One Cool Thing That TV Shows Taught Me About Storytelling In Webcomics

2017-artwork-tv-shows-webcomic-story-structure-article-sketch

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m busy making another webcomic mini series at the time of writing.

This one will appear in mid-late July and I’m planning on taking a slightly similar approach to the storytelling in it as I did in “Damania Retrofuturistic“, “Damania Renaissance” and “Damania Repressed“. In other words, there will be an overarching plot, but (hopefully) several self-contained updates too.

This is an approach to storytelling that I’ve learnt from watching numerous TV shows. Most recently, I’ve seen an absolutely great example of this technique in the first season of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“. One really cool thing about this show is the fact that the episode title screen looks different depending on whether the episode is a stand-alone episode or part of the series’ main story arc.

Although television is a different medium to webcomics, they have more in common than you might think. They’re both visual mediums and they’re both released in an episodic fashion. Likewise, since they’re often produced in less time, on a lower budget and/or in larger quantities than films or novels are, there’s a lot more emphasis on characterisation and writing than there is on visual spectacle.

Anyway, the main reasons why a lot of TV shows use this structure is because, before the days of DVD boxsets, internet TV etc.. they couldn’t rely on their audience watching every episode in order. So, self-contained episodes provide something for people who have missed a few episodes and/or have started watching the TV show halfway through a season etc…

Even though most webcomics have easily searchable archives of one kind or another (like with the comics index page on this site), most people become interested in a webcomic by stumbling across just one episode of it by accident. So, if you include self-contained comic updates, then this makes your webcomic more easily accessible and it increases the chances of new readers being amused or intrigued by just seeing one comic update.

In addition to this, in television, these types of episodes also provide a bit of variety within the show itself. For example, a TV show with a depressing main plot might try to lighten the tone by including a few humourous or light-hearted stand-alone episodes in each season.

In webcomics, this sort of thing can allow you to include extra characterisation, to make jokes that wouldn’t fit into the main storyline and things like that. It gives you more room to try different things and to add more to your comic, without affecting the main storyline too much.

The trick to all of this is, of course, working out the ratio of self-contained to story-based episodes. Generally, if you include more story-based episodes, then you can tell a more detailed and complex story – albeit at the expense of making it more accessible to new readers. Likewise, if most of the updates in your comic are self-contained, then you’ll probably have to use a simpler story for the main plot.

Of course, if you’re really up for a challenge- you can include an over-arching plot in the background, whilst also giving each “episode” a self-contained sub plot. This is probably a lot more difficult to do in webcomics than it is in TV for the simple reason that you’ll only have 1-8 panels to work with in every comic update (as opposed to 45 minutes of screen time). But, the main advantage of this is that it makes your comic more accessible to new and/or infrequent readers than if you use a combination of self-contained comics and story-based comics.

But, yes, TV shows can teach you a lot about story structure in webcomics.

———

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why Don’t More Writers Use This Awesome Story Structure?

Yay! Vikings :)

Yay! Vikings 🙂

I was looking through some old books of mine a few weeks ago, when I stumbled across a copy of Terry Jones’ “The Saga Of Erik The Viking“. Since I had vague memories of reading it when I was a lot younger, I thought that I’d take another look at it as an adult (who makes art and thinks that vikings are really cool).

And I was amazed!

Not only did I rediscover a brilliantly timeless (and ageless) story with far more unearthly horrors and fearsome monsters in it than I remembered, I also had a much greater appreciation for Michael Foreman’s excellent watercolour illustrations and lineart than I did back before I became an artist.

But, most importantly of all, eight words in the blurb on the inside cover really jumped out at me.

Those words were “Each chapter forms a complete story in itself“.

And, yes, they do. You can read the whole book cover to cover or (like I did when I was re-reading it) you can just skip to interesting-looking chapters. As long as you read the beginning before you read the ending, you can read the rest of the book in any literally order that you want to.

The whole story is technically a linear story (like most stories) but each chapter usually just begins with a very brief description of the main characters moving on from the events of the previous chapter (eg: “After they had celebrated their safe arrival on shore…“) and then the rest of the chapter is basically just a self-contained short story which ends with Erik and the vikings either staying somewhere or getting back on their longship and travelling somewhere else.

Apart from possibly Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics (where most volumes of the comic are completely self-contained parts of a larger story), I’ve never seen any other stories which use this kind of structure. And, the strange thing is, it really works. In fact, it may well be the best story structure ever created.

Why? Well, because it puts the reader in control of both the path of the story and the story’s length too. If you don’t really feel like reading a whole book, then you can just read a couple of chapters and still come away feeling satisfied. Likewise, if you want to read the interesting-looking chapters first and then read the other chapters later, you can do this too. It’s totally up to you.

Best of all, this structure is perfectly suited to one of my favourite genres of fiction – I am, of course, talking about “exploratory storytelling“. In case you’ve never heard of this genre before, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be – exploratory stories are basically just open-ended stories about exploring strange and interesting places.

Because you can read the chapters of ” Erik The Viking” in any order that you want to, it goes from being an ordinary linear story to being an interesting collection of tales which – best of all – can be explored rather than just simply read. It might sound like I’m exaggerating here, but this structure really changed how I saw the entire book.

This structure could also be fairly good for writers who, like me, are absolutely terrible at writing longer stories (or was when I was writing fiction regularly). This is because it’s like the perfect middle ground between writing a novel and writing a short story collection. You can write a series of short stories

Since short story collections are nowhere near as popular or attractive to publishers as they used to be, this could be the perfect way of disguising your short story collection as a novel (with all of the gravitas and popularity that comes with this).

Seriously, I don’t know why more writers don’t use this structure for their books – it’s absolutely amazing.

——–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