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How To Write A Story For Your Comic

In this article, I will explain the basics on how to write a story for your comic. There’s no ‘one right way’ to do this, so feel free to take what works for you and discard the rest. First things first, we need to lay down some foundation work…

Make the comic for yourself first, the audience second

This is the most important thing to remember, regardless of whether you’re making a comic or another form of artwork.

If you create work purely based on what you think people will buy, in the end you will not be as fulfilled as an artist. At the very least you will be bored with what you’re doing. Always make the comic for you first; do what makes you happy and keeps you interested. If you love your comic, then it will show. If you make the comic for a specific demographic of people thinking it will sell, and not because the subject isn’t something you’re passionate about, people will notice.

I have an oddball sense of humor and my comic reflects that, meaning most mainstream crowds won’t get it. I mean — come on! An unemployed medieval warrior who has to get a job at a medieval fast food restaurant? And there’s a guy named The Keeper Of The Ketchup, they have to fight Ninja Gnomes, and the Goblin Balls — what the heck is up with those…?! How could a comic like that ever be mainstream (It can’t, except maybe as a cartoon on Adult Swim. If any execs happen to read this, by all means contact me…)?

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What is your story about?

Your job as a comic creator is to tell a story. It could be as simple as the “joke-a-day” comic where you have six panels to deliver the punchline, or it could be a traditional, 22-page comic that has a three-act structure lasting several issues. It doesn’t matter if you’re the writer or the artist; storytelling is key to every aspect of the comic-making process. If readers can’t follow the flow from one panel to the next, or if the plot makes no sense, or if the dialogue is overbearing, people will get frustrated and stop reading your work.

The first thing you should do, when writing the story for your comic, is create a one-sentence “elevator pitch” for it. Here’s mine: An unemployed medieval warrior is forced to get a job at a medieval fast food restaurant. This will be your launching point for bigger story elements.

Next, write a couple of sentences that describe each character. From physical characteristics to their likes and dislikes — what makes them tick? What motivates them? The more information you have on a character, the easier it will be when you draw them, especially when you need them to react in a specific way against some element in the story.

Lastly, develop the world in which the characters live. The level of detail will depend on the type of comic that you make. You don’t have to achieve “Tolkien-levels” of detail with this. A “joke-a-day” comic wouldn’t require a complex background at all, but a multi-issue fantasy comic would. For now, focus on key places that the characters will visit frequently and tackle the lesser-visited places as you need them.

Do some brainstorming, making sure to write down everything that comes to mind because you can always come back and use things later. One method would be to simply write single-sentence ideas if you don’t want to get bogged down with the details. The more information you have at the beginning, the easier time you will have when you start producing the comic!

Thanks for reading!

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How To Write A Story For Your Comic by Todd Tevlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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6 Responses to “How To Write A Story For Your Comic”

  1. Kieryn

    Great article. This is one of the challenges that has prevented me from pursuing many creative ventures over the years and I think you’ve nailed the most tried and true ways to tackle it. For me though, it’s been a little different. I have a full time job and a full time family which leaves me with perhaps 30 minutes per day of creative time for myself. With such little time, I’ve found the task of fleshing out the characters and planning for a long story like that simply daunting. For short stories or jokes I could maybe manage a pace of maybe one per month, but I would find it tough to keep thinking of good ideas. Last year I started my own comic (see my website), which alternates between simple jokes or just weird concepts and drawings and longer stories. I manage to update daily by restricting my medium and pacing myself well. The long stories play out like a 22 page comic, but done over months at a time. This way I have plenty of time to plan ahead with my concepts in a rough way while maintaining narrow focus on just the next few days frames to be drawn. It’s been working so far.

    Reply
  2. John

    Great article.
    Seems so straight forward it could be missed. I especially like the part about writing the comic for yourself first. I think that’s why so many come and go without being finished because so many people are focused on marketing to an audience instead of making a story they are passionate about.

    Reply
  3. Michael Freely

    I have finally begun to get traction on my own creation process and starting with a project that I was honestly and truly interested in was the most important “right decision” I made. It gave me the impetus to move forward through all the stuff I was afraid of or did not know how to do. It was what got me up on my day-off with the first thought being “I am going to draw today!”

    Reply
  4. Janine Alyssa

    Great article, great advice. This will definitely be some food for thought as I brainstorm on what kinds of stories I’d like to tell through my art. Thank you.

    Reply

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