Adding “Rest Pages” To Your Comic

2017-artwork-rest-pages-article-sketch

Well, since I’m still busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk briefly about something that can make longer comics projects slightly easier.

As regular readers probably know, I tend to have something of a short creative attention span. It is, for example, why I release my occasional webcomics in mini series of 6-17 daily comic updates (well, more like 6-12 updates these days).

So, making a full-colour A4-size Halloween comic that will be 12 pages in length (including the cover) is something of a stretch for me. But, as I’m learning, it’s certainly possible. So, I thought that I’d talk about one of the techniques that I’m using to reduce the amount of effort that this project requires, in case it’s useful to you.

This technique is simply to include the occasional low-effort page within my comic. If this is done well, then it can be barely noticeable to the audience, whilst still giving you a chance to rest slightly at the same time.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of page three of my Halloween comic (which I made the day before writing this article):

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 23rd October.

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 23rd October.

This is an example of a low-effort comic page. One of the first things that you might notice is that it only contains six panels (page one contains seven panels and page two contains eight).

Likewise, as I discussed in yesterday’s article, many of the backgrounds are simple interior locations that contain a minimum of detail. There’s just enough detail to make the backgrounds look like convincing locations but, the overall detail level is still fairly low.

In addition to this, the dramatic-looking lighting in the third panel helps to distract from the low levels of detail in most of the artwork. This is further disguised by the fact that the comic features multiple background locations, which adds some visual variety to the page without using too much effort in the process.

Finally, there’s also the fact that it is – for the most part – a “talking head” comic. This is a comic update where the characters just stand around and talk to each other. If this isn’t done right, then it can look lazy or boring. But, I’ve disguised it somewhat by adding a couple of simple action-based panels to the comic (eg: the two panels showing the television screen) and by showing a close-up of a video player in the third panel.

So, although it might not look like it at first glance, this page was a lazy “rest page” that I created in order to conserve effort for other parts of the comic. If you’re making a longer comic and you tend to have a fairly short creative attention span, then learning how to do this kind of thing can be extremely useful.

There are lots of other ways to do something like this, and I don’t currently have time to list them all here, but hopefully this article will have at least pointed you in the right direction.

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

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Making Memorable Moments in Your Webcomic – A Ramble

2017 Artwork Memorable Moments Article sketch

Although this is a rambling article that is supposed to be about making webcomics, I’m going to have to start by talking about music for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A few days before writing this article, I stumbled across an old cover disc (frm 2007) from “Metal Hammer” magazine [Edit: This article was originally prepared before this magazine closed down in late 2016 😦 ] whilst looking through my CD collection.

I could probably write another article about these free CDs (and the really cool cover art that some of them have) but the reason that I mention it is because this particular CD contained a surprisingly cool song that I’d never actually bothered to listen to before. This song also contained an interesting feature that made me think about webcomics (and other creative mediums too).

If you’re interested, the song in question is one called “Burning Eden” by Carnal Forge. Most of it is the usual kind of shoutier metal that has become a lot more common over the past decade or two, and the song’s chorus is absolutely epic and the instrumental parts are really cool/ complex too. But, better than that, the song also contains what I like to call a “memorable moment”.

This is a super-dramatic part of a song (the part of “Burning Eden” is 30 seconds long, and it takes place at 3:43-4:13 ) that makes you instantly want to repeatedly listen to that one segment of the song at the loudest possible volume. In this case, the sound goes dead for a couple of seconds, as a heavily-distorted guitar briefly plays quietly in the distant background before the lead singer launches into an even louder and more passionate version of the already spectacular chorus. It really bowled me over the first time I heard it.

The interesting thing is that this sort of thing isn’t exactly restricted to music. I mean, if you think about some of your favourite comics, TV shows, games etc.. you can probably find stand-out moments that still seem ridiculously dramatic no matter how many times you see/ play/ read them. These are the things where, even if you’ve forgotten about the rest of the story, you can still remember that one part.

This is usually because that particular part is extremely emotionally-powerful, extremely funny, extremely scary/disturbing (in an inventive way), extremely inspirational, extremely profound, extremely cool-looking etc… Even if it’s just a webcomic update where you include twice as much artistic detail as usual, it still has the potential to become a memorable moment if you handle it correctly.

Still, it’s important to work out where you want to put them – near the beginning or the end is usually a good choice in a linear story. But, if your webcomic consists of lots of self-contained updates, then trying to include one every 1-20 updates is probably something that’s worth aiming for.

Of course, one of my first thoughts after thinking about memorable moments was something like “is it possible to make something that consists entirely of memorable moments?“. I soon realised that the answer was “no”.

