Monday, June 17, 2013

Breaking Down Your Comics Story Outline

A lot of professional comics writers will tell you that outlining a story helps a lot in budgeting pages. If you have 20 pages in one issue, then create a 20-step outline.

But it's always prudent to start in general terms first. Once you have the beginning and the ending of a story in mind, decide: How many issues or chapters can hold this story? If you choose three issues, then you can determine what should happen in each issue for this story to be complete?

Here's an example for a Guy vs. Alien story.

  • Introduce Hero
  • Introduce Alien and why it's homicidal
  • Hero decides to kill Alien because it killed his best friend
  • Hero learns about special weapon and that it is held by a Bounty Hunter
  • Hero finds Bounty Hunter and they fight (Bounty Hunter doesn't trust Hero)
  • Hero makes extra effort to earn the trust of Bounty Hunter
  • Bounty Hunter helps Hero get rare mineral to power weapon
  • Hero and Bounty Hunter learn more about each other and become friends
  • Hero and Bounty Hunter hunt down Alien
  • In the final encounter with the Alien, Bounty Hunter is killed
  • Hero destroys Alien with Special Weapon
  • Hero buries Bounty Hunter 
Before proceeding with chopping up this outline, it is good to note that there are two throughlines in this story. The first throughline is about the Hero wanting to destroy the Alien. The second throughline is about the friendship between the Hero and the Bounty Hunter. These two throughlines ultimately meet in the end, for as the Hero successfully kills the Alien, he loses a friend. A somewhat tragic story.

So if we're going to divide this outline across three issues, we could try it this way:

ISSUE ONE

  • Introduce Hero
  • Introduce Alien and why it's homicidal
  • Hero decides to kill Alien because it killed his best friend
  • Hero learns about special weapon and that it is held by a Bounty Hunter
  • Hero finds Bounty Hunter and they fight (Bounty Hunter doesn't trust Hero)
ISSUE TWO
  • Hero makes extra effort to earn the trust of Bounty Hunter
  • Bounty Hunter helps Hero get rare mineral to power weapon
  • Hero and Bounty Hunter learn more about each other and become friends
ISSUE THREE
  • Hero and Bounty Hunter hunt down Alien
  • In the final encounter with the Alien, Bounty Hunter is killed
  • Hero destroys Alien with Special Weapon
  • Hero buries Bounty Hunter 
Note the ending of each issue. Is it a cliffhanger? Is it exciting enough that the reader would be tempted to buy the next issue? At this point, you can adjust the ending of the first and second issue and turn them into cliffhangers:


ISSUE ONE ENDING
  • Hero finds Bounty Hunter; the issue ends with the Bounty Hunter attacking the Hero (cliffhanger, because at this point the reader thinks the Bounty Hunter is a major threat)
ISSUE TWO
  • ...and they fight (The second issue begins on a high note)
  • Hero makes extra effort to earn the trust of Bounty Hunter
  • Hero and Bounty Hunter learn more about each other and become friends
  • Bounty Hunter helps Hero get rare mineral to power weapon; They get into a tight situation (cliffhanger, because the reader sees the Hero and the Bounty Hunter in danger)
ISSUE THREE
  • ... and save each other from death (issue begins on a high note)
  • Hero and Bounty Hunter hunt down Alien
  • In the final encounter with the Alien, Bounty Hunter is killed
  • Hero destroys Alien with Special Weapon
  • Hero buries Bounty Hunter 
Note as well that in each issue, there are a lot of opportunities for Challenges and Reveals, sustaining the high levels of tension and anticipation.

NEXT: But what if your budget is only enough for one issue? Can this entire story fit in 20 pages? Conceivably, yes, though we will have to make some important decisions. We'll do that in the next blog post.


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