Skeleton Storytelling – Can It Be Used In Comics And Prose Fiction?

2015 Artwork Skeleton Storytelling article sketch

Before I begin, I should probably point out what “skeleton storytelling” is. No, it isn’t a sub-genre of horror fiction that features lots of evil skeletons (although that would be kind of cool), it’s a type of storytelling that is most commonly found in some modern computer and video games.

Some examples of games that use this type of storytelling are “Portal”, “Left 4 Dead 1 &2”, some hidden object games and a few games that I haven’t actually played, like “Gone Home” and “Five Nights At Freddy’s”.

Basically, the games in question don’t ostensibly have that much of a storyline. In fact, they only have the basic skeleton of a story at the absolute most (eg: “a zombie apocalypse has happened” or “you have to escape from a scientific facility” etc…).

However, as you progress through the game – you can find background details and other things that give you more clues about the backstory to the game. Usually, this is done in a fairly subtle way – but the onus is on the player to work out the story from the details available.

In other words, if you just want to play the game casually, you can just have fun and not really think about the story too much. But, if you look at the game closely, then you’ll find that it has much more of a story to it than you might think.

An interactive medium like a computer game is absolutely perfect for this kind of subtle storytelling, since the audience gets to choose what they do and don’t look at. But, can this type of storytelling be used in more traditional mediums like comics and prose fiction?

My answer is “yes”, although you can’t really do it to the same extent that game designers can.

Basically, anything that tells a linear story (like a comic or a novel) has to have a really interesting main story in order to keep the audience interested. Seriously, you can’t skimp on the storytelling in anything where your readers will read every word or panel in a pre-defined order. So, you can’t use skeleton storytelling for the main story of your comic or novel.

However, when it comes to things like sub-plots and backstories, you can use skeleton storytelling in comics and novels.

In prose fiction, you can include brief descriptions of interesting things that hint at a backstory, but have little relevance to the main plot. And, in comics, you can include interesting items, objects, signs etc… in the background that hint at a larger story.

If people are reading your comic or novel casually, then they’ll see these things, but they won’t really pay that much attention to them. However, if they are re-reading your story or comic, or if they are paying closer attention to it, then they are likely to try to work out this backstory for themselves.

So, in conclusion, it might be fun to experiment with skeleton storytelling in comics or fiction, but remember that you should only use it for things like backstories and sub-plots.


Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂


4 comments on “Skeleton Storytelling – Can It Be Used In Comics And Prose Fiction?

  1. babbitman says:

    Or, like the teasers seen in some of the recent Doctor Who series – Bad Wolf graffiti and ‘Vote for Harold Saxon’ posters. I love spotting things like that.

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Ah I didn’t think of that, although I guess that both of these things are technically foreshadowing (since they hint at things that happen later in the series) more than anything else. But, yeah, it’s always cool when TV shows do things like this. Another good sci-fi show with a lot of subtle foreshadowing in it is probably one from the 1990s called “Bablyon 5”, although I have to admit that I missed most of the subtle hints the first time I watched it (and only noticed some of them when I later read one of the fan sites about the show).

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