Comic Talk and General Discussion *

Writing serials.
Genejoke at 7:03AM, Dec. 6, 2015
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Often when we talk about writing it's about writing a single story, but what about when we write part if an ongoing serial?
Do you approach it differently?
How do you keep characters interesting if their journey is complete?
If you have an ensemble, how important is it that they are all interesting or have a journey?
I ask this as I'very recently been writing and rewriting future chapters of Lore and although I know the over arching plot I am trying to ensure the character plots are all interesting and it's sometimes a challenge.
usedbooks at 8:14AM, Dec. 6, 2015
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I've never been good at complete stories. I guess I most often write in a looser ongoing saga way. It's a lazier, easier way to write for me because you don't have so much concern about a wrap-up, tying all loose ends conclusions. (I suck at conclusions.) For me, an episode/arc intoduces a new conflict or directly addresses a significant plot point, and then resolves it and advances the story.
 
 
 
I kinda see two approaches to a serial. In one approach, the world remains as constant as possible. At the end of an episode, everything is mostly reset to starting conditions, the way most (older) sitcoms and newspaper comic strips work. It lets you play with scenerios and is fun for concise story lines with your cast. I've tried this, but it gets repetetive and formulaic/boring after a while. Ths type of writing is probably most suited to story-tellers and has the benefit of allowing new readers to jump in anywhere and not require delving into archives or “catching up.” 
 
 
The other approach is to have a dynamic world and characters where every episode/arc's plot contributes to the evolution of the world. In this way of writing, the episodes are not satisfying stand-alones. This type of writing can be more satisfying to someone who enjoys character development, and it can hook readers into a story. If it's well-written, you'll get the dedicated/enthralled readers who want that kind of engrossing world, but it turns away casual readers because of the difficulty of jumping in. One of the bigger risks in a saga is that its ever-changing nature means it might become completely different from the original concept (for better or worse). 
 
 
I absolutely love juggling a large cast. I love characters. I love minor characters with their own lives. I love developing new characters and playing with dynamics. One arc's antagonist can be another's ally. Sometimes, it becomes an issue when arranging story arcs if a character hasn't been around in a while. I might write an arc where that character is center stage or advance his/her personal journey/mission before another arc. In many ways, that's what makes it more fun and interesting to write than if I was writing for a single central character. Instead of following one person, the cast and stories alternate. It breaks up both the plot and the mood. I also take to writing “A plot” and “B plot” (and sometimes a C) for longer episodes. Cutting between simultaneous plots makes it more interesting for me and lets me create cliffhangers and manipulate tone. 
 
 
I get what you mean about trying to make the smaller/side/contributing plots interesting. Some of my secondary plots exist to keep other characters occupied while the “real” story is happening. :P Usually, they start out really forced and kinda boring. Many times, I'm able to put my interest more into it and come up with an equally interesting story, but only after a few rewrites and a thought readjustment. I have to get into the right mindset. “This is not a supporting/side character. He's the main protagonist of this other story.” It can be hard to think that way. I have characters I like more than others. I often make my favorite characters the “B” plot or include a favorite one among the less interesting ones to keep my interest. I also work on not making B plots irrelevant. I try to figure a way for them to contribute to the overaching plot as well, even if it's subtle.
Banes at 11:05AM, Dec. 6, 2015
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I would imagine it's tough to keep a character interesting, long term, if their journey is complete. If they play a supporting role and aren't the focus most of the time, it would be okay. But a character needs “an itch to constantly scratch” in some way. They need something that they struggle with, in order to stay interesting.

That could be an inner contradiction, or a secret, or some kind of long term desire…

My comic is built out of a set of characters that are interesting to me, with a constantly growing list of stories I want to tell with them.

For the most part they're standalone tales that don't change the status quo. I do have a couple of ideas for overarching plots that could work; there are little nuggets planted in there that can be used as foreshadowing for future adventures. But those little pieces are vague enough that I don't HAVE to develop them.

And even if I do, the larger stories can be changed from the original ideas before I get there.

