Three Sneaky Ways To Cram More Stuff Into A Webcomic Update

2017-artwork-cram-more-stuff-into-a-webcomic-update-article-sketch

Well, although it won’t be posted here until late June, I finished making a short webcomic mini series a few hours before writing this article (which tells a short detective story in just six comic updates). So, I thought that I’d talk about compact storytelling in webcomics today. But, first, here’s another preview of the upcoming mini series:

The full mini series will start appearing here on the 25th June, but stay tuned for more mini series in the meantime

The full mini series will start appearing here on the 25th June, but stay tuned for more mini series in the meantime

1) Plan it first!: One of the best ways to tell a lot of story in a relatively small space is to make a full plan of the comic first (eg: make very rough sketches of each update, including dialogue). If you plan out your comic before you make it, then it’s easier to see what can be changed, cut or moved around in order to free up more space.

For example, with the upcoming mini series, my original plans ended up looking fairly different from the finished comic. Some of this was because I’d come up with a better idea for the ending whilst making the comic but, mostly, it was because I was looking for ways to save space.

One example of this was that, in my original plan, one of the updates would have consisted of four dialogue-based panels. But, when I was making the comic, I realised that I could reduce the dialogue slightly and cram four small panels into the top half of one of my comic updates. This essentially allowed me to squeeze two comics into just one comic. Here’s a shrunken preview of the finished update, which shows the panel layout:

Thanks to looking at my plan and revising it, I was able to reduce the size of one planned update by half whilst only losing a minimal amount of dialogue.

Thanks to looking at my plan and revising it, I was able to reduce the size of one planned update by half whilst only losing a minimal amount of dialogue.

If you can get a general overview of your comic before you start making it, then these kinds of changes are both considerably easier to make and easier to think of.

2) Panel size, formatting and layout: One of the easiest ways to cram more story into the same amount of comic space is to use a larger number of smaller panels. However, if you do this in the wrong way, it can ruin the look of your comic.

Generally, you should also try to include some larger panels too in order to avoid visual monotony (and to show off some interesting art too). For example, my current format for webcomic updates is to use an 18 x 18cm square that is divided into two horizontal “rows”. Usually, there are two panels on the top row and two on the bottom – like this:

"Damania Repressed - Analytical Engine" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

But, when I was trying to cram an entire detective story into just six of these “standard” comic updates, I followed slightly different rules. In order to avoid the comic updates looking too “squashed”, most of them have three panels in one row and two in the other. Like this:

This is how to sneakily add an extra panel to your updates, whilst keeping them the same physical size.

This is how to sneakily add an extra panel to your updates, whilst keeping them the same physical size.

This also made them look fairly similar to a “standard” comic update, whilst also allowing me to add an extra panel. These extra panels can add up fairly quickly too 🙂

3) Know what not to show: This one can take a bit of practice and research (eg: read lots of comics, look at the editing in scripted TV shows etc..) to get right, but you can increase the amount of story in each webcomic update by knowing what not to show. In other words, you need to know when to let the audience’s imaginations “fill in the gaps” and when to actually show something to the audience.

For example, in the penultimate update of my detective comic, I included a small panel showing a police car driving towards the house that the comic is set in. In the final update, there’s another small panel showing a policeman arresting the culprit (after Harvey, the detective, has concluded the case). Yet, there are no pictures of the policeman entering the house or introducing himself to everyone.

Because the audience has seen the police car driving towards the house, the sudden appearance of a policeman several “minutes” later isn’t too surprising. And, yet, this whole part of the plot only takes up two small panels.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Does The Expression “Kill Your Darlings” Mean ? (Plus, An Exclusive “Deleted Scene” From One Of My Short Stories!)

2017 Artwork What does 'kill your darlings' actually mean

When I was writing one of the short horror stories that appeared here last Halloween, I was reminded of a very famous writerly saying – “kill your darlings”. So, I thought that I’d explain what it meant – in case you’re puzzled by it.

All the expression basically means is that you have to look at your story, comic etc… as a whole and trim out any parts, no matter how much you like them, that either slow it down or don’t fit in with the rest of the story.

