Short Comics And Characterisation

(I should probably point out that these articles currently seem to be a couple of weeks behind my daily art posts)

(I should probably point out that these articles currently seem to be a couple of weeks behind my daily art posts)

I don’t know if I’ve talked about this subject before or not, but I thought that I’d take a very quick look at how comic length can affect the characterisation in your comic.

The evening before I originally wrote this article, I decided to briefly revive my old “Damania” webcomic series yet again (here’s the finished mini series). However, instead of transforming it into slightly longer narrative comics (as I did here and here), I decided to experiment with something similar to the original 3-5 panel “newspaper comic strip” format that I used when I originally started this comic.

My new comics look a bit like this:

"Damania Redux - Splatterpunk" By C.A. Brown

“Damania Redux – Splatterpunk” By C.A. Brown

One of the most striking differences that I noticed was that all of the new character development I’d added in my longer comics pretty much fell away instantly and the characters were pretty much back to who they were in 2013. And I think that I know why this happened.

When you’re making shorter stand-alone comics, there isn’t really a huge amount of room for character development. All of your characters have to have distinctive personalities which you can get across to the reader very quickly since there’s a very good chance that this may be the first comic in your series that a potential reader might read.

As such, any characterisation in “newspaper comic strip”-style comics has to be familiar enough for long-term readers but also simple and distinctive enough for new readers to understand pretty much instantly.

This usually means that you’ll either have to rely heavily on characterisation from previous comics (and unless you can find a quick way to re-cap this in each comic, you’ll alienate new readers) or you’ll have to simplify your characters slightly.

As an example, look at this comic that features two of the series’ four main characters (Harvey and Rox):

"Damania Redux - Deduction" By C.A. Brown

“Damania Redux – Deduction” By C.A. Brown

In this comic – the only major characterisation that occurs in the focus on how obsessed Harvey is with detective work (and Sherlock Holmes). Yes, Rox is shown to be a slightly cynical character too but, in both chases, these elements of the characters’ personalities are exaggerated and emphasised a lot more than they would be in a longer comic. There isn’t really a huge amount of room for nuance in just four panels.

Not only that, since you only have 3-5 panels to work with, you also have to fit a joke into your comic as well – and, in short comics, humour usually takes precedence over characterisation. As such, your characters often either have to have slightly contrasting personalities (since this can be the source of a lot of humour) or they need to be slightly generic (if you want to emphasise the events of the comic instead of the characters).

I don’t know, before I started this short comic series, I never quite realised all of the limitations of the 3-5 panel comic format.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Basic Tips For Writing Short Stories Based On Longer Stories

2015 Artwork Short Spin Off Stories article sketch

Although I haven’t seen that many examples of this, one of the things that I absolutely love is when fiction and/or comics writers come up with shorter stories that are based on their longer stories.

A great example of a great writer who did this is probably Billy Martin (who published under the pen name of “Poppy Z. Brite”), before he retired from writing.

Each of his first two short story collections contained one story featuring some of the characters from his first two novels (the short stories are called “How To Get Ahead In New York” and “Vine Of The Soul”).

Plus, although an electronic copy of it used to be available to read online on his publisher’s website up until a few years ago at least, he also published a very rare short story called “Stay Awake” which answered the question of whether the two main characters in his first novel (“Lost Souls”) were lovers or whether they were just friends. I won’t spoil the answer, but if you’ve read any of Martin’s other novels, you can probably make an educated guess anyway 🙂

Shorter stories that are based on longer stories give writers a chance to explore elements of their stories that they didn’t have room for in their longer comics or novels.

They also allow a writer to re-visit their favourite stories, without committing themselves to a full-length comic or novel. They are, obviously, also something extra for the fans too.

But, how do you write these kinds of stories? Here are a few basic tips:

1) Brief introductions: Even though these short stories are mainly intended for people who have read your longer comics or stories, you still need to accept the fact that new readers will probably read them too. As such, it also haa to work as a stand-alone story, as well as an extension to your longer story.

What this means is that you’ll have to briefly re-explain or summarise any important story or character information from your longer works that is relevant to what is happening in your short story.

