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Pacing your comic storyline

 
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Kristy



Joined: 30 Nov 1999
Posts: 15

PostPosted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 4:59 am    Post subject: Pacing your comic storyline Reply with quote

Hey guys!

So when you're pacing the story for your comic, how much do you consider the delivery times? What I mean is. . . for example, my comic is MOSTLY comedy, but there is definitely drama and an underlying plot.

Now, this chapter is only 24 pages, but I feel like the comic has been super serious FOREVER now. I update 4 days a week to keep things moving along, but I'm afraid of boring people or hitting them with too much drama because it drags when they're reading it week to week.

It's a little frustrating though because when I go back and read it as a cohesive chapter, a lot of it actually feels RUSHED. I can't win! LOL.

So how much of this do you guys consider when writing your comics? Any tips from the story-based artists out there?
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Marscaleb



Joined: 28 Aug 2012
Posts: 255

PostPosted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 6:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Take a moment, sit back, relax, forget everything you know and think abstractly, and read through your script. Then ask yourself, what does the story need?
Look for things that have been getting stale. How much exposition have you been giving? How much time have you just had characters sitting around and discussing things? How much time have they spent running around narrowly escaping death? Or how much time have they spent locked in battle? How much time have they spent in tears? How much time have they spent receiving new information?

Every single one of those elements, as well as many many more, has a limit as to how much you should be feeding your audience. Comedy relief, for an easy example, is very important in many works because it gives the audience a chance to breathe; it eases the tension that has built up.

No single element should go one too long. There is almost an exception for humor. The exception is because humor requires things to be unexpected, so consistently delivering good humor doesn't get stale. However, many types of humor do get stale if done in large quantities. (If the unexpected works on the lines of being absurd, the absurdity can lose its flavor as the audience expects something absurd.)
This same basic concept applies to a lesser extent to other forms of content. If you are doing a lot of action, the action can be made entertaining longer or shorter based on how stale it gets. If the hero is narrowly missing getting hit by falling debris, that can only go on so long. But if the hero then falls down a slick incline and has to narrowly slide past objects, you just extended the action a little longer. But to really keep it going, you need to stop with the narrow dodging thing and work in a new element. Or if it was a fight scene, we can only stare at people getting punched for so long.

So how do you gauge how much time they have spent in any particular situation? Well the best way to measure it is NOT in terms of pages or minutes, but in its ratio to the rest of the work.

With webcomics it is tricky because you have to balance two flows: The readers who cath each update, and the readers who are reading the archives. In both cases you need to examine how much of the comic has already been posted, but this is more critical with the active readers. If you have had only 15 pages so far, then a new page accounts for 1/16 of everything they have seen from your comic. If you want to use both humor and drama and have only really had drama, you are way overdue for humor.
For people reading the archives, you also need to consider how much archive they still have to read. Think at least a year ahead. Changing gears suddenly may throw off your archive readers more than the active readers. Having notable divisions helps to pace archives readers, especially if you have some visible notification of the division. A "new chapter" splash page, or a page with "Final thoughts from Dr. McProtagonist," or at least a narration box that concludes the current story section.
If you can't strike a right balance between the two groups of readers, work in favor of your active readers.

Food for thought: This can work on many levels. The TV Show X-Files was very dramatic, but once or twice a season they had an episode that was just fun or a little silly. Most dramatic shows follow this formula if they can't interject a piece of humor once or twice an episode.
This doesn't directly relate to comics because comics work in smaller doses, but you could still work on a variety of dosage-sizes to deliver to the reader. You could ease the readers by having a very funny page after a number of dramatic pages, or you could interject sly humor in a few moments across a few pages.
Replace humor with whatever element you need. If your characters are facing a lot of wrenching moments you could break the flow with a little bit of action.
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egypturnash



Joined: 12 May 2012
Posts: 24

PostPosted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm very much a story person rather than a daily stripper. I make my comic first and foremost for the collections, not the page-by-page readers. The collections will ultimately reach a lot more people than the ones dedicated enough to follow along with every new page.

I'm doing something that could easily devolve into endless talking, so I've set myself a rule: if there hasn't been an action sequence for 8-10 pages, IT IS TIME FOR ONE. I've got this crazy multiple-storylines-on-the-page thing going on, so it's pretty easy to have something happen in one of them.

(And if there's a point where I feel I really need to break this rule and slow down to set a mood, I will. All rules on creativity are for breaking, if you have a damn good reason to.)