It means that, for the good of your story, you have to edit everything ruthlessly – especially your favourite parts of the story (these are the proverbial “darlings” that you have to kill).

The main reason for this is that it can be very easy to get caught up in the “cool” or “fun” parts of your story. If you aren’t careful, you can waste hundreds of words on inventive, but needless, metaphors and similes without even realising it.

Likewise, you might want to show your characters just hanging out because it seems like a cool idea – but, if it doesn’t do anything to advance the plot, it has to go!

Plus, if you’re written a really cool part of the story, but you find that it either conflicts with the rest of the story (or can only be included with the addition of lots of convoluted connecting narration), then it probably has to go too.

Remembering that you have to “kill your darlings” is a way to remind yourself to look at the story as a whole. It’s a way to remind yourself that even a really cool sentence can often damage the pacing or the style of your story. It’s a way to remind yourself that every scene should be relevant and streamlined.

And, yes, it can be difficult to do, but it will improve your story.

For example, the short story I linked to earlier originally had a totally different introduction.

A couple of sentences from it survived into the final story, but – despite spending a while writing it – I realised that having 300-400 words of plot-irrelevant introductory dialogue and descriptions (in a location that wasn’t even a major location in the story) would ruin the pacing of the story. So, it had to go.

Still, I kept a copy of it for posterity. Yes, the dialogue includes a bit more characterisation and slightly more humour. Yes, in a longer story, it might have been an interesting scene to include in the middle of the story. But for the very first 300-400 words of a 1000-1100 word story, it was just impossibly slow and stagnant. See for yourself:
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“Festivals Are Grim” By C. A. Brown – Deleted Scene (unfinished):

Three things are certain in life. Death, taxes and rain at festivals.‘ Gemma grinned at me, as she reached into the chest pocket of her oh-so-retro neon green and bleeding-eye pink cagoule.

The rain rattled on the roof of the tent like tommygun fire in an old movie. Through the gap in the entrance, there was nothing but white static and blurry people. Over the noise, Gemma’s phone quietly plinked into life.

Shit! No wi-fi. Have you got any?‘ She muttered.

I reached into my bag and pulled out my battered old phone. ‘Only if you’ve got a modem.‘ Gemma rolled her eyes and looked out at the rain again. We’d expected rain, but this was really taking the piss. Even Glastonbury didn’t get this much rain!

Tapping her phone uselessly, Gemma said ‘Is there anyone good on? Or should we just spend the day here, bored out of our fricking skulls?

Got any green?

I’m out. Shared the last of it with that cute emo guy last night. Yes, I know, emo! It’s ironic though – I mean, the guy is totally into good music. He just looks like an emo because, well…‘ Gemma smiled.

It’s hot?‘ I sighed. Gemma chuckled. She was probably right.

Anyway, how the hell are we going to see the setlist without any wi-fi? You’d think that they’d put in an extra server or whatever.

They gave out a brochure.‘ I said, scrambling through my bag. Once I’d found the brochure, I smoothed it out and we examined the setlist. The main stage was an absolute no-go area. It was all daytime filler- bands that no-one had really heard of. The headliners wouldn’t be on for hours. The alt stage seemed a bit better – at least the bands actually had vaguely cool-sounding names.

The alt stage?‘ Gemma rolled her eyes.

It’s in a giant tent. The main stage isn’t. This rain isn’t going to stop any time soon and we’ve almost run out of booze here.‘ I shrugged.

Gemma looked at the half-empty water bottle of vodka in the corner, before turning her phone off and dropping it into her cagoule pocket. I put my jacket on and we stepped out into the rain.

The alt tent wasn’t too far away

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Is It Possible To Make A “Director’s Cut” Of A Webcomic?

2017 Artwork Webcomic directors cut article

Whilst editing part of a webcomic update from a mini series that will appear here in mid-May, I ended up thinking about whether you can have a “Director’s Cut” of a webcomic in the same way that you can have in a film.

Basically, the last two panels of this comic update originally contained about 20% more dialogue than they did when I’d finished editing. Some of this dialogue was removed for pacing reasons, some of it seemed slightly out of character and one joke accidentally gave away a plot twist. Yet, there was a version of that comic update that contained more dialogue than the finished update did.