Although this will mean that new readers will see plot spoilers for your longer stories, this isn’t as much of an issue as you might think.

Since you’re only describing these things briefly, new readers who enjoyed your short story will probably be curious about how or why these things happened. Plus, if they like your characters, then they’ll want to see more of them – even if they know the ending to your longer story.

2) Focus on other characters: Another good way to write an interesting shorter story is to focus on one of the supporting characters from your longer story or comic.

Since these characters should be as interesting (or more interesting) than the main character, but will have slightly less character development than your main character does – your audience will probably be curious about them. As such, they are the perfect subject for a short story.

A good example of this would probably be a short story by Mike Carey that was published in an anthology of zombie fiction I read about five years ago. Since my copy of this book is under a pile of other books and is difficult to reach, I can’t remember the exact story title. But, it was a spin-off story that was based on his excellent “Felix Castor” series of hardboiled supernatural detective/horror novels.

However, rather than featuring another one of Felix Castor’s cases, this story focuses on the backstory of one of the other characters from the novels – a zombie called Nicky. Since Mike Carey has a really interesting take on the zombie genre (eg: zombies still retain their intelligence and personality, but they have no legal rights and their bodies can’t heal themselves) it was really interesting to see slightly more of this in a short story.

3) Fill in some gaps: One of the best ways to come up with ideas for shorter stories that your fans will love is to see if there’s anything in your longer novels or comics that you didn’t really have a chance to explain or explore properly.

For example, you could show a mysterious part of your main character’s backstory that you only hinted at in your original novel or comic or you could show an interesting location that you only had time to mention briefly in your main story. I’m sure you get the idea…..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Basic Ways To Make Shorter Stories and Comics Appeal To Your Audience

2014 Artwork Shorter Comics and stories appeal sketch

As I’ve mentioned before in other articles (like this one), different writers have different story and/or comic lengths that they feel most comfortable working at.

These can be vastly different to the average lengths of the things we like to read (eg: I quite like longer stories and comics, but the longest stories I can write are novella-length ones) and there’s no real way to explain why this happens. It’s just one of those strange things.

Still if, like me, you can only ever seem to create short things then this can put you at a bit of a disadvantage. For example, most novels these days are 300-400 pages long (as opposed to 200-300 a couple of decades ago) and, if it wasn’t for e-books, then there would be next to no market whatsoever for novella-length stories.

So, for today, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to make shorter stories and comics appeal to your audience a lot more:

1) Make it episodic: Whilst your self-contained shorter story and/or comic should obviously have a satisfying ending (eg: don’t end it on a cliff-hanger!), it can be useful to leave it open for sequels. Why?

Because, if your readers really like it, then they will quite happily return for more if you create a sequel that is good enough. Not only that, because your self-contained story or comic is relatively short, then it’s almost like an episode of a TV show or part of a traditional comic series – so there’s more of an expectation that more will follow. In fact, promoting your shorter works as something more episodic than a typical fiction/graphic novel series can be a good way of drumming up interest in your work.

Not only that, once you’ve made a few “episodes”, you can also appeal to people who like longer books, e-books and/or comics by releasing collections of several of your stories or comics.

2) Focus on time: It’s a fact that shorter stories and comics usually take less time to read than longer ones and whilst this might not sound like a good thing at first glance (since, of course, it isn’t good “value for money” if you plan to sell your work), it is very easy to turn this to your advantage.

How? Well, brazenly use the short reading time as a “selling point” to your audience. The fact is that most of your audience will probably be fairly busy and they might not always feel interested in the prospect of devoting 6-8 hours to a full-length novel or 1-2 hours to a full-length graphic novel.

However, if your story can be read in 1-3 hours or if your comic can be read in 20 minutes, then it’s a lot easier for people to fit it into their busy schedules. So, capitalise on this and emphasise the fact that your story or comic can be read quickly.

3) Leave it open to fan fiction/ fan art: Generally speaking, if people like something – then they want more of it. But, of course, it takes quite a bit of time to write a novella or even to make a short comic.