These moments only stand out because they are significantly more dramatic than the other great stuff. It’s all relative. To go back to the Carnal Forge song I mentioned earlier – the “ordinary” chorus on it’s own would be a very memorable moment if it appeared in a different (and less good) song, but the reason why the final chorus is the only seriously memorable moment in the song is that it sounds three times more dramatic than the other dramatic parts of the song do.

So, you have to choose these moments carefully – since you’ll probably only get to use one or two of them in your webcomic (possibly more, depending on how long-running your webcomic is) before the dramatic value begins to wear off slightly. But, if this happens, then you can always get it back by coming up with something even more impressive – although this obviously gets progressively more difficult the more times you do it.

Still, you only have a limited number of memorable moments to work with, so use them carefully. But, if you include too many, then it’ll self-regulate anyway, since people will only really remember the best one or two of them. Not to mention that it’s also possible to unintentionally include memorable moments by accident too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Reasons Why Some Novels Are Faster To Read Than Others

2015 Artwork quickly readable stories article sketch

After a conversation I had a few weeks ago, I started thinking about what exactly it is that makes some novels faster to read than others.

You know the kind of thing I’m talking about- you’ve got two books of roughly equal lengths by different authors and yet you can read one in a couple of days, but the other one takes at least a week to read.

Anyway, I thought about this for a minute or so and came up with some ideas about why this sort of thing happens. If you’re planning on writing a full-length novel or even just a short story, then these things might also be useful when it comes to working out how quickly-readable you want your story to be. But, I should point out that most of this stuff is probably fairly obvious though.

1) Action vs. Description: Generally speaking, the ratio of action (eg: things happening, drama, events etc…) to descriptions tends to be a lot higher in novels that are quicker to read. Likewise, if you want your novel to be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace, it may be worth ensuring that there are as many descriptions of things as there are dramatic events in your story.

In other words, the faster you want your novel to be read, the shorter the descriptions should be (because, if you can’t just describe things, then you’ll need to actually show things happening).

To give you an example of what I mean, I can usually read a 400-600 page Lee Child novel in a couple of days and these novels often feature relatively short descriptions, like this one from Lee Child’s “The Enemy”: “Made it through gloomy tiled corridors and came to a door with a pebble-glass window set in its upper half. The door had light behind it and Lt/Col. A. Norton stencilled on it. I knocked and went in. I saw a small and neat office. It was clean and it smelled feminine. I didn’t salute again. I figured we were past that point“.

Notice how, in this quote, every individual thing that is being described is only described using one or two short words. Likewise, the descriptions are interspersed with actions too (Eg: walking down corridors, knocking on doors, deciding not to salute). This means that this story is rather fast-paced.

Now, let’s look at an example from a much slower-paced novel. The novel I will be quoting from is a 661- page (including appendices) fantasy novel called “A Storm Of Swords: Steel And Snow” by George R. R. Martin which took me about a week or so to read. It’s the first half of a much longer novel, but it’s a roughly similar length to the Lee Child novel I mentioned earlier

Anyway, let’s take a look at a quote from it: “Two days’ ride to either side of the kingsroad, they passed through a wide swath of destruction, miles of blackened fields and orchards where the trunks of dead trees jutted into the air like archers’ stakes. The bridges were burnt as well, and the streams swollen by autumn rains, so they had to range along the banks in search of fords. The nights were alive with the howling of wolves, but they saw no people.

Notice how, although there are a couple of actions in this quote (eg: travelling by horse), most of these few sentences are taken up with detailed descriptions of the landscape around the characters. Due to the fact that this novel contains lots of passages like this, it’s a lot slower to read than the Lee Child novel was.

2) Language: If you want your novel to be quickly readable, then you need to make sure that you use slightly simpler and more informal language.

This doesn’t mean that you need to “dumb down” your story or anything like that, it just means that you should mostly use words that don’t sound too “fancy”.

If you use more basic descriptions and language, your readers can “process” it a lot more quickly and, therefore can read more of your story in a short amount of time.

Going back to the quotes I showed you earlier, the Lee Child quote uses fairly basic language like “a small and neat office” whereas the G R. R. Martin quote uses slightly more complex language like “a wide swath of destruction“.

3) Plotting: Another thing that can determine how fast your audience can read your story is what kind of plot your story has.

Generally, if your story has a plot that contains lots of mysteries (that make your readers curious and eager to read more) or lots of fighting (which makes your readers eager to see who will win and how they will win), then it will be a faster-paced story for the simple reason that your readers will want to read more of it as quickly as possible.

Of course, none of these factors exist in isolation – since the Lee Child novel and the G.R.R Martin novels I mentioned earlier both contain lots of mysteries and fighting. So, both of them contain things that make people want to read more quickly, but the reading time for these novels still differs quite a bit because of the two things I mentioned earlier.

