Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Solo Story Structure and DC's Digital Comic Layout

It's been over a year since I last posted ( truthfully I mostly hang out on other social media sites and forums either lurking, trolling, or participating in active conversations ) but I promised myself I wouldn't post anything here until I had a comic done.

Oh well, screw that. Because after writing solid scripts with shallow characters and shallow scripts with solid characters for the past year I came up with a Story Structure that ended up becoming the base I was looking for the past 4 years.

It sounds like a waste of time, but in the end I'm amazed how much my Story Structures have evolved ever since I started making them well before this blog was started. And to me they're important since I'm anal has hell. As I mentioned before, they're not set in stone or to be followed to the letter-- they're there to help guide me, and hopefully you as well, when writing a story so every scene and page is properly planned before any drawing process is started.

So without further ado here it is...

I got the idea for this structure from two sources. As always How to Write a Book Now is my go to place for writing techniques. For this one I was inspired by the W-Plot method which I used earlier this year to make 4 and 8 page story structures for Ashcan comics. 

The second source was from DC's Digital line-up of comics. I got into them this summer and I felt something I haven't felt since 1989 when my middle-school self first read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and knew what I wanted to do with my life-- but more on DC later, lets me explain this Solo Structure and why it's different from the 2-Story, 3-Story, and 4-Story Structures.

Goal of the Solo Story Structure

It's pretty simple, it's purpose is to tell a one-shot story that is all about the Protagonist and the setting they're in. No room for separate adventures for other characters or cuts to the Antagonist-- although rules are meant to be broken, but for starters this Structure is to introduce the Protagonist and Setting to the reader without going into too much detail.

That was the major flaw in my other structures. They weren't that great for a One-Shot or a first issue mentality. With multiple situations taking place I oversold every story I made when using those structures. They became 60% explaining things and 40% things happening. In other words they sucked-- but only as One-Shots and first issues. Those Structures do work, but only as long as the writer has multiple established characters. Since those structures were based off Bronze-Age X-Men and G.I. Joe that makes sense, what I failed to realize is doing that off the bat is a bad idea.

Hell even G.I. Joe didn't go into multiple story lines until after it's first year, before then they were all self-contained stories with a small base of Joes who stuck together. It didn't branch out until more characters were established. And X-Men didn't explode to multiple stories until Giant Size changed everything.

Throwing multiple characters all at once and in a One-Shot can confuse the reader. It even confused me when I wrote them. I wrote a One-Shot 3 months ago that was a pretty solid story using the 2-Story Structure. However after I revised it I discovered my Protagonist was a side-character. Actually the Protagonist didn't do much at all. That told me I had to create a Structure that allowed me to focus on one character at a time, hence the next section...

The Protagonist gets the Spotlight

This was the real reason for making this Structure. With a simple W-Plot I'm able to focus on my Protagonist and the Setting with just enough to make an action packed story. Since I came up with this 2 and a half months ago I've written about 8 separate plot-first scripts, with one of them making it to the Thumbnail process ( which I decided to not do because I realized how boring part of the content was, not enough speed-lines in the universe can make that exciting ). And all of them had at least 3 drafts.

I found this structure perfect for a guy like me who can only handle so much at one time, although it's not perfect/perfect. After writing all those scripts I accidentally did something that made me realize this could be the go to structure for most of my future stories. It also made me think I need to revise my other structures as well, so lets dive in...

Dissecting Each Scene

To make it easier I'll post the image again with a description of each scene.

Act I

Act I is the Introduction and Catalyst. Like the other structures they're laid out with pagination in mind incase anyone wants to make a print comic. That is why it's 24 pages total and scenes 3 and 5 bleed into Acts II and III. But for digital who gives a flying fuck, that is where one can break the rules of pagination.

During Act I the protagonist is introduced, has a problem, then has a moment/solution/cool down scene to reflect on what happened in scene 2. This is the Act where one would want to insert any plot devices such as Chekov's Gun ( foreshadowing ), Option Exhausted, Red Herrings to disguise the Chekhov's Gun, or Ticking Clock.

Already I bet you're coming up with ideas, I know I did. Scene 1 would show a city, cut to a bank, there are hostages. Scene 2 the protagonist comes in, tries to stop the antagonist, doesn't-- but saves the hostages, only to discover it was a ploy to get the protagonist's attention. The real threat is a bomb in the city and a Ticking Clock has started.

See how fun writing can be!!