Since most webcomics are made by just one or two people, there’s no large studio to interfere with the webcomic before it is published. So, the people making the webcomic are often free to choose what to include and what not to include (and, yes, it’s possible to have “deleted scenes” in a webcomic).

As such, most webcomics already are a ‘director’s cut’ in the strictest sense of the word, since the people making them have the final say on what’s included in the comic.

But, it could be argued that there’s often a lot of material that is left out of webcomics – lines of dialogue trimmed for pacing/plot reasons, unused comic strip ideas, alternate artwork etc… So, it’s certainly possible to have an extended version of a webcomic, but not a traditional “director’s cut”.

Still, the closest thing to a “director’s cut” that can probably be done in a webcomic is when an artist and/or writer revisits some of their old webcomic updates and remakes them in something closer to their modern style. Still, this is more of a “remake” than a “director’s cut”, even if it can involve changes to a webcomic update’s dialogue and art.

Plus, one thing that often prevents webcomics from having “director’s cut” versions is the very format of a webcomic itself. Whilst many webcomics (mine included) are divided up into several segments, traditional webcomics are often continuous things.

But, if there’s one word that can be associated with making a webcomic, then it’s “fast”. Webcomics are often expected to be published in regular instalments and this often means that the creators have to work on them continuously and/or make a large number of comics in advance.

This often means that webcomic makers often don’t have the time to revisit old comic updates in the way that a film-maker might be able to revisit one of their films in order to make a “director’s cut”.

In a way, the only way that a webcomic maker could possibly make a director’s cut is if they went back and removed comic updates that were mostly made to fill the schedule or to bulk up an otherwise short comic. I mean, there are at least two webcomic mini series of mine which would have probably been better with fewer comics (eg: “Damania Resolute” would have been better if it was half as long and “Damania Retrofuturistic” could probably be improved by removing 2-4 comics).

But, for the most part, it’s pretty much impossible to make a “director’s cut” of a webcomic because, most of the time, this is what a webcomic already is.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Very Basic Ways To Salvage A Failed Painting With Digital Editing

2016 Artwork Salvaging failed paintings digitally

If you’re an artist, then you’ll know that failure happens sometimes.

But, as long as you’ve got a digital camera and/or a scanner, and an image editing program (if you don’t have one, you can download a freeware open source image editing program called “GIMP” here), then you can at least have a better digital copy of your failed painting if you’re prepared to edit it.

Just remember that, if you’re planning to sell your art, then the digital image of it that you post online should be an accurate representation of the original painting or drawing. But, if you’re not selling it, then feel free to edit away to your heart’s content.

Although I use a combination of an ancient 1990s version of Paint Shop Pro, GIMP 2.6 and/or MS Paint 5.1 for my image editing, most image editing programs share a few basic features.

So, it doesn’t really matter which programs you use. I’ll try to write these instructions as generally as possible, so that they’ll be useful regardless of which image editing program you use.

I should probably also point out that the three tips in this article are extremely basic. So, if you already know a little bit about image editing, then you probably won’t learn anything new here.

1) Your picture looks too faded: One problem with scanned or digitally photographed paintings or drawings is that they often look slightly faded.

An easy way to remedy this in pretty much any image editing program is to look for an option (it’s probably in the “colours” menu) labelled “Brightness/ Contrast”. Once you’ve found it, all you have to do is to lower the brightness level slightly and raise the contrast level until your picture looks right.

Personally, I usually tend to use a fairly low brightness level and a fairly high contrast level, because it gives my art a “vivid” look – but just experiment until your picture looks right.

Once you’ve done this, then just cut the image to the proper size (eg: if there’s other stuff in the background of your digital photo etc..) using the cropping tool in your program ( In GIMP 2.6, the icon for this tool looks a bit like a scalpel. In other programs, it often looks like a square made from two overlapping “L” shapes).

2) You’ve messed up the colour scheme: If you’ve messed up the colour scheme in part of or all of your painting, then all is not lost. In fact, there are several things that you can do to create a better digital copy of your artwork:

– Hue/Saturation: Select the parts of your picture that are the wrong colour (or don’t select anything, if you have problems with the whole image), then look for this option in your image editing program (it’ll probably be in the “colours” menu).