Even so, I very much doubt that I’d have been able to read the G. R. R Martin novel in just a week if it wasn’t for the fact that it contained lots of battles, adventures, dramatic plot twists, intriguing mysteries and things like that. If, for example, it had been a comedy or a romance, then it would have probably taken me more than just a week to read it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Showing The Passage Of Time In Stories And Comics

2015  Artwork Stories time passage dream sketch

Although this is an article about how to show the passage of time in stories and comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about my dreams (of all things) for a while.

Trust me, there’s a valid reason for this – although if you’re the kind of person who is bored by hearing about other people’s dreams, then you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.

Anyway, the day before I wrote this article, I had two of the most spectacular dreams that I’ve ever had. The first dream seemed to last for three months and it revolved around me going to live in a strange secret underwater city.

The second dream only seemed to last for three days and the only way that I can really describe it is that it involved me living in a strange parallel universe which was somehow both better and worse than this universe.

Of course, in actual terms, each of these dreams lasted for less than three hours (I know this because I woke up in between each of them – and because REM sleep phases are only something like twenty minutes long). But, in retrospect, I can understand how my dreams created the illusion of lasting for longer than three hours or just twenty minutes.

Basically, my dreams just did what most films and TV shows do and only “showed” me a few interesting moments from a much longer chain of events. They just showed me the “exciting” moments from a much longer series of events and let my imagination fill in what happened between these moments.

And, well, this made me think about storytelling and time.

You see, one of the great things about both comics and prose fiction is that, unlike film, they don’t take place in real time. You can describe two centuries in a few sentences (or a couple of comic panels) and you can spend twenty pages showing what happened within a single minute. In general, you are in complete control of how fast time passes in your story.

This is both a great thing and a terrible thing. On the one hand, it means that you can show everything in far more detail than a film ever can – but on the other hand, it also means that you have to be a lot more conscious about the passage of time in your story because, if it goes too slowly, then it will bore people and if it goes too quickly, then it will confuse people.

So, what do you do?

Well, if you’ve read enough books and/or comics, then you’ll have probably have already picked up an instinctive understanding of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to showing the passage of time in your story.

But, if you haven’t, then it’s important to remember that you should only show time in a “slow” way when something genuinely interesting is happening. The more boring parts of your story should be skipped over as quickly as possible or, if they’re not important to the story itself, left out of your story entirely.

I mean, if a new chapter of your story begins a day after the previous one, then most people are going to assume that nothing interesting happened between these two chapters. Their imaginations are going to “fill in the gaps” and imagine that your characters just went about their ordinary everyday lives in between the events of these chapters.

But, at the same time, try to make sure that the “gaps” between the interesting moments you show in your story aren’t too long. Whilst it’s ok to skip several years or months a couple of times in your story, if you do it in literally every chapter, then it might get kind of confusing after a while unless your story is exceptionally well-written.

Finally, and this probably should be fairly obvious, it’s always a good idea to signpost when your novel has “jumped ahead” in time. Usually, you can do this in a fairly subtle way – either through background details (if you’re writing a comic) or through a brief description like “later that afternoon…” or whatever.

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Sorry for such a basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Three Sneaky Ways To Spread Out The Good Stuff In Your Story

2014 Artwork Spread out The Good Stuff Sketch

As anyone who enjoys reading or writing horror or thriller fiction will probably tell you, you can have too much of a good thing. The same thing is, surprisingly, true for erotic fiction too – but I won’t cover this genre in this article.

It’s slightly counter-intuitive, but whilst a story in one of these genres should scare, thrill or excite it’s intended audience, you can’t actually do this by including nothing but scary/disturbing or action-packed scenes in your story.

As I’ve probably said before, without a contrast between “safe” and “dangerous” or “ordinary” and “exciting” in your story then everything quickly just becomes boring.

It’s like trying to hold a fireworks display in the middle of a bright summer day – the fireworks might look spectacular, but they won’t really stand out against the bright blue sky.

For example: If a horror story contains literally nothing but ominous apparitions, oceans of blood and terrifying monsters (whether human or supernatural) then it often loses it’s scare value pretty quickly because people quickly know what to expect and aren’t really that shocked.

Likewise, if a thriller story contains literally nothing but car chases and gunfights then, believe it or not, this can get very boring after a while.

Even if you think that one of your favourite stories is the one exception to this rule, take a closer look at it and you’ll probably find that it actually isn’t. You see, there are actually quite a few sneaky ways to spread our the good stuff in your story without your reader realising that you’re doing this. Here are three of them:

1) Atmosphere: Although you can’t fill your story with nothing but dramatic stuff, it doesn’t mean that you can’t trick your readers into thinking that this sort of stuff could happen at any minute. The main way of doing this is through the atmosphere of your story.