Act II

Act II was the most tricky of the 3 Acts, mostly because this is where the writer can fall prey to Sagging Middles. The W-Plot intrigued me because of the 2nd Triggering Event or simply the Event. ( something I plan to add to my other structures at some point, hey they're over a year old, of course they're outdated )

The Event can be anything the writer can think of to accelerate the story. It can be a flashback, cut to the antagonist ( whoops broke my rules again ), fanservice, a sex scene, or simply a moment that changes the protagonist's line of thinking to get them to the next scene and get closer to their goal.

The Event is there to keep the story moving, and for comics that's pretty important. I know I always use to be concern about how long it took to read my own comics. Don't worry about that, the value of a comic isn't how long it takes to read, but what it contains. I can read all my old TMNT comics in one day-- and I still love them to death.

Personally the Event feels like cheating since it goes right into the Problem Deepening without skipping a beat, but that's why I love it. As for the Problem Deepens, this when the results or actions of Scene 2 come back with a vengeance. Now our Protagonist is in over their head and only has one last Act to complete their goal...or will they?


Did you use a Chekhov's Gun, Foreshadowing, Ticking Clock, or Option Exhausted in Act I? Well if you did they play their part in Act III, not Act II. They could be what the protagonist needs to reach their goal and make it to the one of the 4 endings. But incase that isn't enough, there's a little trick we can do to make this story part 1 of 2...or 3...or 4.

I ran into this accidentally when writing my latest script without realizing I did it. I skipped Scene 6 the New Solution. At first I thought I screwed up, but what that did was it gave me two options. I could extend the Climax by 2 pages for a total of 6 which is a great idea ( I love big Climaxes ), or I could extend my Resolution by 2 pages making it 3 for a well rounded ending.

Both options worked-- but it made me realize that this structure could be used for a multi-issue storyline. Right now the Resolution is 1 page, that could work for a cliffhanger to be continued in the next issue. By the way Batman '66 has done on several occasions.

Act III is really up to the writer, they could take out the New Solution, extend the Climax or Resolution, or end it on a cliffhanger to make it part of a series connected to one story. In turn, this could also be pre-planned for a Graphic Novel. Want to make a 72 page Graphic Novel, use this structure 3 times and BAM you've got one. You can then divide up each 24 page section into the respective 3 Acts as I've learned from Wisesloth. ( this is a good link, I've got a copy of that PDF I use for coming up with ideas )

In short, this structure can be multiplied to fit any need. I for instance am intrigued by the 2 parter with the first part ending on a cliffhanger, but there is no limit. When trying to make multi-issue stories start by using the Acts as a reference. Act I will be the Introduction/Catalyst, Act II the Conflict/Drama, and Act III the Climax/Resolution.

Imagine a 3 parter where that last issue is nothing but Climax... I've read comics like that and they didn't disappoint. I've also read comics like that where they fell short not realizing that last issue had to be balls to wall satisfying. 

Conclusion on the Solo Story Structure

Overall I'm really proud of this structure-- I've actually written more scripts with it then I've done with my other structures and it's made me concentrate more on my characters. That's an area I'm lacking in and I'm feverishly trying to get better at. With a proper plan in place I know I'm only one good character away from doing something that will even surprise myself.

That's why I feel characters are the real meat and potatoes to any story. I was going to make a post about character building, but since I'm still learning the do's and don'ts myself I've never felt comfortable doing it. Although deep down I feel I'm thinking too much about it. I find things more enjoyable when I know little about the Protagonist allowing me to be engulfed by the setting and story, which at the end of the day is something I might do.

Reading too much Moebius will have that effect. Some of his best works is where I don't what the fuck is going on or who the characters are, but dammit if the pacing and settings aren't just works of art. Which brings me to the last section of this post...

DC's Digital Comics

Okay it's not Moebius, but despite what the tumblr-whales say about DC, their digital lineup of comics are revolutionary. They come out weekly, they're 99 cents, and they're literally works of art. For the past 2 years I've wanted to self-publish my own digital comics and doing so I had a vision of what they would be.

They'd be cheap, 99 cents. They'd be done horizontally, not the traditional vertical layout ( to compensate for tablets and wide-screen monitors ) and they'd look gorgeous.

Well the first one is easy, as a self-publisher one can set their own price, but the other 2. Well I had trouble with that and before I read any DC Digital Comic I was content to go back to doing things vertically, until I analyzed what DC did.

Their Digital comics are technically half a comic book. That's why they're 99 cents. Instead of using a traditional 10x15 inch page, they cut it in half and each page is really 10x7.5 ( which I have marked on the left of the Solo Story Structure image )

This is also what makes each page look like a work of art, by using half a page instead of rotating a 10x15 canvas, the panel-per-page changes. With a traditional 10x15 page the most panels one would want to put on that page is 9. ( Read Watchman to know what I mean ) Anymore panels than that can be cluttering and confusing.

