Eisner awards: Call for entries
It’s time to nominate work for the Eisner Awards! Here’s what you need to know…Read more
One More Panel
Writing humor is something many of us grapple with. In the past, I’ve discussed a method that I advocate called Fermentation. And in many critiques and discussions, I’ve found myself advising writers to push or push further or push to […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
ComicLab Ep. 109 — Should you build your audience on Webtoons?
Webtoons is a popular platform for independent comics publishers. But with practically no options for reader outreach, is it worth the effort? But first, Dave shares his vacation waterslide adventure… and his lack of fandom for Freakazoid Questions asked and […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
Q&A: The importance of re-writing
Q On a recent ComicLab episode, you answered a question about someone doing draft after draft of his writing and you said he was doing the right thing. Could this be the same problem of someone drawing the same comic […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
Writing stories — planning a route
Sometimes the hardest thing about writing a story isn’t coming up with a grand arc that challenges and changes your main character. Sometimes the devil is in those little details along the way — all of those myriad decisions you have […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
ComicLab Ep 108: Live by the platform; die by the platform
From YouTube’s new policy regarding Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to SmackJeeves’ site-wide changes, the ComicLab guys realize that living by the platform can mean dying by the platform. Then they take delight in an ingenious plan to expose […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
Clip Studio Paint needs to support OpenType
I was very excited when Comicraft announced that it had build “crossbar-I” technology into their new fonts — and that they had re-released their two most popular fonts, ComiCrazy and Wild Words, with this feature enabled. Imagine my chagrin when […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
Writing humor is something many of us grapple with. In the past, I’ve discussed a method that I advocate called Fermentation. And in many critiques and discussions, I’ve found myself advising writers to push or push further or push to the Funny. And every time I write those words, it occurs to me that the phrase is somewhat ambiguous and my advice may be missing the mark.
So I’m going to try to refine the Fermentation method, and I’d love for those of you who are working in humor to try it out and let me know how it worked for you. (More on that later).
One More Panel
Once you’ve written your joke — refined the set-up and fine-tuned the punchline — I want you to leave it for at least 24 hours. I think this is crucial. It allows your subconscious mind to come into play and it brings you in fresh on the next day.
Now, look at what you’ve written and add another panel. Your job now is to use your punchline as a set-up to another punchline. Take the concept one step further. If an action has happened, explore the after-effects. If a surprise was introduced, top it with a bigger one. If the punchline was word-play, warp the words another step.
Finally, reduce the comic to its original panel count. Let’s say you do, indeed, produce a four-panel strip. Either lose the fourth panel and go straight from Panel There to Panel Five (making any necessary wording adjustments) or incorporate any crucial parts of the fourth panel into the third panel.
And “crucial” is the operative word here. The point is not to write longer, it’s to write better.
The optimum outcome should be to arrive at a sequence in which the word-count is very similar to the original.
Before I go any further, I want to thank member Oskar van Velden of Mojo who graciously agreed to allow me to use his most recent strip as an example. I noticed Oskar’s update on Google Plus, and it struck me that this was a perfect subject for this conversation because, although the punchline was good, I think it could have been taken to a higher level. Click on any of the images for an enlarged view.
This was Oskar’s most recent comic.
It’s a decent punchline.
But when I saw it, I couldn’t help but think about how the really funny stuff happened in the unseen next panel.
So, let’s allow our minds to wander for one more panel.
The idea of trying to stop nicotine cravings by slabbing slices of turkey meat on you skin has a really nice silliness to it. And the turkey slices look enough like the nicotine patches to make the concept cross over effectively.
But now it’s too long. The third panel doesn’t do a thing to advance the set-up. It doesn’t charge the tension, and if we leave it in, it actually telegraphs the joke, draining away much of the Funny. Since it’s pretty much extraneous…
I’m not even necessarily saying that this particular fifth panel is the best of all possible fifth panels.
And you could definitely refine it. For example, I might have added a skinny panel between Panel Two and Panel Three in which the penguin and the cat walk away from the man, having removed their patches. It might prevent a reader from thinking that the nicotine patches are being removed in the final panel.
I feel confident in saying that it’s an improvement, but I’ll bet there are dozens of “fifth panels” that you could dream up that take this very good set-up and push the concept to a much funnier place.
I’d love to see this in action. So I’m placing a challenge. Choose one of the following:
(1) Go through your archive and improve a couple strips using the Fifth Panel method. Post Before and After strips here for discussion.
(2) Use this method as your writing future strips, and post the results. The “Before” could be a written script and the “After” can be the finished comic.
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Webtoons is a popular platform for independent comics publishers. But with practically no options for reader outreach, is it worth the effort?
But first, Dave shares his vacation waterslide adventure… and his lack of fandom for Freakazoid
Questions asked and topics covered…
- The Far Side — we called it
- Clip Studio Paint doesn’t have OpenType support — and that needs to change
- Should you be building your audience on Webtoons?
- Do you want to know why a reader left your comic?
- Obsessing over an audience
Listen to ComicLab on…
ComicLab is hosted on Simplecast, helping podcasters since 2013. with industry-leading publishing, distribution, and sharing tools.