So, what do you do to keep your fans happy in the long gaps between your stories and/or comics? Simple, you open your work up to fan fiction and/or fan art.

In other words, you let (or ever encourage) your fans make extra unofficial stuff based on your work for each other. Whilst this might sound counter-productive, it’s actually a really clever way to make sure that your fans are still interested in and still thinking regularly about your work in between publications.

As long as you make sure not to read any of it (so you can’t be accused of plagiarising your fans) and that your fans aren’t selling their fan fiction, then it can be a really smart move to encourage fan fiction.

To use a computer game analogy, take a look at “Doom“. So far (official add-ons and console ports aside), there have only been a few main instalments of this game series – one in 1993, another in 1994, another in 2004 and (hopefully) one next year. It’s a series which, unlike some modern games series, doesn’t get officially updated very often.

But the first two instalments of this series are still surprisingly popular even two decades later for the simple reason that they were made open-source later in the 1990s (allowing people to update the games for modern computer systems) and because fans also still make and share millions of user-generated levels for these two games over the internet.

Now, compare this to quite a few modern games which are indifferent to and/or hostile to fan modifications (because the games companies want to sell “downloadable content” instead) – will anyone still be playing those games twenty years later?

4) Free or cheap: Yes, you might have put a lot of time and/or effort into producing your novella and/or short comic. But, nonetheless, people might think less of it because of it’s length – you can spend all day arguing about this if you want to, but the fact remains.

As such, if you aren’t putting your work online for free, then you have to think a lot more carefully about pricing.

If you try to sell your novella and/or comic online at the same price as a full-length novel or graphic novel, then people are either going to look at the length and conclude that it isn’t good value for money. Or, possibly, they might not notice the length and then feel cheated because they expected something longer for the money that they’ve splashed out on your work.

So, yes, you need to make your novella or short comic significantly cheaper than it’s full-length counterparts. Yes, this might sound unfair but it both ensures that your readers won’t feel cheated and it also makes your work look like a bargain too – which may well attract more customers.

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Sorry that this article was so basic, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Four Good Ideas For Shorter Artistic Projects

2014 Artwork Short Projects article sketch

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t seem to have a particularly long creative attention span. I don’t know why, but I’ve only really been interested in creating short self-contained articles and paintings over the past few months at least.

So, for today, I thought that I’d give you a few ideas for shorter and/or more manageable art projects in case you ever find yourself in a situation like this.

1) Make a painting series: As the name suggests, a painting series is nothing more than a group of paintings (or drawings or whatever) which have something in common with each other. They can be paintings of the same location, they can share a common theme or they can just use a similar colour scheme. The only limit is your imagination.

The great thing about making a painting series is that you get to make lots of smaller self-contained pictures, which all form part of something much bigger. In other words, you only have to work on one part of it at a time – and each painting can be enjoyed on it’s own without looking at the rest of the series.

What this means is, if you’re posting it online, you don’t have update your series on a regular schedule if you don’t want to. Plus, you obviously don’t have to wait until you’ve finished the entire series before you start uploading your art either.

Another great thing about making a painting series is that there’s no real limit on how long it has to be. So, if you only feel like making 3-5 different paintings (or drawings), then you can still call this a painting series.

2) Use a recurring character: This is quite similar to the previous point on the list, but a good way of making a short and manageable art project is to paint or draw several pictures of the same character in a variety of interesting situations.

This has all of the advantages of making a comic (eg: you can come up with dramatic scenes, interesting locations etc…) but it also means that you don’t have to come up with a story or write any dialogue….

"Heather Greyfield And The Suit Of Swords" By C. A. Brown

“Heather Greyfield And The Suit Of Swords” By C. A. Brown

If you want an example of this, then check out some of my paintings of a random character I came up with earlier this year called “Heather Greyfield“.

Originally, I’d planned to make a comic about her, although she seemed more like a computer game character. But since I don’t really have much in the way of programming knowledge, she just ended up being a recurring character in a series of paintings.

