Friday, September 7, 2012

24 page Story Structures

While I'm smashing my brain on a new idea ( apparently ADULT material sells, light-heart'd stuff doesn't ) I thought I'd post the new Story Structures I made for a 24 page comic. As I've mentioned before when I was younger ( okay only 10 years ago ) the only stories I could come up with were a Protagonist, and Antagonist, they fight, something happens, the end.

Vanilla as hell...

Recently my sister-in-law found some of those old comics I did and admitted the stories sucked. I confessed they did, and that I've been hard at work to capture the same essence in stories I do like. Like an episode of American Dad ( it's an obsession now ) an issue of the G.I. Joe comic book, and the TV series Kolchak: The Nightstalker. I've posted some of those Structures before on this blog, but when I was working on a light-heart'd comedy ( which will never sell, but I'm keeping on as a side project  and might go through with it when I have more scripts ) I realized that the Structures I had needed more Structure.

I didn't know what I was looking for, but using G.I. Joe as an example I found the issues I liked the most and read at a furious pace were the ones with multiple stories going on at once. Not so much the single story issues where the Protagonist takes up most of the pages. So to find out what I was looking for I started with what I knew. I wanted to make a 24 page comic.

You can do a lot in 24 pages. When I first started this blog I was contempt at the time to do 16 page comics. However the downside of a 16 page comic comes when pricing them. $1.99 for 16 pages sounds like a rip-off. 24 pages for $0.99 sounds like a bargain. That's just me being part businessman, but it's necessary to think like that from time to time.

With a 24 page base I went to work. The 2 Story Structure I previously posted looked good on paper, but I tweaked it. After the tweaks I used that as another base-line for my new ones. The 3 and 4 Story Structure. To go into it some more I'll start with the 2 Story Structure.


The first thing I did is add the triangle legend at the top left corner to show the relationship between the 2 stories. Based off of studying TV sitcoms, the 2 Story Structure was intended to be used on a comedy full of jokes, cut-scenes, weird situations, and conflicts. Both stories have the option to meet in the Climax which is optional. Story-B can conclude before the Climax--meet in the Climax--or take up the Resolution with Story-A concluding at the end of the Climax.

Analyzed further I found the Structure also works well for an Action Comic where the Protagonist and Antagonist occupy the stories and meet in the Climax. To better read the guide I color coded the pages/scenes. Grey pages are optional ( for inserts and covers to make it 32 pages for print ) Purple is for pages/scenes that can include all stories, and Red/Blue represent more stories. ( it gets harder when adding more stories so the colored pages help ).

The inserts are optional, but the scenes in which they break up help add little cliffhangers into the comic. It takes me back to my old comics where a page would end then I got 2 pages of ads from selling Grit to the Atlas workout program. Again, they're optional, but can add suspense in the story and give the creator the option to add pin-ups, information, character cards, or even fake ads. ( or real ones if you got advertisers and collaborators you want to help promote )

The hard part about this is you need 2 stories that will either intersect or end on their own. This could be a challenge, but really what it does is expand your mind to make even the most mundane story more interesting. To start it off I added ways to come up with stories. There are 3 Ideas to get going. You could base the stories off a Theme--Topic--Event. Then there are the plot devices to also help in the planning stage. Chekhov's Gun, Red Herring, Option Exhausted, and Ticking Clock. Lastly you also got In Media Res if you want your story to start with a band. After all the Introduction/Catalyst is 3 pages. You can do a lot in 3 pages. That's 27 panels max. ( remember 9 panels can occupy one page and still be read-able )

From there I also gave 6 Examples on the bottom. More exist, but that was the most I could come up. I wrote down how the stories could work together or on their own. For more ideas on what kind of stories to write you can take it further and use George Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations.

Now I thought this Structure was pretty solid, but for the comic I was writing I needed more. I had a Chekhov's Gun character that was introduced in the first scene, but instead of just having that character show up in the Climax to wrap it up, I felt that character should have an adventure of their own.

So I went back to the drawing board and made the 3 Story Structure.


Just like the previous one, I have my triangle legend showing the importance of the stories and Story-A occupies the insert breaks. In this structure the newly added Story-C acts like a wildcard/plot device. They could be mundane at first, but play a role in the Climax, or when their story ends on Scene 7 they could shape the events that take place in the Climax.

I even added 6 Examples on the bottom to show how the stories could go. Again there are more, but when your brainstorming it helps to see some basic options before you dive in. Another difference between this and the 2 Story Structure is how the scenes are divided. Story-A is given 2 pages for each scene that can be devoted to their Problem, Solution, and Conflict events, where Story-B and C those events can take up one page. Again it is optional, but it shows how one can split the difference with the allowed pages. It possible to cram that much information in the given amount of space. Remember you've got 9 panels at the most to work with for each page.