For example, if you’re writing a horror story about a swarm of flesh-eating leeches that lurk in the plumbing system of a small village in the middle of nowhere, then you can’t show the leeches attacking people on every page. Your readers will get bored quickly and the leeches will have no-one left to eat after about a hundred pages or so.

But, you can show you characters pausing cautiously whenever they so much as look at the shower or go to wash their hands. You can show them hearing the occasional ominous gurgling sound in the background. You can show a dripping tap suddenly stop dripping. I’m sure you get the idea.

All of this stuff doesn’t actually show the flesh-eating leeches, but it gives your reader the impression that they could attack the main characters at any second by creating an uneasy, ominous and threatening atmosphere.

2) Backstory: If you’re writing a fairly “ordinary” scene between two scary/thrilling scenes, then you can spice it up a bit by giving subtle hints about your main character’s previous experiences with these kinds of things in the past. These can either be included briefly in dialogue or, more cleverly, by how your main character reacts to things.

For example, if you’re writing a thriller story featuring a grizzled ex-commando as the main character and your current scene features him sitting at a train station and waiting for someone, then you could add a little bit of drama to it by adding a line like “As he stood up and reached for a discarded newspaper, he felt a lancing pain in his knee and thought back to that mission in Antwerp five years ago. No, he thought, this will be nothing like Antwerp.

Likewise, having secondary characters briefly refer to something interesting that happened in their past or showing traces of an interesting past (eg: “The old woman lit her cigarette and effortlessly blew a heart-shaped smoke ring“) can also be a subtle way of keeping your audience interested during “ordinary” scenes.

3) Mix it up: Just because, say, horror becomes less scary the more often horrific things happen in your story doesn’t mean that your non-horror scenes have to be completely “ordinary”. Just because you’re taking a break from one type of interesting scene doesn’t mean that you can’t include other types of interesting scenes. So, don’t be afraid to mix it up.

The thing to remember is that for any scene to have a dramatic impact, it must contrast heavily with the other scenes in your story. So, it’s ok to include other interesting stuff as long as it is different from the main interesting thing in your story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

A Slow Pace Only Works If You Have An Excellent Story To Tell

2014 Artwork Slower Paced Stories Sketch

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was getting curious about “Game Of Thrones” again. Although I own most of the George R. R. Martin novels, I’ve only seen the first two seasons of the TV adaptation on DVD. Even so, I both did and didn’t want to know what happens in the third season.

I was tempted to just read spoilers on the internet, but that would probably just ruin the show for me. Surely, there had to be another way?

Of course! The books! So, with that, I made my second attempt at reading the first “Game Of Thrones” novel. I’d tried to read it late last year but, for some bizarre reason, I’d stopped after about 180 pages. Luckily, I’d left a bookmark in there and I was able to pick up where I left off. So, I immersed myself yet again in the wonderfully varied, treacherous and imaginative fictional world of Westeros.

But, it wasn’t long before I remembered one possible reason why I’d stopped reading it last year. The story moves very slowly. I’d been reading for about forty-five minutes and I was only about fifty pages further into the story.

Martin’s prose is vivid, exquisitely descriptive and extremely well-written but, unlike the sci-fi and thriller novels I’ve got used to reading over the past couple of years – it moves fairly slowly as a consequence.

Initially, I was annoyed about this and was about to give up in despair, when I suddenly thought “Hold on a minute, I love ‘Game Of Thrones’ and I’ve got what seems like an endless supply of it right here! This is the exact opposite of my main complaint with the TV show – namely that there wasn’t enough of it. I should be overjoyed”.

And, in that moment, I absolutely loved the fact that G.R.R Martin uses a very slow pace for his stories. It means that I can spend weeks in Westeros, rather than just a few days.

Anyway, this got me thinking about pacing and storytelling in general. The fact is that, as I mentioned earlier, I usually see a slow pacing as a negative thing in stories – and in things like (yawn) literary fiction, it definitely is.

But, whilst my personal recommendation to any writer is to keep their story moving at a fairly decent pace, there is one exception to this.

If your story is extremely compelling and dramatic, if you have a lot of very interesting characters and if the fictional universe of your story is an absolutely fascinating place, then it can sometimes actually be better to use a slower-paced narrative for your story.

This is because, if your story is something that can enthral people that much and fill them with wonder and excitement – then they deserve to spend as long there as they can. They deserve to see the new and interesting world of your story in as much detail as possible (as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story itself). They deserve to get to know your characters as much as possible (again, if it doesn’t get in the way of the story itself).

But, if you feel that your story is just “average”, if it’s a thriller novel, if it’s set in the real world and/or if it’s vaguely similar to the kinds of stories that people have read many times before, then you’re probably better off using a faster pace.

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These are just my opinions, but I hope that this was interesting 🙂