Submitted by WillieHewes on January 27, 2008 - 16:51
Three months after it began regular updates, the online anthology Webcomic Shorts is moving to a daily schedule. From Monday 28 January it will update every day of the week, including weekends.
Webcomic Shorts collects and publishes short comics by different creators in a variety of styles and genres, adding a new page every day, just like a regular webcomic. The site is edited by me, Willie Hewes, assisted by my army of unpaid molemen. I believe that quality comics don't have to be long, and that short comics are too rare on the web. Webcomic Shorts is about finished stories and instant gratification.
The site gathers a range of material, both exclusives and work published elsewhere on the web or in print. It is always looking for submissions in any genre or style. Visit the site for submission details.
Submitted by WillieHewes on December 5, 2006 - 04:23
Now online for your amusement: a short comic featuring a dastardly villain, a heroic hero, a damsel and kissing. Read it now, it's only 10 pages.
Submitted by WillieHewes on October 7, 2006 - 05:42
Serial storytelling: peaks and troughts
Some stories are purely episodic, like Star Trek the next generation or the Simpsons. You can miss an episode of Star Trek without losing track of what's going on because between the episodes, things return to normal and all the characters reset to default. There is some slow development over the course of the series and the occasional character who dies, but that's about it. You can watch the episodes out of order and not be confused.
Some comics are like that as well, but as you may have guessed, I much prefer comics that run from beginning to middle to end in an overarching plot. Stories like that have their inevitable peaks and troughts, especially if they go on for a long time. For such stories it can be hard to hold on to that page-turning quality between episodes or chapters.
Let's say the antichrist story is an epic story with sidequests, sub-bosses, lots of minor characters, etc. After a preamble, some history and setting exposition and a long buildup, our Dante-esque "hero" faces off against Moloch, the general of hell's army. Moloch explains why the forces of heaven have been chasing protagonist's tail for the last three chapters: he will soon open the hellgate and unleash the unstoppable forces of darkness, bringing hell to earth. Unfortunately, Antichrist doesn't take this as expected: he doesn't care for the forces of heaven, but this Moloch guy doesn't seem to be much better. He refuses to do what he needs to. After a battle, Antichrist escapes from Moloch.
I've described the scene in some detail to make clear where we are. If you picture a story as a graph, it should look a bit like a mountain range. You build tension for a while, peak, then let it down, build again, have a little twist, let it down, while overall you're building up towards the highest peak: the showdown (with satan, for instance). The escape from Moloch is a plunge into one of the valleys. The hero runs away free, he's taken his decision, everyone celebrates. The reader can put your comic down at this point to have some lunch. There's a certain risk here, in that the reader might not find time to pick your comic back up that afternoon. Maybe he's busy this week. Maybe he has other webcomics to catch up with. Especially if your comic is published slowly at a page a week, or if your reader will have to pay for the next bit of story because it's the next issue or volume, it's important that you've got enough hooks in him to drag him into the next episode, or you'll lose him. Or her.
Serial Storytelling: keeping the momentum
There are many reasons your reader might decide to return and read the rest of your story. Most obvious one is quality. If the comic's been good, fast paced, exciting and well drawn so far, he will want to read more of it. But this isn't much stronger than the motivation to pick up another series by the same woman that did "Block 6". As you may know, readers often don't do this. If you've got an ongoing story, there are many ways to strengthen this drive to pick up the next volume.
Foreshadowing means you give readers a hint of the events that will happen later on. It can be as subtle as a visual theme that points towards the resolution or as blatant as a prophesy. Skillful creators use a range of foreshadowing techniques to tie their plots together. In my antichrist epic there could be a "demon heart" theme hidden in the backgrounds as a foreshadowing of the final scene where the protagonist cuts his own heart out. Or, in the faceoff with Moloch, Moloch could indicate that opening the hellgate is the antichrist's inescapable destiny, and laugh at him as he escapes. This would at least signal that the story isn't finished yet, and that there's something bigger and better to come.