Once you’ve found it, just move the “hue” slider until the selected area is the right colour. This will probably require a bit of trial and error, but you can change the colour of pretty much anything (except for solid black and white areas) using this.

– RGB values: Another way to change the colour of a selected area of your artwork is to look for the “RGB” options in the colour menu of your image editing program. This allows you to alter the amount of red, green and blue in the selected area. This is less precise than altering the hue levels, but it can be useful if you need to add colour to a solid white area of your artwork.

– The Nuclear Option: If your problem can’t be solved with either of these two things, then you can remove all colour from your picture by either looking for a “greyscale”/”desaturate” option in the colour menu of your editing program, or by opening the “Hue/ Saturation” menu and reducing the saturation to zero.

Once you’ve done this, then you can mess around with the RGB options (or look for a “colourise” option) to give your artwork a tint if you want to.

In fact, I actually did this with one of my failed paintings from late April (in addition to using a “blur” effect too) after I messed up the colours in it fairly significantly. This is what the final picture looked like:

"Let The Rain Fall" By C. A. Brown

“Let The Rain Fall” By C. A. Brown

3) Correcting small mistakes (in a less noticeable way): I usually tend to do this in a fairly basic program like MS Paint, but you can do this in any image editing program.

The main thing to remember when correcting small mistakes is that the exact colours in your painting are different from the basic stock colours that are available in the menu of your image editing program.

If you use the stock colours (or try to create a similar colour using a custom colour menu), then your corrections will stand out from a mile away.

So, before you correct small mistakes, look for a colour selection tool first.

In MS Paint 5.1 this is called the “Pick Color” tool and the icon for it looks like a pipette/ dropper. In GIMP 2.6, it’s called the “Colour Picker Tool” and the icon also looks like a pipette/ dropper. Virtually all image editing programs contain this tool, so you should be able to find it.

So, what does this tool do? Well, once you’ve selected it, just click on any part of your painting and the brush/ airbrush/ pencil colour will change to the exact colour of the area that you’ve just clicked on. This means that you can seamlessly alter a part of your painting using the exact colours that are in this part of your painting.

Yes, your corrections will still be noticeable if people know what to look for, but they won’t be extremely obvious at first glance.

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Anyway. I hope that this was useful 🙂

Some Rambling Thoughts On Art Series And Consistency (Plus An Exclusive “Never Seen Before” Painting!)

2016 Artwork art series and consistency sketch

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m busy working on my “awesome stuff” art series at the time of writing. This is series of paintings where I try to cram as many things that I consider to be “awesome” into each painting. Or, more accurately, to allude to everything that I consider to be “awesome”.

Since I tend to be further ahead with these articles than I am with my art, this series will probably have been posted on here in it’s entirety well before this article goes out (although I’m still not certain how long the series will be).

Anyway, I had a rather usual and – almost unprecedented – experience when I was working on this art series. If you were reading this site back in February, you might have noticed that I mentioned that I’d actually left a painting out of the series. This was the digitally-edited painting that was posted online on that day:

"Survival Horror Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“Survival Horror Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the “never seen before” painting that was originally supposed to be posted instead:

"Heavy Metal Awesomeness " By C.A. Brown (After Derek Riggs)

“Heavy Metal Awesomeness ” By C.A. Brown (After Derek Riggs)

There were several reasons why this painting ended up being dropped from my art series. The main reason was that I wasn’t really in the right mood when I painted it (eg: not a particularly “awesome” mood) and this affected the quality of the painting.

Plus, although this series alludes to a lot of things, I was worried that the lack of other details in the background would turn this painting from an imaginative and original pastiche into something that was slightly too similar to Derek Riggs’ awesome cover art for this old Iron Maiden video.

But, most of all, it was because it didn’t really fit in with the style of the rest of the series. Most of the time, I don’t usually worry about this kind of thing – but the contrast between my minimalist “heavy metal” painting and the rather “crowded” paintings in the rest of the series just seemed too big to ignore. Just compare it to this small selection of other paintings from the series and you’ll see what I mean:

"All Kinds Of Awesome" By C. A. Brown

“All Kinds Of Awesome” By C. A. Brown

"Scarily Awesome" By C. A. Brown

“Scarily Awesome” By C. A. Brown

Artistic inspiration can be a strange and fickle thing. If you’re in the middle of an art series and you have a great idea for a painting or drawing, but find that it doesn’t fit into your series then this can be quite a dilemma. But, what do you do?