The nice thing about a larger cast is that the character journeys can be spread out over a long time, and the inner growth of this or that character can be sneaked in there whenever it best fits.

Used Books said it so well, as far as the ‘standalone episodes’ versus the big, ever-evolving world. Fantastic food for thought there!
last edited on Dec. 6, 2015 11:06AM
Genejoke at 3:49PM, Dec. 6, 2015
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I'm definitely more of a fan of the ever evolving world rather than putting all the toys back in the box when you finish method.  Some of my favourite shows have done a bit of both though.
Take House md as an example. Each episode was very formulaic, but it wasn't afraid to evolve either. Sometimes it was the supporting cast changing the dynamic, other times it was a change in house himself. Ultimately it never changed too much. House was always brilliant but an ass, Wilson was always his conscience. That said in recent years my favourite shows have been less formulaic as tv has become more open to long form story telling that takes years to complete rather than just stringing out a mystery for a series finale. 
I think I may have been caught between two types of set up. On one hand I want Lore to be episodic and not tied to a single ongoing threat, but on the other I want to build a world and develop it and for it to seem cohesive and engaging. I also want to avoid many of the standard fantasy story telling pitfalls. 
My writing style is very similar to used books method, but I'm looking to alter it somewhat and write those conclusions which I suck at. 
usedbooks at 4:01PM, Dec. 6, 2015
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Me too. I want to work on conclusions and make my arcs more stand-alone. My most diabolical DD influence JustNoPoint has been heping me develop a super-climax conclusion, which I have been working on. Going to take several long episodes (also several real years) to get there. I was already building toward it, but JNP convinced me to make it bigger and more, uh, conclusive. If it wraps up enough ongoing mysteries/threats, I can change pacing/format. (If I'm still interested in continuing at that point.)
 
My favorite style is probably the short-running anime series (and also the TV miniseries). They have a complete story to tell in 11 to 25 episodes. Each episode has a satisfying conflict resolution itself but also builds to the main story conclusion (usually the end point of a quest of some kind). No filler or nonsense (maybe an obligatory hot springs episode :P ). Then it's done. Sometimes there's a wrap-up of loose ends or a cute encore performance with an ova feature. They are quite satisfying. It's nice to have an end in sight and still enjoy the journey.
last edited on Dec. 6, 2015 4:05PM
ozoneocean at 12:54AM, Dec. 7, 2015
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In Pinky TA I think I probably follow the same pattern as some traditional comic franchises, in that each chaper or episode really takes place during a different period along the timeline of the characters lives. So we jump around along their continuum.
 
That way you can tell stories that bulk out the world and lend other aspects to the characters without always having to think up new chalanges and new adventures- I mean, you DO, but you get to draw from what the characters are currently in order to do that.
You can ask “Why is Pinky a Colonel? Where did those mecha come from? Why does Pinky hate Cc and not trust Ace?” and then you can write a chapter that answers those questions. :)
 
And you don't risk being repetitive or needing world re-sets (unless you want them), because everything that happens builds on the characters, and it DOESN'T have to do that in a linear fashion that slowly over-burdens them with masses of baggage and stuff that new readers will be lost with:
Each new episode is almost like its own contained story, even while also contributing to the overall arc and character cannon.
 
When I introduce people to Pinky TA I tell them to go for chapter 6. So far it's the earliest chronological story in the bunch, but that's not the reason: I like to think it's the tightest and most contained chapter I've produced, and the character personalities show through better there so it's a good intro chapter.
That's the kind of thing you can more easily do with not strictly linear stories.
 