This limitation also helps one become a better editor. I know from past experience I could write on and on. In fact one script I threw out was because one scene took up 8 pages. That was half the comic. I left no room for setting up the Climax. The limitation of pages allowed per scene and what goes on in those pages make you a more concise writer. You get the point across moving the reader along, instead of falling into the traps of over-explaining, useless dialogue, sagging-middles, and the worse--adding more pages than you intended to make when you started.

Another thing I use to do is start a comic that ended up short. Say I wanted to make a 16 page comic and it ended up being 15 pages...or 10...or 7. Yeah that's the worse-- that's why I made these Structures so when I sit down to make a 24 page story, I make a 24 page layout, and write a 24 page script.

The advantage of a 3 Story Structure is for those who have an idea with multiple characters and want them all to experience the same Theme--Topic--Event. All while having Story-C tie it altogether. Another thing is the characters to Story-B and C are not limited to ending on their own or popping in during the Climax. They can intersect each other or Story-A before that.

All these structures are is a baseline for getting stories to work together and fleshing out a comic that had ups/downs, left/rights, problems/conflicts, etc etc. This up-and-down-back-and-forth might sound confusing, but what it's doing is making what could be 3 boring stories in to a real page-turner. That's what you want to make, something that keeps the reader interested.

This layout also makes you the creator make sure you don't miss anything. If one went in without any Structure they could forget about concluding Story-B and C. In fact without a structure they wouldn't be called that. They'd be Character-so-and-so's story, and this-character's story. With a solid foundation to work with there's no way you could forget anything that's happening with in those 24 pages.

Now again, I thought this Structure would help me with the story I wanted to tell. I had my Chekhov's Gun character Story-C, but I had nothing for that character to do in all those pages. I needed something smaller for that character. Instead of making other scenes longer, I decided my only option was to add another story, unrelated to Story-A and B, but one that intersects with my Wildcard and has a moral of its own.

Going back to the drawing board I made the 4 Story Stucture...




Now this is a mess. I have 4 Stories to manage in one comic, but oddly enough it was what I needed for the story I was working on. My Chekhov's Gun character, while critical to the Climax now takes up Story-D. That characters story is rather short, but it allowed me to have that character interact with Story-B and C before Climax where that character will play a pivotal role. It also gave me the green light to add new characters for Story-C that I never thought of before.

Story-A is still the main story, and while it looks like it doesn't occupy most of the comic, it actually does. The Introduction/Climax make up for the lost pages bringing their story to 12 pages. 13 if you give them the ending. That's half the comic. One would wonder " Why not just focus the entire comic on Story-A? ". This is a good question, but here's the reality. There are only so many good stories out there. In fact people have wasted a lot of time trying to come up with those and only those.

The reality is any story can be a better story if it's built with more stories. It might not be the best story altogether, but this is a technique people use to avoid writers-block. Taking smaller stories and putting them together can have mixed results, but when they're put together right and intersect with each other the reader will be satisfied. Or should be. All I know is I am in the entertainment I read and watch.

I'll admit I have a lot of EPIC ideas. We all do. Everyone one of us has that one idea we cherish more than anything else. But before we know it a month went by. Then a year, 5 years, our whole lives because we cared so much for one idea just waiting for the right story to come along to tell us this is it.

With the 2-3-4-Story Structures the wait is over. It makes you  the creator want to write no matter what it's about. Thus letting go of our ONE BIG IDEA and doing what we want to do. Write and draw comics. The key isn't writing good stories, it's telling stories in a good way. After all art is subjective. Whether its drawing or stories it's always up to the various readers on whether they like it or not. You can't please everyone, but at least you can know that you did it the best way you possibly could instead of phoning it in.

Conclusion

These Structures aren't the end all be all. In fact every time I make one of these up I know a new one is around the corner just waiting for me to discover it. They also aren't written laws. They can be modified and changed as one wishes. But they do follow some basic tips I learned in the past. Such as Scenes being 2 pages at the most-- the Climax is the longest scene--Problems, Solutions, Conflicts--and 9 panels max per page.

All I know is after I made these I've had an explosion of ideas. I wrote a fan-fiction layout for a webcomic I like ( although it's cannon breaking it was fun ) and I wrote 2 scripts for the project I shelved for now. Though that decision wasn't because it sucked. I like it a lot. It was just the reality of it. It's a hard sell.

That's the one thing that's missing in all the tutorials, how to books, and guides that are there. What does one make? What sells? Those kinds of answers can't be printed and shipped for $19.99. It takes awareness of the world around you. Looking with in yourself and asking " What would I read?" " What do I read?" " What do I find entertaining?"

Sometimes the answers aren't what we think they are. That's the reality I faced, and with my arsenal of structures I plan to take it head on.

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