So if your canvas is cut in half to 10x7.5 your panels-per-page is also cut in half. The most panels used now is 5-- 6 is a stretch, but it could still be possible if you're trying to illustrate a series of actions that would lead to a splash on the next page.

That was the problem I ran into using a horizontal layout. I kept the same amount of panels, I never thought about reducing them. And since that's reduced, so is the amount of dialogue per page. Less panels also means less dialogue.

Now about them looking gorgeous. I've read Batman '66, Justice League Beyond, Legends of the Dark Knight, and Injustice Gods Among Us and one thing they all do consistently is break the gutters and they did it in a way I immediately connected with.

I've mentioned 3 years ago, let's see if I can find it, the Page Breaker. ( scroll down on that link to see where I found this thing and what it does ) In short the Page Breaker is the most important panel on a 2 page spread or a traditionally printed comic. It's location is key because it's the first thing the reader will see when they physically turn the page. How to Draw Manga vol 3 showed me it, but they didn't have a name for it-- I named it.

But that was printed comics, in digital the reader is most likely to read one page at a time. Which means each page needs a Page Breaker and by doing it the way DC does it, it really lives up to it's name.

I don't want to post example to get in copyri-- ah fuck the police here's an example.

Notice how the last panel with Batman and Robin on a fucking boat consumes the entire page-- that's the new Page Breaker. It breaks the page and then some. DC does that so often that when they do use traditional white gutters it ruins the mood, especially if it's between two pages that look like that.

That's just one page in a 2 part series that was so-so...but dammit if it doesn't look like a work of art to me. Also there's only 3 panels on this page. On average they use 3 panels. I went through several issues and thumbnailed the panel layouts. I have 60 examples of panels and the most they ever used was 5 panels-per-page.

That was when I discovered they were done on a 10x7.5 canvas. It opened a whole new world to me and I have a feeling it's only a matter of time until this layout catches on. Especially if you're like me and want to self-publish, but are concerned about the pages fitting on the readers screen. With the Horizontal layout those fears are put to rest. ( hell I got a Square Screen and these comics read just fine ) actually they even make square screens anymore?

In the end I was inspired by these comics. I even took an old page of a failed comic I made in February of this year and literally changed it around to fit this format. I extended one panel to consume the whole canvas and got rid of the gutters. It looked way better-- and it made me realize that's what killed that project, the gutters which I was a fan of really held it back. Instead of containing everything with panels I simply had one panel explode that tied the whole page together and made the entire thing pop.

When I run into stuff like this I have sensory overload. I just want to draw till my hand falls off-- but I need stories first-- which lead to the creation of the Solo Story Structure. It was the kick in the pants I needed and I felt like I was 13 reading TMNT for the first time.

Final Comments

So if I die before I make anything at least the knowledge I accumulated over the years is out there so others can succeed in case I fail. Dirty little secret, that's why I made this blog. I don't know how much time I have on this earth or what the future will bring, but that goes for all of us. However when I lay down at night the one thing I fear is I lived my whole life and never made an impact on anyone.

That's why I share this information. Money to me is just a means to survive. It's not a status symbol nor does it define who we are. What does give us status and defines us is how we affect those around us even if they're strangers.

If someone takes all the information I've spewed on this blog and makes something extraordinary that means more to me than money. In fact someone contacted me last summer saying they took my Story Structures and some other posts I've written and made a binded book of it.

Well okay, it's not in mass production nor is it a comic book-- but it still gave me a sense of accomplishment I've never experienced before. It made me realize that there are those who found me helpful outside of myself, it made me feel better than any paycheck I've earned in my life.

You can't put a price on that, something like that is more valuable than all the money on earth. That's pretty much where I am in my life, I don't find necessity in wealth, I find it in knowing I've inspired others, just like how I've been inspired from reading my favorite comics.

Those people touched me creatively, and now I'm paying it forward. And in return those who've found me useful have inspired me to be more than I am. It's an endless cycle that keeps me going. I feel I've done good-- but I'm still waiting for the lawsuits from people claiming they took my advice and it ruined their lives...

Then again no one ever sued a school for making them a shitty artist or a shitty anything, so I think I'm worrying about nothing since, well, this is free information anyways. 


Oh, and thanks for the pageviews!! I hope your visit here was worth your time.

No comments:

Post a Comment