Q On a recent ComicLab episode, you answered a question about someone doing draft after draft of his writing and you said he was doing the right thing. Could this be the same problem of someone drawing the same comic over and over again? I know writing is important but perfect is the enemy of complete.
A.: That’s a good question, and I want to explain why I answered the way I did. It can be summed up like this…The content you are trying to access is only available to members.
Sometimes the hardest thing about writing a story isn’t coming up with a grand arc that challenges and changes your main character. Sometimes the devil is in those little details along the way — all of those myriad decisions you have to make that delivers your character to the climax. Let’s talk about that.
Plotting a story
Writing well is a skill that takes years and years to hone. And the path that each writer takes is unique. However, here are a few thoughts to help you out of that hole the next time you feel creatively sunk.
First, take the “well begun is half done” attitude in writing. Although we’ve all probably experienced the writing process of kicking off a storyline and then winging it to the end, we can all probably agree that this is not an optimal work habit.
Instead, make a rough outline of the steps your story will go through, from beginning through the end. Don’t worry about details! Instead, think about this as planning stops along a road trip. For example, if you have a typical “Call to Adventure” story, you might have the following steps:
- Introduce the hero
- The Call to Adventure is sounded!
- The journey begins
- The hero arrives — and is frustrated in their attempt to reach the goal
- The hero keeps trying and enters a final ordeal
- The hero achieves their goal (or learns an Important Lesson in losing)
These aren’t very descriptive — in fact, they could be applied to a wide variety of stories. But that’s not important right now. Let’s take that first section: Introducing the hero. There are a number of plot points that we may want to establish in this section. We need to establish who they are, first of all. We probably want the reader to feel emotionally connected to the hero as early as possible. So, we need to think of a way to do that. And, it’s a good idea to give this hero a force that drives them — something they want out of life. The more desperately they want it, the more compelling the story is likely to be. These are three steps. Your own story might have more.
Next, let’s move on to the second section: The call to adventure. We need to decide who delivers the call — and how it’s delivered. Does out hero answer the call immediately, or do they turn it down? If they are reluctant to join the adventure, what changes their mind? When do they commit to the adventure, and how do they cross the threshold into the adventure itself? In other words, when do they cross the Point of No Return?
After you do the same with the other major plot points, you’ll have a rough outline of how this story will develop — including an indication of how the climax will play out. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a few holes that develop later in the story that need to be addressed early in the story. You might even see possibilities form for surprising plot twists or heart-stopping reveals.
But… if you showed anyone this outline, they’d find it far from a compelling story. In fact, it would read very much like a to-do list. First the hero does this, then they do that, then this happens, then that happens… It’s nowhere near a story.
And now you’re ready to write. Because now you know what your story is going to be — even though you don’t know what it is yet. That’s because — and hear me out on this — all of the rest doesn’t matter. OK. OK. It matters, but not in the sense that you think.
Let’s knock off the first item in our list, introducing the hero. For the sake of illustration, our story outline requires out hero to choose a hat to wear. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blue hat or a red hat. Primarily, what matters is that the process of choosing that hat is done in a compelling, interesting way. Secondarily, this hat-choice must deliver the story to the next point in the outline. And thirdly, this hat choice must not cause repercussions that interfere with the overall plot described in the outline. Once you’ve written (and re-written and edited and re-written) the hat-choice section, you can move on to the next item on your outline.
And so on and so on.
Here’s the beauty of this approach to writing: It breaks writing — which can often be overwhelming and daunting — into small, easily managed, bite-sized chunks. Many writers are frightened at the prospect of writing a compelling adventure. But it’s hard to get intimidated by writing a scene about choosing a hat.
And — as long as you’ve put some thought into the overall outline of your story — you can simply concentrate on one scene at a time. You can simple work on progressing your character from one plot point to another, knowing that — as long as you follow the outline — you’re going to eventually end up where you’re supposed to.
Here’s a dirty little secret about writing: Once you’ve established all of the points your story is going to travel across, it doesn’t really matter how you connect those points as long as you’re doing it in an interesting way. Think of this as a road trip. You’re starting in Philadelphia and ending in Los Angeles. There are a billion paths you could take, and trying to weigh the merits of all of those paths would drive you crazy. So you decide on a few important stops along the way — Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, and so on. Determining the most interesting way to get from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh is a much more manageable task! And — as long as your path is compelling and ends in Pittsburgh, your story will be fine. (And, now you can determine the best way to progress on to Indianapolis.)
Best case scenario, you’ll write the entire story before working on your comic. You’ll do a few rewrites. You’ll discover places later in the plot which could be set up gracefully with a few details earlier in the storyline. And you’ll edit. Heavens, you’ll edit and edit.
But, if push came to shove, once you have an established outline, you can start illustrating the first scene as soon as you’ve written it, and begin writing the second scene as you’re finishing inking the first. You’ll take risks, of course. You’ll see missed opportunities later on that will grind you. But that’s part of the learning process, too.
