pass to your reader without ever having to say a word. It’s a new way of exploring story development and I’m still working out the kinks for myself but I find it exhilarating.

For the next several posts I’ll be writing about the lessons I learned during the creation of my first ever comic book. There is still much that I don’t know and I always look forward to feedback from folks who wish to give me pointers.

Until next time, keep on writing!

-A

LacunaSupportLacuna is a comic based upon the world and ideas of Ed Jowett from Shades of Vengeance. This is the first in a planned universe of stories about characters from his game Era: The Empowered. The comic is currently available through Kickstarter so please take a minute to check it out and pass it along. Every bit of help gets us just that much closer to publication!

 

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