Get a few friends who you trust to tell you the truth without regards for your feelings to read the comic so far. Ask them to specifically comment on the pacing. See what they say.

Making a comic that works in the daily strip mode is a very different narrative challenge than one that works in the long-form mode. The other day I was talking with a friend who's a daily stripper; she said she could never do what I do, as she kinda loses interest in a narrative arc after a week or two, and I just laughed and said that I could never do what SHE does, as coming up with a punchline every 3-4 panels is a skill I haven't even begun to cultivate.


Last edited by egypturnash on Sat Jul 13, 2013 12:35 am; edited 1 time in total
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Ronin Glen



Joined: 25 Mar 2013
Posts: 30

PostPosted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 3:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's a million ways to approach something like this. I'm a new writer on the web so I struggle with the same issues. For me though I'm writing almost exclusively comedy even though there is a massive overall storyline I'm trying to deliver. I try to follow the method of the guys who did the Naked Gun movies etc and never go more than two minutes without a gag. In comic terms that means I try to have at least one (several when possible) gag on every page I post. My ultimate goal would be to hit the kind of pacing EC Segar did with Popeye back in the 30's. He would run narratives that spanned 6 months with gags EVERY SINGLE DAY, six days a week and yet it was packed with action, social commentary and reads like a fluid story when collected. Pure genius. Anyway, keep experimenting and best of luck.
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ttallan
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Joined: 28 Feb 2008
Posts: 1128
Location: Ontario

PostPosted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For the most part, I'm with egypturnash. I make comics with the end goal of a graphic novel in mind. I've plotted to the far end of the story, and I script an entire chapter at a time (approx. 30 pages). Then I break down the script into pages, and try to get what amounts to "a complete thought" on each page.

Having said that, I used to write/draw for comic issues, 24 pages every other month, and I know my approach for how much to put on each page has changed since then. With webcomics, you're supposed to keep in mind that each new update can be someone's first look at your comic, so each page (or strip) needs to be appealing or complete in some way. So I'm more likely to try to not break up dialogue over two pages, whereas I might not have worried about that in the old comic book format. I put my page breaks where there could be a natural pause in the conversation.

Myself, I like the talky stuff. I want to read a comic. But when I start to worry that the talking heads are getting out of hand, I try to balance that by making the art more interesting. Something amusing going on in the backgrounds, for example.
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MindChimera



Joined: 03 Feb 2013
Posts: 304

PostPosted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 6:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ttallan wrote:
For the most part, I'm with egypturnash. I make comics with the end goal of a graphic novel in mind. I've plotted to the far end of the story, and I script an entire chapter at a time (approx. 30 pages). Then I break down the script into pages, and try to get what amounts to "a complete thought" on each page.

[...] With webcomics, you're supposed to keep in mind that each new update can be someone's first look at your comic, so each page (or strip) needs to be appealing or complete in some way. So I'm more likely to try to not break up dialogue over two pages, whereas I might not have worried about that in the old comic book format. I put my page breaks where there could be a natural pause in the conversation.

This is what I do. I have major plot points and the ending planned out, but I have my current chapter and 2-3 chapter scrips ahead written out. I don't like to write much more than that because if I need to change something at the last minute, I'd rather not have a bulk of the story built on something that's removed. And it's very important to me that the page ends with a complete thought.

Try not to worry about being "slow" with your pacing, especially since you're updating four days a week. There are some comics that update once a month that do well. If you think you may have gone too long without something interesting happening, there's no reason not to write something in. I feel like I'm going slow a lot of the time with my updates so I get concerned I may bore people into not reading. But as I look back over my archives in one sitting, things are paced just how I'd like it to be.

Comic relief is easy to fit in, in my opinion, so if you have a lot of serious stuff to get through, see if you can work something in. In my last few updates, my characters have been going through some wordy explanations while walking down a hallway. It's not terribly exciting, but it's stuff that needs to be explained, so I decided to try slipping some humor in the last few panels. The pages are here and here; the jokes I used aren't laugh-out-loud funny or anything, but I think they went over well (the first one more-so, I think). Some of my jokes are last minute additions, but having the time to mull over my script gives me the opportunity to come up with something more entertaining when it comes time to draw.

I'm also making a point to not explain everything at once, because there's no reason to give everyone a lecture on my made-up sciencey crap. It's boring, there are plenty of opportunities to slip it in to seemingly random spots in the script, and I think it's good to give people time to speculate.
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Kristy



Joined: 30 Nov 1999
Posts: 15

PostPosted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 7:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, I've been scripting in advance. I also am thinking more about the graphic novel aspect than the daily updates. So, before starting the comic I outlined the entire first book and scripted the first three chapters.

