There are no hard and fast rules to making a good story. That pretty much is clear. No matter how you put a story together, there will always be an audience for your work. The question is, is the audience you attract big enough?
I've spoken with a few people, comics fans all, about their opinions on the recent crop of Pinoy komiks that have been coming out and, while the number of titles and issues have increased significantly over the past decade, very few of these comics have been able to deliver the kind of punch these readers are looking for.
So I asked them: what's missing?
Three main reasons stand out, and I'd like to think that these three reasons are good places to start for any beginning Pinoy komiks creator to improve their work. These reasons, not surprisingly, are all part of the universal guidelines that any good story follows.
1) The Intriguing Spin
The comics creator has to work doubly hard in coming up with an interesting concept that has rarely been explored, especially if the genre is particularly crowded. What's your intriguing spin on the superhero story? What's your new take on the manga fantasy adventure? What's your spin on your hero, especially if your hero follows a known archetype? Screenwriting expert Mark Tapio Kines says that it's always prudent to take a survey of all the stories you can find that's similar to the story you want to tell, so that you can see what's been done before, and especially what hasn't been done before. When I talk to stage director Tuxqs Rutaquio, the words, "paano ito babaliin" or "how can it be broken" comes up often, suggesting that there is always a need to find a new angle in a familiar concept. Because if it's been done before, especially if done really well, why do it again?
However, it's not practical to have a concept so unique that it requires pages and pages of explanation for the reader to understand what's going on. Infodumping is something a reader doesn't appreciate, moreso if it's clumsily done. Readers want a story, not a sourcebook.
2) Readers Have To Care
The concept may be unique, but readers have to care. And one reason why a story falters is its inability to evoke sympathy in, or warrant attention from, a reader. You might love your concept a lot, but it's not going to fly if readers finds it irrelevant to their lives. We can only care so much, and there's already so much in the world we need to care about. The tough part is that your competition is not limited to other comics.
Making readers care about your story is no different from making people care about people. When Pol Medina's "Pugad Baboy" strip got pulled from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, why did you care to protest? When Maya and Ser Chief became an item, why did noontime television viewers care to issue a collective giddy shriek? Why did The Walking Dead stand out among many zombie stories? There's an element in these examples that people can relate to.
Stories are a version of real life, and so they have to be as real as possible, no matter the genre. One way to help make readers care is to work on making your characters three-dimensional. Comics is as much voice-driven as it is visually-driven, so it pays off to let your characters act and talk beyond cardboard. The more human-like and genuine your characters are, and the greater the risks they face, the higher the chance that a reader will latch on to those characters and see how things will end up.
3) Deliver In Spades
The writing has to be good. The illustrations have to be good. The storytelling has to be clear and fluid. The structure has to inject the right doses of tension at the right points. The set-ups and pay-offs have to be released strategically. And there has to be enough surprises to keep the readers glued. In comics, like in any storytelling form, there's no getting around these. To take making comics seriously is to continuously study, practice, and improve. It is what we owe our art.
NEXT: So how do you start developing a story? Well it all starts with a character and a situation. If you have a character in mind but don't have a story, the next blog post will give you an idea of how to generate story ideas based on your character.