Well, as I’ve demonstrated here, it’s usually a good idea to actually make the painting or drawing in question (if it’s possible to do this). If you get a great idea or a moment of inspiration, then you probably shouldn’t waste it.

But, in many cases, it’s usually best to leave this painting or drawing out of your art series if it clashes with everything else that’s already there. If it’s a great painting or a great drawing, then you can always release it as a stand-alone picture after you’ve finished your series.

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Sorry for such a rambling and basic article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Four Ways To Make Your Story Shorter

Yes, it's time to put my "editor's hat" on again.

Yes, it’s time to put my “editor’s hat” on again.

Although I hardly ever seem to write fiction these days, I used to write quite a bit of it a few years ago and, well, I’m more than familiar with competitions and writing assignments that have word limits.

As someone who likes to write at length and tends to use long, complicated sentences, I’m obviously not a huge fan of word limits. But, if you write regularly, then you’re going to run into them. Almost all academic writing courses set word limits for coursework, all writing competitions have word limits and I’m guessing that most professional non-fiction writing-based jobs also have word limits too.

As sad as it may sound, it’s usually a good idea to follow word limits as closely as possible. Yes, it might sound like a good idea to rebel against a word limit on a project, but it really isn’t.

Most competitions, universities, schools, magazines etc… set word limits for a whole variety of practical reasons (eg: it limits the amount of time that editors, tutors etc.. have to spend looking at each manuscript, there’s only a limited amount of space in a magazine for stories etc…) and going against these limits will only end up annoying the people that you’re trying to impress with your story. This isn’t a smart move.

So, if anything, it’s usually better for your story to be slightly under a word limit than it is to be slightly over it.

After all, it’s easier to bulk out a story if it’s too short than it is to cut it down if it’s too long. But, most likely, you’ll probably end up having to shorten your story – so, here are four tips which might come in handy.

1) Long Descriptions: These should probably be the first thing to go. Although long and detailed descriptions can be fun to write and they can enhance the atmosphere of your story, they are also the most expendable part of any story.

The reason why they are so expendable is because your readers will usually “fill in the gaps” in their own imaginations whenever they find a short description which only shows them the most important parts of something, somewhere or someone.

So, you can get away with making your descriptions short and basic if you need to get the word count of your story down. You can do this by focusing on the most important parts of your descriptions and getting rid of the rest.

For example, you could spend an entire paragraph describing a decaying old house in detail, or you could just cut it down to something like: “It was clear that Westlake Manor had seen better days”, “The large manor house was crumbling from years of neglect” etc…

The most important parts of the description are the fact that the house is a large manor house and than it is falling apart, your readers’ imaginations can fill in the rest of the details, so you don’t need to describe every crack in the brickwork, every tendril of ivy etc….

If you need good example of concise descriptions, then try playing a text-based adventure game (some links to free text-based games can be found here ). Generally speaking, these games have to describe complex, explorable locations in the space of just a few lines. So, they are perfect for learning how to be economical with your descriptions.

2) Deleted scenes: Unless you’re a super-cool retro traditionalist and still only watch films on VHS, then you’ll have probably seen “deleted scenes” on a DVD or Blu-Ray disc before. Directors usually end up cutting various scenes from their films for length reasons, for pacing reasons and/or because they aren’t completely relevant to the plot. Well, writers can do this too.

It doesn’t matter how interesting a scene is, how descriptive it is or how funny it is – if you’re story is over the word limit, any scenes which aren’t critically important to your story must go. Don’t worry, with the extra space you’ve freed up by deleting these unnecessary scenes, you might have room to add a line or two to the other scenes in your story summing up what has happened in your deleted scene.

Even if you really love a particular scence – if your story can still work without it, then it has to go. By all means, keep a copy of your deleted scenes, but don’t include them in your final story.