The important thing is that you’re not stuck anymore. You’re not overwhelmed. By establishing a guiding framework and breaking your story down into manageable chunks, you’re writing. And writing is the only way to become a good writer.
For more information…
From YouTube’s new policy regarding Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to SmackJeeves’ site-wide changes, the ComicLab guys realize that living by the platform can mean dying by the platform. Then they take delight in an ingenious plan to expose unscrupulous T-shirt vendors that use social-media comments to steal copyrighted illustrations. Next, Dave talks about how comics is a career you can build SAFELY. And, when a listener asks how to overcome their boredom over the drawing process, Brad shares a revelation. Then, Dave shares his social-media approach for Drive. And finally, a listener asks why Brad and Dave don’t license their archives’ print rights to foreign publishers.
But first, Brad tells about the worst whiskey sour ever.
Questions asked and topics covered…
- Dave’s new book
- Live by the platform, die by the platform
- The day the T-shirt bots died
- Cartooning is a career you can build safely
- When the writing is fun, but drawing is a chore
- Social media and longform comics
- Selling foreign rights to publishers
Listen to ComicLab on…
I was very excited when Comicraft announced that it had build “crossbar-I” technology into their new fonts — and that they had re-released their two most popular fonts, ComiCrazy and Wild Words, with this feature enabled. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that this feature would be unavailable to me because Clip Studio Paint doesn’t enable OpenType font features!The content you are trying to access is only available to members.
We all make resolutions this time of year. Sure, most of us forget about them by February, but it’s useful to set goals at a time like this. It helps to focus our attention on those areas that we know we need to work on. Here are ten resolutions I think you should consider if you’d like to do a better webcomic in 2020.
Webtoons has developed into a significant player in the independent comics scene. With a ravenous comics-reading audience traversing the site — and even a few opportunities to get paid upfront as a Featured Creator — there are a lot of potential benefits. But is it worth the effort?The content you are trying to access is only available to members.
Whether you’re trying to write a more compelling story — or trying to punch-up a joke — elevating the conflict is often the key to success. Conflict is at the heart of both comedy and drama. But conflict alone doesn’t create the narrative tension that is so vital in good storytelling. So let’s take a moment to examine narrative tension in detail.
Conflict is when characters are placed in opposition with other characters or with their circumstances. There are several types of conflict, including…
- Character vs. Self
- Character vs. Another Character
- Character vs. Society
- Character vs. Nature
- Character vs. Machine
- Charactern vs. Fate
- Character vs. Supernatural
However, conflict alone does not create narrative tension — and narrative tension doesn’t always arise from conflict. Narrative tension also incorporates an element of suspense — and uncertainty as to the outcome of the conflict.
Narrative tension can be broken down into three components:
There are different ways to create each ingredient, and the way you mix them together will determine the type of the narrative tension in your writing. Think of it like a recipe. Adding different types of seasoning and changing up your ingredients can make the difference between a soup, a stew, and a gumbo.
To get a reader hooked on a story, you have to make them believe there’s a good reason to turn the page. That’s not going to happen with a wall of world-building text. It’s going to happen by setting up questions or uncertain outcomes. It doesn’t matter if the reader can guess the outcome right now. All that matters is if they’re invested enough to make a guess in the first place!
Anticipation is all about possibilities. As a writer, you want to set up a compelling situation, with several possibilities — including at least one that’s very unfavorable from the standpoint of the protagonist! You can do this directly — by simply stating the undesirable outcome — or you can hint at it. Foreshadowing works very well here, too.
Now that your reader is anticipating a potential outcome, you introduce doubt. For example, you might introduce further facts that make the initial situation much more complicated than you originally implied. Or something that seemed like a certainty is now removed from the available options.
As a writer, you’re setting a trap. You’ve set up a situation — and encouraged the reader to guess what happens next — you change the rules! Or you reveal a few things you kept hidden. Or you simple upturn the apple cart and throw everything into chaos. The uncertainty can be internal — as in, an internal monologue — or it can be external — like a new event introduced into the situation. If your reader’s interest had been piqued before, it’s intensified now.
A combination of anticipation and uncertainty may mildly arouse the reader’s curiosity, but to create strong narrative tension, the reader must also feel invested in the outcome.
The best way to instill this investment is to make the reader identify with the protagonist. Once the reader makes an emotion connection with the protagonist, it will matter what happens next. There are other ways to invest the reader, too, like:
- Intellectual or emotional. A mystery is a puzzle for the reader to try to solve. This isn’t so much emotional as it is analytical.
- Positive or negative. A revenge story is based on the reader’s desire to see bad things happen to a hated character, rather than a desire to see good things happen to a beloved one.
- Conceptual. A story about a civil uprising in a society may have unlikeable characters on both sides, but the idea behind the uprising itself can be the central engine for reader investment.
As soon as your reader wants a specific outcome, they are invested.
Look out for these tell-tale signs of low tension:
- Meaningless chit-chat between characters
- Inner dialogue that doesn’t drive the narrative or intensify conflict
- Creating an easy solution for your protagonist
- Info dumps / massive backstory