I'm never fully committed to anything I write and it's constantly changing, but the end goals are normally pretty much the same. I just feel like there's such a stark contrast between chapter 1, which is mostly silly, and chapter 2 which is mostly serious.

I'm probably just overthinking it. Chapter 3 is shaping up to be about 50/50 on the silly and serious ratios and chapter 4 is just hilarious before the last 3 chapters of the first book get serious again.

I think that when it all comes together it will probably be more balanced than I'm feeling now, less than 50 pages in.

Thanks for all of your input guys. Smile
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smbhax.com
No! Don't post it there!


Joined: 10 Apr 2009
Posts: 2923
Location: Seattle

PostPosted: Fri Jul 12, 2013 1:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't have much experience on the comedy side of this, but your recent pages do have the "wall of text" look. It is of course pretty near impossible to have characters standing/sitting around talking about something at some point, but at least for me these are the times where I try to keep the text as absolutely concise as possible, because I think exposition in a comic does get dull if it goes on too long without a break.

It looks like some of the stuff your recent pages are covering is kind of back story-ish (I was sort of skimming backwards so I could be very mistaken!). One way to avoid having to pause the action to have people talk about that kind of thing is to find ways to work it into everything else that's going on, gradually, so it seems natural and not like a lot of weird names to have to remember at once. There's also ye olde "Show, don't tell" advice, which means that it's often better to show what is happening--or has happened--rather than just have someone talk about it.

But basically if you can make your dialogue to the point and meaningful to the current action, you probably won't have too much problem with pacing.

I think also that I didn't want to climb too far down your walls of text because your all-caps italicized font was a little hard on the eyes--the italic part in particular. Italicizing text *does* reduce legibility, so keep that in mind.
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Justinfh



Joined: 30 Sep 2012
Posts: 87

PostPosted: Fri Jul 12, 2013 4:54 pm    Post subject: Re: Pacing your comic storyline Reply with quote

Here's what I've done for my comic. Basically, in my buffer, I focused on the story. I made sure it made sense, and I made sure it was interesting. I didn't try to make my comic dramatic, or funny, I just did was came naturally. Later on my comic (which is like September of this year. I have a huge buffer), I reached a point in my story where I managed some stand-alone comics.

The point is, let all it come naturally. If you're having writer's block. Then take a day or two off from your comic.
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JohnK



Joined: 02 May 2006
Posts: 462
Location: Glendale, California

PostPosted: Fri Jul 12, 2013 7:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ttallan wrote:
With webcomics, you're supposed to keep in mind that each new update can be someone's first look at your comic, so each page (or strip) needs to be appealing or complete in some way. So I'm more likely to try to not break up dialogue over two pages, whereas I might not have worried about that in the old comic book format. I put my page breaks where there could be a natural pause in the conversation.


I think that this is the most important advice so far. You don't have to end on a cliffhanger for each page, but it should be an area of conversation or action that happens right before the next detail is revealed or a triumphant punch is landed. You have to find those beats within your story and do a lot of editing within your script to get them in the right place. I think this is important no matter if you update one day a week or four.

While I agree that you don't want to go too long with any type of storytelling, whether drama, action, exposition, or whatever you're doing, don't feel you have to force anything in there. Everything should push the story forward. Action shouldn't be there to blow stuff up, but it should have consequences.

Right now I have a narrative going about a giant chasing a man who stole his chickens. Does this haver anything to do with the overall story? Not really. It's goofy and fun to look at, but ultimately will lead new revelations and mystery within the story that get other characters more deeply involved with events happening in their city.
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JohnK



Joined: 02 May 2006
Posts: 462
Location: Glendale, California

PostPosted: Fri Jul 12, 2013 7:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would also say experiment. This is your webcomic, and I know you want it to be great, but it is never going to be perfect. Take it as an education. I learned a lot from the first two I did back in the day, now I'm back and have learned so much from that original experience. I'm making new mistakes, but also catching on faster to them and correcting them in the scripting process.

If you think you have a lot of drama, push yourself to visualize that drama differently. It's a comic. Not everything has to take place in real surroundings. Figure out how to visualize the emotion of the character. Maybe by not restricting characters to panels for a few pages you can get more dialogue out to make the pacing a bit faster, or maybe you can even spread it out more to make it feel less rushed.

There's so many options for webcomics precisely because we can do whatever the hell we want and there are no page restrictions. Have fun, experiment, and learn.
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