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Knowing What You Write

Banes at 12:00AM, May 14, 2020

Last week we talked about “writing what you know” … but how about ‘knowing what you write’? I knew I wanted to do this one as soon as I posted the previous article…just for the title.

In a TV show, series of books, movie, printed comic series, or newspaper strip (and their web equivalents), the audience goes in with some degree of expectation. They've either seen previews, watched or read previous installments, read reviews, or at least looked at the title, poster, or cover image. They have a sense or a vibe, at least in a general, of what they're going to see.

Maybe they just thought the title looked interesting, or the art or thumbnail or blurb caught their eye, or they know the creator in person or online. But once they dig in to the comic, things will start to be established. “The Goods” will begin to be desired.

“The Goods” are the sorts of things your comic sets up its readers to expect. In a mystery, they will expect intriguing questions and revelations. In a comedy they will expect to laugh or smile. In a horror or thriller, they will expect to be scared or unnerved, or to see plot turns and twists that will surprise and excite them.

Maybe it's a tech-based setting, or a magic-based world, or it's about cops and criminals. Or lawyers or doctors.

Maybe it's a plot-oriented series, or a character-focused one. Or somewhere in between.

It's a good idea to have some sense of what you're setting up people to expect in your comic, and to deliver it!

I do think that web comics have more freedom than a movie; they can cover many different types of stories if given enough time. A long running show can do the same:

The various Star Trek shows were able to do action shows, social commentary, funny shows, romantic shows, horror episodes, and political intrigue and courtroom dramas, among other types.

I think most of the episodes would fit into the audiences general expectation, though: there would be some kind of science fiction element and maybe social commentary that would put the characters in peril and be resolved by the end of the show.

Even with modern arc-based series there is audience expectation as far as what type of stuff is going to be seen.

I've done a lot of my own comics by “feel” and based on what I want to see, but even when I haven't considered it purposefully, I think that my comic sets up certain expectations: that it's a comedy, character oriented with certain types of people (low-status slackers) and sticks to certain themes pretty consistently. And bad art. :)

This is the kind of stuff I think about instead of updating my own comic.

Do you know what sort of experience or “goods” you want to deliver to your audience?



Avart at 1:36PM, May 14, 2020

Excellent article Banes (as always). I started my story in one way/direction, but it changed a bit in the last chapters. I don't know if people could notice this change. As @Bravo said, I often end with a different thing from the one I started. Not always this is a bad thin IMO.

hushicho at 12:51PM, May 14, 2020

People all experience any work of fiction or art differently. People have different lives and different circumstances, and you can't rely on them to get the same things that even the author does. Which is also a fair point: interpretations are valid, even if they don't match up with the creator or their intent. We all live different lives. And even if it may seem that some webcomics have a feel of finding their way as they go, basically any comic is going to be the same. The slick-seeming ones just have better mechanisms to conceal it. Best to know what YOU specifically want out of a work, and try to satisfy that. Everything else is bonus.

ShaRose49 at 12:44PM, May 14, 2020

@bravo1102 I also agree with your first comment, this has happened to me a lot of times, where the story ends up being something very different than what I thought it was initially, I think sometimes it was always a part of the story, it just took some time for me to discover what it was really about.

ShaRose49 at 12:42PM, May 14, 2020

I think it’s super important to know what kind of story you’re writing and to stick with it, far too often I watch a movie and end up being disappointed at the ending (or even just in certain characters) because they’re built up to be one thing, but then they go for this “unexpected twist” at the end that may be unexpected, but it feels like it belongs in a different type of story (or not true to character). In my own story, I leave lots of room for rewriting small scenes and dialogue, but I have to be careful to make sure that it all fits with everything else—that the vibe people get is a superhero/drama that’s very heartwarming but can also be very intense and sometimes dark, but never too dark. It always needs to have an uplifting theme overall, even when lots of awful things happen.

bravo1102 at 8:57AM, May 14, 2020

As a wise writer once said, "all first drafts are crap" After my first foray into webcomics I swore I'd go in with a finished or nearly finished script. I wasn't going to start posting pages only to find myself backtracking and retconning halfway through. I may have alternative drafts and alternate endings but I have the ending in sight before that first page is posted. But that is how I work. Without firm goals I often fail to see things through. That's me.

Banes at 8:32AM, May 14, 2020

I think a lot of web comics are "first drafts". Even if outlining has been done, and revised, and some editing done along the way, the later pages are being created after the first ones have already been released. Maybe some people have full scripts they revise, but I would guess that most web comics don't. So webcomic stories (at least longer ones) will have a "finding your way as you go" feeling to them.

bravo1102 at 2:48AM, May 14, 2020

Sometimes what I set out to do and what I end up with are two different things. I could start a script as a dark monster movie and end up with a comic social commentary. Inspiration can hit during the creative process and the vision gets turned on its head. For me the creative process is fluid and organic. What it becomes may not have been what it started out to be.

marcorossi at 1:52AM, May 14, 2020

I personally find it difficult to think to what I'm setting up; in fact I often think that when people read my comic they come out with a very different interpretation than what I was thinking when I wrote it (based on some comments I had on an italian site where I upload my comic). I can't tell if this is normal or if this is because of some error of exposition on my part.

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