last edited on Dec. 7, 2015 12:56AM
KimLuster at 2:15PM, Dec. 7, 2015
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I've never done a serial of any kind but I have thought about it…  once I'm done with the Godstrain (which is a single story with an ending I knew from the beginning, and the base plot hasn't changed any since I started…)…
.
I've toyed with the idea of doing something surreally humorous and sorta ‘out there’ whacky, like, how Smorty Smythe (comic here on the duck) is whacky!!  It would be a serial about the misadventures of a tomboyish cowgirl from Texas who's superstrong, but it's never explained why she is, and other than the occasional ‘Wow!’ comment, nobody really makes that big a thing about it!  She just is, and there ain't no philosophical mopings about it - just lots of rambunctious hijinks!!  Think an adult Pippy Longstocking, but in Texas, where EVERYTHING is Bigger!!!
.
But that's a ways down the road - probably will have a different idea by then…!
ozoneocean at 5:18PM, Dec. 7, 2015
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Ha, Kim that reminds me of a female version of the Breckenridge Elkins stories by Robert E Howard (Conan creator). But I think he's from Nebraska rather than Texas. Very, very funny stories! https://archive.org/details/TheBreckenridgeElkinsStories
A cowgirl would be even better!
 
El Cid at 6:02PM, Dec. 7, 2015
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Ideally, every character should be interesting or else they're just taking up space. If there's a character about whom nobody's ever going to say “that's my favorite character,” then they're a space waster. Off with his head!
 
With a serial, it's different in that the resolutions are not final, but you can still have subplots within the main plot. The best plots involve the character undergoing some form of crucible from which they emerge in some way changed. The big strong tough guy must face a challenge which can't be solved by brute force, in the course of which he is humbled and learns there is more than one kind of strength. The self-centered rogue finds love, and through love learns the meaning of empathy, and the value of self sacrifice. These things can work fine as subplots within a larger plot; ways for characters to evolve and develop while still pursuing their greater objective. I think the best way to keep a character interesting within the story once their subplot is over, is probably to give them a new subplot, or they can be instrumental in someone else's subplot. It's also a good opportunity to demonstrate the ways in which the character has evolved; maybe he or she addresses the next conflict in ways they wouldn't have earlier on in the journey?
 
Of course, this is hard to do when you have tons of characters to keep track of. Like, in the last season of Game of Thrones, they completely wasted Brienne of Tarth… she spends the whole season doing nothing, then in the season finale she sort of randomly emerges to deal justice to Lord Stannis… who was pretty much doomed already anyway. Sorry, that was a tangent. But damn, she's like the coolest character and she did exactly NOTHING!!! (overall, though, that show's a good example of subplots within a greater plot; characters evolving through successes and failures and betrayals)
last edited on Dec. 7, 2015 6:04PM
Genejoke at 9:17PM, Dec. 7, 2015
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I think brien new of tarts is a good example. In an ongoing series characters will NOT always be front and centre or going through a crucible of sorts and therein lies my problem.should I try and make them all more central or allow them to meander at times in a more natural fashion?

In my next couple of stories I will be putting certain characters through a crucible. For readers of Lore, looks at Davin, I've made no secret of the fact he was originally introduced as cannon fodder, but as have put him through the ringer somewhat and will continue to do so.
usedbooks at 9:42PM, Dec. 7, 2015
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I have characters that deal with more than their fair share. One has been called the punching bag, and he hasn't been without a broken bone in a long time.



As El Cid put it, every character should be interesting. Also every character should have a purpose. They don't all have the same purpose. They aren't all center stage. Some characters become more like favorite guest stars. They don't show up often but they steal the show. Others might be included most of the time but stay in supporting roles. Each character should be worthy of fans. One of my fan favorites hasn't been around in almost two years, but I have a couple key arcs for him in the future. In the meantime, I still have good stories written with solid characters.



