Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How To Make Comics: The Story Event and The Basic Comics Script

If you've gone through a number of the blog posts in this series, you might find yourself scratching your head. I apologize for that--it's not easy to pin down the intricacies of making comics because there are so many disciplines involved. Some may argue that anyone can make a comics story--that is true. But anyone can write a screenplay, or a poem, or any form of art, and a few innately talented people can do these particularly well with very little training. But, in general, to be good at something, you need to break it apart and see how things work.

What I'm trying to do is to lay down foundations, and I'll be the first to say that there may be others who can explain everything better, or even differently, than I. But If you pick up just one or two things from the series and have found ways to apply them in your own work, that's great. In the future, I intend to expand the previous topics into more comprehensive, but simpler terms.

Do You Start In General or In Particular?

Talk to different writers, and you'll find out that they start creating stories in either a General Mode or a Particular Mode.

Writers who start in the General Mode have a more sweeping idea of what their story is about. These are the writers who know how a story is going to start and end, as well as identify highlights of the story, in general terms. They are primarily big picture thinkers, who dive into the nitty-gritty later on.

Writers who start in Particular Mode start with a scene, or a piece of dialogue, and build these details until they get enough ideas to move full force into what the story might be about. They are primarily interested in nuance, tone, subtext, and other subtle aspects of story.

If designing a car is an analogy, those who think in general terms start with what the car will look like. Those who think in particular terms start with how the car is going to run.

Thing is, it doesn't matter if you start in General Mode or in Particular Mode because, somewhere in the process, you'll be shifting back and forth between the General and the Particular. Stories have the big parts and little parts, and you'll only be able to complete a story by covering all of these. But we'll attempt to make the process as universal as possible by focusing on a key concept: The Story Event.

The Story Event

A Story Event is, well, an event in a story.

A Story Event can be either General or Particular. A General Story Event is something that happens over a long span of time, like, "The hero walks through the wide desert and reaches an isolated town." A Particular Story Event happens in a short amount of time, like, "The hero checks his flask and sees that he's run out of water."

To start building a story, you string together Story Events by answering the question "What happens next?" each time.

For example, here's a string of Story Events that are more Particular in nature.

Story Event 1: A knight is riding through the forest.

What happens next?

Story Event 2: The knight hears a scream.

What happens next?

Story Event 3: The knight discovers that the scream is coming from a cave.

What happens next?

Story Event 4: The knight goes in.

What happens next?

Story Event 5: The knight sees a bear that's about to rake a princess.


Here's another example of a string of Story Events, but in more General terms.

Story Event 1: The planetary government prepares to engage with the alien invasion.

What happens next?

Story Event 2: The alien armada breaks through the atmosphere and fights government defense ships.

What happens next?

Story Event 3: There is a lot of devastation and casualties.

What happens next?

Story Event 4: The planetary government releases its most powerful weapon, destroying the alien armada.


The main difference between the first example and the second example is that the first is more decompressed. It's only part of a scene. The second example is more compressed, told in General terms, and can actually be a full story in itself. Again, it doesn't matter whether you start in General or Particular terms, because eventually, you'll be shifting between them.

An Exercise
In one of the first blog posts, you were asked to take your Character and follow him through his Ordinary Life until you reach a Disturbance. As an exercise, create a string of Story Events for this, and see if you can do it in less than twenty. Don't concern yourself if you're thinking in General or Particular terms. What's important is that you don't pressure yourself--let the ideas flow. Just remember that every time you introduce a new Story Event, consciously ask "What happens next?" You can either use index cards or sticky notes (I use the latter mostly). For each Story Event, use one index card or one sticky note.

As a guideline, it will greatly help if 1) your Story Events are written in the present tense, and 2) the Story Events can be visualized.

Once you've reached the Disturbance, continue adding Story Events until you have around thirty. Stop, and ask yourself what could the ending possibly be? If you can't figure out an ending, either continue adding Story Events, introducing new characters and situations. You can even change or adjust the Story Events you've already written down. At this point, it's important to come up with some ending.

If, on the other hand, you can deduce an ending, write that down as a new Story Event. With that done, all you have to do is place Story Events fill the middle part, either in General or Particular terms, so that you get something close to a full Story. If you encounter some snags, make further adjustments. You can even try a different ending.

Story Events as Comics Panels

As we've said, the Story Events should be ones you can visualize. Because, if you think about it, each Story Event you create can be the basis for a panel in your comics. In the examples above (the knight and the alien invasion), you can see in your mind how the Story Event descriptions can be drawn. The example with the knight is actually five panels.

Panel 1: A knight is riding through the forest.
Panel 2: The knight hears a scream.
Panel 3: The knight discovers that the scream is coming from a cave.
Panel 4: The knight goes in.
Panel 5: The knight sees a bear that's about to rake a princess.

You now have the option of adding text, whether they be captions, word balloons, thought balloons, or sound effects. You can even add more details to the panel descriptions.

Panel 1: A knight is riding through the forest. He looks very tired, and so does the horse. His armor has a lot of scratches.

Caption: After defeating a dragon in a faraway city, Sir Bob makes his way home.
Sir Bob: I can't wait to get home. I'm soooo hungry.

Panel 2: The knight is startled to hear a scream.

Sir Bob: Gadzooks! Was that a scream?

Panel 3: The knight discovers that the scream is coming from a cave.

Sir Bob: There! It sounds like a damsel in distress!

Panel 4: With a lit torch in one hand and his sword in the other, the knight rushes into the cave.

Sir Bob: I hear another sound. Is that grunting?

Now you have a basic comics script that you can give to an artist. Give it a try. If you've made your own list of Story Events for your story, convert that into a basic script.

NEXT: An exercise that can help you develop story ideas on the fly.

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