3) Rewording: This is one of the best ways to shorten your story and it works best if you story is only slightly over the word limit. Basically, if you need to trim your story slightly, then you can do this by just rewording a few sentences. You’d be surprised at how well this can work.

For example, the sentence: “He walked over to the desk slowly, slid the drawer open and pulled out a sheaf of yellowed old papers” is twenty words long. Now, if we reword it slightly into something like “He walked over to the desk and pulled a stack of old papers out of the drawer”, we can get the same information across the reader but in just seventeen words. We’ve saved three words!

This might not seem like much, but you’d be surprised at how it can all add up if you reword quite a few sentences. Yes, this is the most time-consuming way to shorten your story (which is why you should only use it if you’re only slightly over the word limit), but it’s the least noticeable way of making your story shorter.

4) Dialogue: This is the other place where you can shorten your story quite a bit. Although it’s not as fun to read, abrupt and “functional” dialogue is a lot better for compact storytelling than long passages of “realistic” dialogue.

Of course, if you want to keep your story short but you also don’t want your characters to sound like robots, then you have to know when to make your dialogue “functional” and when to make it “decorative”. Generally speaking, if you keep a few lines of “decorative” dialogue in every long conversation, then you can get away with making the rest of the dialogue shorter and more “functional” without giving the impression that your characters are robots.

If you need any help with writing short, “functional” dialogue that doesn’t sound completely robotic – then try reading some comics. Generally speaking, comics writers usually only have a small amount of space for each line of dialogue (you’d be surprised at how little you can fit into a normal-size speech bubble), so comics are literally crammed with good examples of well-written “functional” dialogue.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Are You An Editor? Here’s A Cool Way To Think About Your Job

2014 Artwork Consulting Writer Sketch

(Disclaimer: First of all, I don’t have a huge amount of editing experience and I’m certainly not up to a professional standard. Hell, when I was typing this article, I originally spelt “disclaimer” as “diclamer”. Yes, this probably isn’t the best way to start an advice article for editors but I thought that I should make you aware of this fact. Anyway, what can I tell you about editing that you don’t already know?)

Disclaimers and diclamers aside, I recently thought of an idea which might be useful to any of you who are professional editors.

This idea came about when I was watching a few TED videos on Youtube about finding your own unique purpose and vocation in life (so, if this article reads like a transcript of a speech, it’s probably because I’ve picked up something of a creative accent from the TED videos).

After watching a couple of these videos, I started wondering what my ideal vocation in life would be….

And, although I’m much more of an artist and a non-fiction writer than a fiction writer these days, one of my many ideas for my vocation in life was a “consulting writer”.

If you’ve ever read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories or watched the BBC’s excellent “Sherlock” TV series, then you’ll probably understand where this idea came from.

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous fictional detectives of all time. But he doesn’t work for the police and, whilst he acts as a ‘private detective’ in quite a few stories, he’s actually a consulting detective. What this means is that he sometimes helps other detectives (such as Inspector Lestrade) to solve cases that they can’t solve.

In other words, he’s such a good detective that other detectives come to him for help.

Anyway, all of this led me to have an extremely egotistical daydream about being a “consulting writer”. A writer so good that other writers come to me to make their stories better. But, after spending about ten minutes daydreaming about being the Sherlock Holmes of the writing world, I realised something….

People like this already exist. Lots of them do.

It’s just that they’re given the rather boring title of “editors” rather than the more interesting, intellectual and Holmesian title of “consulting writers”.

So, if you’re an editor who isn’t really that satisfied with your job or doesn’t think of it as being important, then try calling yourself a “consulting writer” instead. Because, let’s face it, being a writer who is so good that other writers come to them for help sounds a lot more interesting and inspiring than being someone who merely “edits” things.

But, if “consulting writer” sounds a bit too pretentious to put on your business cards or your website, then it might be an idea to keep your title of “editor” but to still think of yourself as a “consulting writer”.

This whole thing may be nothing more than a matter of semantics (but, then again, so is editing) – but if it made a non-editor like myself think of editing as being something “cool” and “interesting”, then just think of what it could do for you if you’re actually an editor.

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Sorry that this article was so short, but I hope that it was inspirational 🙂