I write scripts a couple years in advance, so I can juggle my story arcs. It helps me balance the focus and the cast. I sometimes swap planned arcs because a significant character hasn't been central for a while. Or I insert an extra chapter to make a better transition to a key plot point.
usedbooks at 9:46PM, Dec. 7, 2015
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Random thought on the ensemble cast… For some reason it puts me most in mind of Star Trek TNG. Mostly because whenever it's on, my first thought is “Is it a Wesley episode?” (Or if I'm being optimistic, “a Data episode?” ) That really set the tone of the story. It can be the key identifying feature.
Genejoke at 1:40AM, Dec. 8, 2015
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Indeed, the focusing on a single character (or smaller group) is something I am working on for the coming stories.  i found the story I'm currently working on (and about to bring to a close) suffered for not having a focus, I tried to get everyone in there and give them there moment. Although I have also used it to thin out the herd a little.
Similarly to you I am workig on having a rotating cast with some who are more like recurring guest stars. Juggling too many characters can be tough. 
Peipei at 5:35AM, Dec. 8, 2015
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I for one must admit that I am definitely one to work on the character development for all of my characters. Keeping my main and side characters interesting are so important to me to a point that I sometimes create side stories for them if their story is too indepth! 
On that note, I am kind of bad at ending stories because of this xD. I sometimes give my characters so much dimension that it's too much to include in just one story. Most of my characters have been developing for years so a single comic usually isn't enough to delve in to each one.


I like Pie!
Genejoke at 4:45PM, Dec. 8, 2015
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I feel your pain there, all too often I've come up with a story for characters and then found it hard if not impossible to fit it into the overall story.
I think I've gotten part of what I needed for this thread, my next few stories will be receiving further rewrites to get some of the character work I've come up with since reading people's comments. I had key plot worked out and the main character beats in place but the bit players didn't have much of anything going on. It's nothing major, but I think will help round things out.
When dealing with an ensemble does it affect how you manage the narrative?
Gunwallace at 5:32PM, Dec. 8, 2015
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Currently writing a serial thing with a large ensemble cast, but with well defined chapters and a planned ending for most of the characters story arcs. Of course, once those endings have been reached it may continue toward new endings. (It's another Playmobil comic … think of it as Cheers meets Lovecraft via the Aadams Family.)
The problem with my previous Playmobil serial was it had no real plan behind it, I just went with the flow for 1000 plus pages. This meant a bunch of contridictions, loose plot threads, no coherence, and a tendancy to rely on bad jokes and puns to hide the obvious cracks in the storyline. Still, it was fun to do.
However, this time around I'm determined to have a plan, overarching plot lines, and strong, strange characters, many of whom grow, change or are killed off as the stories unfold.
Sometimes it feels if the most major changes in TV shows and the like are caused by real world pressures rather than planned plotting. Genejoke mentioned HOUSE, which often only changed cast based on what actor wanted to leave for greener pastures. comic book heroes changes in the comics have more to do with the studio's financial need for new #1's than any coherent concept. The desire to make movie franchises has led to some truly terrible character ‘development’.
David ‘Gunwallace’ Tulloch, www.virtuallycomics.com
ozoneocean at 6:50PM, Dec. 8, 2015
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@Gunwallace- good stories and serials don't have to be tightly planned though, sometimes things designed with a lot of flexibility involved to incorporate the randomness of contingency - or maybe NOT planned to incorporate it but just dealing with external pressure as it happens - can produces some very interesting stuff:
Both very bad and extremely excellent writing.
 
Good planning produces much better consistency, not always great quality, but generally a nice even product.
 
Aaaaand that was a very abstract description. Sorry :(
 
Genejoke at 2:21AM, Dec. 9, 2015
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@Gunwallace. You are of course correct about house, but they often worked that we'll into the story telling and show dynamic. I found season… four I think… interesting as they worked the whole changing the core cast dynamic into the story with house choosing a new team via a competition. While completely absurd if you try to apply it to the real world, it was entertaining. 
As for planning… Lore started with no plan, none at all. I created a few characters and winged it based on some role playing adventures I had done in the past. The second story had a plan behind it and stuck very close to that. It was in many ways a way to flesh out characters and deal with some of the things I had created if the cuff in the first story. The third story had mUchida more planning and rewrites but nearly all was plot rather than character based. I had plans for a few characters but not all of them and in hindsight I thing that weakened the story. Too many characters that readers barely know… or knew as it has a reasonable body count.  Still I think I have gotten the next ones planned better. 
Gunwallace at 11:13AM, Dec. 9, 2015
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House: What happened to my team of young doctors?
Cuddy: Their plane was shot down over the sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors.
House: F@*K! I wanted to be the one who killed them.
David ‘Gunwallace’ Tulloch, www.virtuallycomics.com
usedbooks at 11:26AM, Dec. 9, 2015
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I work without a plan. :P But I work without a plan on scripts several years in advance, which can create the illusion of a plan.
bravo1102 at 4:31PM, Dec. 9, 2015
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Gunwallace wrote:
House: What happened to my team of young doctors?
Cuddy: Their plane was shot down over the sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors.
House: F@*K! I wanted to be the one who killed them.
Wasn't that also the crash that killed Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake? Very sad and tragic.
ozoneocean at 6:22PM, Dec. 9, 2015
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usedbooks wrote:
 
