Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about storytelling formats. Although I’m going to spend the next seven paragraphs talking about some of my own experiences with experimenting with different formats, this article will hopefully contain some information that might be useful to you.
Anyway, whilst making a couple of four-panel “newspaper comic”-style webcomic mini series that will appear here next month, I noticed something very interesting – I was actually making narrative comics. This originally started off as “just adding a sub-plot” to the first mini series, but the second mini series actually started to have a proper plot to it.
By using a format that is traditionally used for short self-contained jokes to tell a larger story, I was able to get around a lot of my own feelings about what the “right” format for telling longer stories in comic form “should” look like.
Because I was used to more traditional -style comic books, whenever I’d previously tried to make a comic that told a single story, I’d usually use A4-size pages and I’d plan it out in the way that you might expect. However, since the four-panel format I was recently using has more in common with the self-contained cartoons you see in newspapers, this meant that I had to take a slightly different approach to plotting out the story.
Although I had to include a re-cap of some of the basic points of the story in each comic, I found that telling a story in a format that is more traditionally used for short self-contained comics was significantly easier, faster and more intuitive to do than I expected. It forced me to make every panel matter, whilst also giving me room to take the story in all sorts of random directions.
Plus, it also changed the types of stories I could tell. Instead of having to meticulously plot out a traditional-style story, I could just come up with a slightly open-ended premise and just see what happened when I planned out the rest of the updates. This probably lead to less “focused” stories, but it seemed to be perfectly suited to the comedy genre (where humour matters more than traditional narrative).
The same kind of experimentation also helped me to write some prose fiction back in 2015, by telling a comedy story using a slightly obsolete non-linear storytelling method.
You can read the whole thing here, but I basically wrote a short story in the style of one of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure“/ “Fighting Fantasy” style books. And, because it was split up into lots of small chunks (and the whole thing is technically five very short gamebooks) and was slightly less “focused”, I had a whale of a time making it and – more importantly – actually finished it.
I guess that what I’m trying to say here is that if “traditional” storytelling formats aren’t really working for you, then it might be worth experimenting with different things. We often have very fixed ideas about what a story “should” look like and, if you aren’t really suited to working in these formats, then trying to do this might hinder the progress of any stories that you try to tell.
Despite what some people might say, it is possible to tell interesting stories using formats that aren’t “traditionally” used for proper storytelling. Yes, you might have to plan the story in a different way, or you might have to tell it in a different way – but, if more “traditional” storytelling formats don’t work out for you, then it might be worth looking at the type of formats that you work best in and finding a way to adapt them.
Learning what does and doesn’t work for you can take a bit of experience and experimentation but, when you know this, then you’ll find choosing the right format to tell your stories considerably easier.
For example, the one common theme in the examples that I listed earlier is that I tend to work best when I am making things that are split into small, and often, self-contained pieces. This is something that I have learnt through numerous failed attempts to make more “unified” longer projects, and numerous successful attempts at projects that were split into pieces that I could complete within a relatively short amount of time.
So, yes, finding the right format to tell your stories in is something that you learn through experience and experimentation. But, don’t be afraid to try unusual things if they happen to fit in with the type of planning/working style that is best suited to you.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