Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Creating Flexible Serialized Stories: Part Three

Part Three: Create Chapters and Weave in a Theme

This is the final post my series about writing flexible stories. To back track, here's part one and part two.

So after organizing my events, I now have a story outline, more or less. The problem is that the events are separate things. They don't blend together. The best thing I can compare this to is a sitcom where each episode has something different going on, but there is not a cohesive story. There's nothing wrong with that, and that kind of outline will probably work well for a four panel/gag manga. However, I enjoy stories that flow from one happening to the next.

This is how I transform my list of events into an ongoing story.

I've already organized my events (for more info on what events are, see post two) into acts, so I now have a chronological story. From here I group the events into chapters.

When I group events into chapters, I don't move them around. I simply divide them up while leaving them in the order that they are in. For example, let's say I'm looking at Act One and it has 10 events. The first five events look like they have enough content to make an interesting short story--like a chapter of a book. So without moving them around, I label those five events as a chapter (sometimes I also call chapters episodes). After taking care of those 5, I have five more events in Act 1. I may decide that the next three would make a good chapter, so I label them as chapter 2. Then I could assign the last two events to be chapter 3.

So basically I look at my events, see how many in a row can make a harmonious chapter, and group them together. Some of my chapters only have one event.

Weaving in a Theme

This is the most creatively challenging part, but it's the key to making an ongoing story.

I go back and look at my chapters. Although they are in the chronological order that I want, they still are very separate from each other.

This is when I step back and look at the big picture of the story.

What do I want to happen to character A? I want her to be more social and learn to make friends.

What do I want for character B? I want her to appreciate who she is and not worry about being as talented as her sister.

Then I go through each episode and add something that will help the characters to get a tiny bit closer to their goals. And it doesn't take much. For the shy younger sister, it could be that in chapter one she sees the next door neighbor from a distance, in chapter two she manages to say hello (thanks to the prodding of her more social older sister), and in chapter three she tries to have a conversation, and so on.

These advancements aren't the point of the chapter. It isn't like a wrote an entire chapter about the younger sister trying to say "hi" to her neighbor, although I could have. It's simply a moment that's woven into a chapter and that progressively changes from chapter to chapter.

It does take a little bit of imagination stretching to do this well, but that's what writers do!

Quite a few recent TV shows have writing like this. There is an ongoing story that is mixed into episodes that may or may not be related to it.

Start Writing!

I write the script for a chapter, draw it, and then when I'm almost done drawing it, I start writing the next one. If I waited to write the entire script for a long story before drawing it, I know I would lose interest. And with a story that will take years to create, the transitions between drawing and writing are what keep it exciting.

This method is very flexible because since the episodes aren't tightly tied together, it's easy to remove the ones that don't work, and add ones that will work better. Still, they are all related to a central theme and goal, so the story doesn't lose being harmonious.

I can alter my story if I need to based on my personal feelings and even audience feedback almost on the fly. I changed the episodes of Mascara many times. Some I used, some I threw out, but readers typically can't tell that anything has been left out or added.

So this is my process of putting together the story for a long, ongoing comic. I'm actually working on a long comic right now, so my posts have been a little sparodic, but I also like taking the time to share what it's like to create a story that can go on for a very long time. ^_^