Probably the most effective way to keep your reader coming back for more is to start building up to the next peak before you let down the last. If your protagonist is fighting the main bad guy's minions, that's not too hard; it's clear he's going to fight the bad guy next. But if you've built up to a big flashy encounter, like this Moloch scene, and there's nothing bigger standing immediately behind him (the protagonist needs to learn more about himself and go after a McGuffin before he can try to take on Satan) it can be hard not to let down the tension completely. Probably the least you can do is simply indicate where the story is going next. Maybe antichrist's mentor has not told him everything he should have. "What!? Uncle Ben never told me this! He lied to me!" Apart from providing a nice angst moment, this shows where antichrist will run once he escapes from Moloch: he's going to have words with Ben. How will this go? There you go Ã¢â‚¬â€ hook.
While thinking of plotting and pacing it's worth looking at things like this: Does the story tension sag in the middle? Is there a dead point anywhere? Am I giving the readers enough information about where I'm going next, but not so much it becomes too predictable? Are my twists explicable with hindsight, even if you did not see them coming? Is there enough indication of the nature of the overarching plot to pull people from one episode to the next? It can be very difficult to answer these questions, but I think it's very much worth it to ask them.
I reiterate this isn't the only way to write comics. But I do think you need to think about these things if you want to have a tightly plotted, fast paced page-turner, unless you really luck out (*cough*Deathnote*cough*). Although these principles are most easily explained in terms of Protagonist, Antagonist, sub-bosses and the big showdown, they can also apply to other genres. Romance stories often have a similar build tension Ã¢â‚¬â€ let go Ã¢â‚¬â€ build tension Ã¢â‚¬â€ let go structure, like so: He smiled at me! Ã¢â‚¬â€ oh, but he's had such a difficult past Ã¢â‚¬â€ he kissed me! Ã¢â‚¬â€ but maybe he doesn't love me after all etc. Even stories that are mostly about the exploration and development of a single character, or about a philosophical concept explored through a number of characters, have key scenes where the important stuff happens with bridging scenes in between. Knowing what your key scenes are and how to build up to them is key to good pacing and that page-turner feel.
Right, I hope you enjoyed this little series; I think I'm done for now. :D Thanks for reading and for your comments.
Footnotes: the girl who did Block 6 is called Queenie Chan, who is currently publishing a miniseries called The Dreaming with Tokyopop. I've talked about her before, but since then I've read the first volume of The Dreaming and it's seriously good. If you like horror, check it out.
Submitted by WillieHewes on September 29, 2006 - 15:53
Hi, welcome back. Make sure you catch part 1, if you haven't read it yet. Thanks to all for the feedback, I'm glad you found it useful (if you did). This part looks at the same thing, pacing, but from a different angle.
Story Pulse - alternating action and exposition
If you've got a story to tell, and you've done some general planning out of what happens, it could help to look at the scenes, events etc. in terms of action versus exposition. Action doesn't just mean fistfights and carchases. Just having two people sitting in a cafeteria talking can be action, if their discussion is a crucial turning point in the story. Exposition to a lot of people is kind of a dirty word, but almost all stories need to have at least some of it. There will be moments where you have to explain something, the nature of the demonic power, the childhood event that made your protagonist such a nice guy, maybe just a bit of motivation that's not clear from the events itself. The kind of exposition that tends to get people's hackles up is the kind that is narrated by the author without involving the characters in any way. That's not the only way to do exposition, and in my experience, it's rare in comics.
Submitted by WillieHewes on September 23, 2006 - 06:29
My last article on comics writing was moderately well received, so I'm having another go. This is about pacing your story in such a way that your reader will keep clicking that 'next' button. Not because I'm some kind of expert, but because I've been thinking about it, and this is what I think.
Page-turner: the advantages of high speed storytelling
Submitted by WillieHewes on August 22, 2006 - 15:09
I've finally finalised the rough scripts for Amaranth. I'm nearing the resolution, and I'm pretty sure I'll stick to what I have on paper now. Looking back to when I started, I have to admit it's a completely different story from the one I originally conceived. This is not a good thing. There are loose ends and scenes which, looking at the whole, don't really serve their purpose. Now that I know where I'm going I thought it might be useful to muse on where I went wrong. Perhaps someone else could learn of my mistakes.
My first mistake was a very common one: I tried something that was way too big. Influenced by webcomics, which tend to be ongoing narratives, I planned out the start of a story that wasn't just open-ended, but actively called for continuation. I didn't realise just how much time drawing a comic takes, and didn't think that in the three years I'd be working on it, I might have a better idea. Or, you know, just get a little tired of it. The original 'ending' was not a resolution, but the start: Amaranth chooses to be with the demons (this is after 200 pages of story). The problem was that I couldn't help but imagine what would happen afterwards, which would take at least another 100 pages to explore, and what happens after that? I set myself up to either draw the same series for the rest of my life, or leave it unfinished at some point. Not good.