I work without a plan. :P But I work without a plan on scripts several years in advance, which can create the illusion of a plan.
 
Sounds like a plan to me!
 
maskdt at 9:27PM, Dec. 9, 2015
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I'm kind of trying to approach my serial in a “Conan the Barbarian” way. That is, I know who my main characters are, and I've got a decent grasp on the setting by now. Each subplot is essentially an adventure that helps to reveal more of their world, and they don't necessarily need to grow as people in every single adventure. They will develop over time, of course, but not every thing that happens to them is going to fundamentally change them. Why should it? I want to keep this thing going as long as I have new creatures to invent, new places for them to explore, new villains to be thwarted, and the last thing I want is to have to completely scrap an idea because my characters have completely outgrown it too quickly.
That doesn't work for every comic, of course, and by no means am I suggesting that people ignore plot and character development. They're wonderful things! But if you're going for a long serial, then I think that slowing down character development or doing it in stages might make it easier to keep those stories going.
Bruno Harm at 10:01AM, Feb. 9, 2016
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Growth isn't for every comic. While I enjoy television's new “Uber Plot” in their shows most of the time, it doesn't always work. Sometimes, you just like the Characters the way they are, and there is never enough of their adventures. How would Homer Simpson grow or change that would improve the Simpsons?
So do you want a comic that evolves to an eventual conclusion? If so you better not drag your feet too much. Look at the first run of the X-Files.
Or do you want something timeless, like Peanuts?
I think both are valid and both can be successful. My series is young, and I'm not sure what it will be like in the future, but I'm aiming for a timeless story.
Genejoke at 10:59AM, Feb. 9, 2016
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That's a good call, but the simpsons never strived for continuity. it depends what you want from a comic. I love continuity, but yes sometimes it can cause things to outgrow themselves. You mentioned the x-files, but the same can apply to star trek, stargate sg1, supernatural and many others shows. In v#comics look at how marvel and DC reboot things every so often. I used to be a massive x-men fan but too many reboots and rehashes of old stories broke it for me.
irrevenant at 2:28PM, Feb. 9, 2016
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Bruno Harm wrote:
Growth isn't for every comic. While I enjoy television's new “Uber Plot” in their shows most of the time, it doesn't always work. Sometimes, you just like the Characters the way they are, and there is never enough of their adventures. How would Homer Simpson grow or change that would improve the Simpsons?
So do you want a comic that evolves to an eventual conclusion? If so you better not drag your feet too much. Look at the first run of the X-Files.
Or do you want something timeless, like Peanuts?
The problem with the X-Files wasn't that it dragged it's feet too much, it's that it became increasingly apparent that they were making up the Uber-plot as they went along and it frankly wasn't as interesting as a lot of the standalone episodes. IMO, you can drag things on almost indefinitely - so long as it shows it's worth the wait.

BTW, while Homer Simpson's inability to change is part of the show's point and it's charm, lots of the other characters around him underwent massive changes. Barney gave up drinking, Lisa became vegetarian and then Buddhist. Flanders was widowed and eventually remarried. etc. etc. Homer, Marge and Bart are about the only characters who haven't changed and developed as the show went on.
last edited on Feb. 9, 2016 2:31PM

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