3) Make non-sequential comics: Although I haven’t worked on it in ages, I started a webcomic a couple of years ago called “Damania” that has probably been my largest and longest-running comic for one simple reason…

Unlike many of my other attempts at making webcomics, “Damania” didn’t contain a continuous storyline – it was just a collection of short self-contained 3-5 panel comics, like this one:

"Damania - Outdoor Painting" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Outdoor Painting” By C. A. Brown

What this meant was that I could spend an hour or two making one of these comics and then that was it. If I wanted to make another one, I could – but if I didn’t, then I could just move on to something else without worrying about leaving anything “unfinished”.

Because there’s no real “beginning” or “ending” to non-sequential comics, they’re absolutely ideal for shorter creative projects.

4) Redrawings: Yes, I know, I mention redrawings all the time. But, if you’ve been creating art for a while, then a great idea for a short and manageable project is to just go through some of your old drawings and/or paintings and re-make new versions of some of your favourite ones from scratch.

One of the great things about doing this is that, because you don’t have to come up with any new ideas, you can spend more time actually painting or drawing.

Plus, since your art skills will have probably improved since you made the original pictures, you’ll be able to quickly and easily see exactly how much you’ve improved.

Not only that, you’ll have a new and improved collection of your favourite pictures to show people if they’re interested in your work – kind of like a “greatest hits” collection, or something like that.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Should You Write Long Or Short Non-Fiction Articles?

2014 Artwork Article writing length sketch

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I tend to apologise when I write something short and – due to the hot weather and just general stress at the time of writing – I’ve been making a lot of short articles recently. So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about length and writing non-fiction articles.

The other thing which made me think about this subject was when I needed some inspiration when I was in a dark mood a few weeks ago and decided to check out one of my favourite new age/inspirational blogs – Jeanette Maw’s “Good Vibe Blog“.

One of the interesting things about this site is that the posts on it are fairly short – in fact, after reading one of them, I decided to copy it into Star Office and check the word count out of curiosity – it was less than 400 words long!

Of course, if I’d written something that was only about 395 words long – I’d either write a grovelling apology at the bottom of the article or, more likely, I’d try to find ways to pad it out and make it look like something of a “reasonable” length.

The fact is that some writers are better suited to writing short things and some writers are better suited to writing long things. Personally, I find it a lot easier to write 1400 words than I do to write something that is only 140 characters long. This is also reason #145 why I will hopefully never get a Twitter account.

Some of this is probably innate personal preference, but I think that part of has to do with education and how we react to it. You see, when I was a kid – I was the kind of kid who liked writing essays in school.

Ok, I didn’t love writing essays – but, by the time I was in sixth form, I could dash out a reasonably good homework essay in less than an hour. And, when I went to university, I always used to get annoyed at the word limits for coursework projects – because I always exceeded them and had to spend quite a while editing my work down to 2000- 3500 words.

Of course, if you were the kind of person whose talents lay elsewhere and you felt out of your depth whenever you so much looked at an essay question (in the same way that I’d probably feel if I looked at a mathematical equation, a few lines of computer code or a chemical equation), then it makes sense that you’d be better suited to writing short things.

In addition to this, I’ve always thought that “long” equals “serious”. Just like how I foolishly used to think that “serious” writing always sounded like something that was written in the 19th century. And, well, I also tend to worry that my readers will feel “cheated” every time that I write something that’s less than about 600 words long.

So, I guess that this is something of a subjective topic and whether you’re better suited to writing long or short non-fiction pieces depends a lot on your own personal attitudes towards writing. And about reading too – some people love to dash through lots of short articles when they’re surfing the internet and some people like to get lost in a few longer articles – it all comes down to preference really.

But, here’s the interesting thing about non-fiction – length doesn’t matter as much as you might think. It’s kind of like the Linux operating system – the current version of the basic core (or “kernel“) of the program is pretty much the same in every distribution of Linux even though everything else about each distribution might be different.

The fact is that most non-fiction topics and ideas can be summed up surprisingly briefly. But, at the same time, they can also be discussed at length and expanded upon too.

So, at the end of the day, it all comes down to preference – both for readers and for writers.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