What I should have done, even if I was going to go for something big, was at least decide on the ending. Yes, you can always pick up the characters again to do some more with them, but don't build up to your sequel or you will be forced to do one. And you know, by that time, maybe you don't want to. Finish your story, then see where else you might want to go.
Apart from never-ending, Amaranth was also very wobbly, thematically. I had the flower fairies that were also demons. I thought that was a cool concept and still do, it's one of the central ideas. But I also had a metaphorical comment on commercialism, and 'the ignorant masses.' All that's left of that is Ivy's rant in the Mall, but it was a huge thing, it was something that was threatening the demon courts and entirely tied up in their nature. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with Amaranth's identity crisis, which is the central driving conflict.
There was also an allegorical dimension to the demons. Ivy keeps saying: It's a metaphor, because the entire demon thing was a metaphor. Each of the demon courts stood for one of the things that is Wrong With the World. Uh, yeah. Actually, it pained me to drop that idea, but again, it had nothing to do with the main character. After I'd focused on her for however many pages, it would have felt forced and a bit bizarre to suddenly slip that idea in. When it came down to it, I couldn't find room for it. I ended up cutting not just the idea, but all the scenes that were tied up in it, including some I'd already worked out to a lot of detail, and really kind of liked. The same happened eventually to His Shadow, the demon Lords' Lord, who was tied up in that metaphor. He had the coolest scene, but I've cut it now because it just would not make any sense to include it.
Not everyone builds their stories around thematic elements, a lot of people simply focus on the action and characters, and there's nothing wrong with that. But if you do have Big Ideas to talk about through your story, you need to make sure they all fit together. That was my mistake, I had all these interesting ideas about the demons (that is, my setting) but they didn't really relate to Amaranth, my main character, so I couldn't explore them through her. It hurts to cut scenes you love. So take precautions and limit your Big Ideas to those the story can actually handle.
Lastly, I trusted that I'd be able to figure out the story as I went along. And as it turned out I did, but because I wasn't sure where I was going, I built up to events and revelations that in the end, never happened. This leaves the early issues with a lot of loose ends I'll never be able to fix. If I'd had more detail in the story when I started to draw, rather than leaving the big bit in the middle blank with a few loose ideas floating in it, I could have avoided that. For now, I want to concentrate on drawing shorter stories (as well as finishing Amaranth). But when I do try to tackle something big again, I'll make sure to plan it out to at least scene-level detail before I start, so I don't have to cover over early mistakes in an ugly way.
All this aside, I'd like to stress that I do believe my effort on Amaranth will have been worthwhile. It has loose ends and is not as tightly plotted as I'd like Ã¢â‚¬â€ I prefer my plots skintight Ã¢â‚¬â€ but I do not in any way consider it a failure. I made mistakes while writing it, but I believe the end result will be worthy. All I have to do is sit down and actually draw it.
Submitted by WillieHewes on July 23, 2006 - 15:27
This is a little rant about webcomics, popularity and storytelling. Or perhaps more of a lamentation than a rant. I'll start with some background.
It's a truth universally acknowledged that webcomics gain more hits on update days; when there is a new page/strip up. A related fact is that updating your webcomic regularly is the key to gaining any audience, let alone a large one. This is because of the nature of the Internet and the way webcomics are listed and promoted, and it leads to a well-ingrained factiod: the only way people are going to notice and read your comic is by updating constantly, and regularly. This is just how webcomics work.
This is fair enough in the case of gag-strips that are basically digital newspaper funnies; you read it on the day it's published, get a little laugh (or not) and the next day you start from scratch. You can start reading the strip at any point, and you'll be up to speed on the characters and situation soon enough. Strips that don't have new funnies on a regular basis aren't as interesting, and drop down the popularity list. Nothing wrong with that.
But it's a bit of a problem when it comes to other types of webcomics; the ones that tell a story, and that need to read from the beginning or you won't get it. Imagine watching your favourite film 5 minutes at a time. I'd drive you nuts, right? Yet that is exactly how comics on the web are published; one page a week.