So here we go. We’ve done all the legwork and it’s time to take the next step and get our hands dirty with some actual writing. Well…almost. The step in the process would be plotting. Plotting can mean a lot of different things. It can refer to the entire story from start to finish, or it could mean each individual story-arc, or even just each individual issue. It all depends on how you work best. Some people make what are called series bibles. Essentially they’re a collection of everything we’ve done so far plus a few of the upcoming steps. So things like the basic plot of your story, character descriptions, locations, etc. It can be as detailed or as basic as you like, and if you’re planning a big project like a long form graphic novel or a 20 plus issue series, it can help you (and whoever you collaborate with) stay on course the deeper into things you get. Here’s Paul Feig’s series bile for Freaks and Geeks.
Other people like to do things as they go, like one of my favorite writers, Mark Waid . He’s done some amazing work like Kingdom Come, Daredevil, and The Flash, and reading his stuff, you’d imagine he’s got to do some pretty detailed outlines and pre planning. In reality he does a little bit at the outset, and then, as unbelievable as it sounds, will end each issue in the most dramatic way he can think of, with no clue of what he’s going to do next. He says this forces him to find a way out of whatever hole he put himself in last month, whether he just killed someone, or made Howard the Duck the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe.
As for me, I use what is called the story circle. It’s what creator of Community/Rick and Morty (which you should watch) and the host of the Harmontown podcast (which you should listen to) Dan Harmon uses to structure his scripts. It’s a tool that helps give your story an arc and shape and helps you hit certain beats along the way. It looks something like this.
Or in more basic form like this
If you go here, you can find all of the wiki’s he’s written that describe the process in more detail, and with better insight than I could ever duplicate here. What I will say about it is having a tool that you can use to check your story against to make sure it’s on the right track is invaluable. If you’re stuck trying to crack a story, it can help you get started. If you’re looking at a story and thinking “it’s missing something,” it can help you find what that “it” might be. There’s nothing worse than writing an entire script and figuring out it doesn’t really work. By having a structure tool to check against, you can work out a lot of the kinks at the start. Here are three more tools to try out (1,2,3) or you can come up with your own by mixing a few of them together.
Next time I’ll be back with breakdowns. Basically it’s what you do when you decide you’re going to do something creative for a living and look back regretfully on certain life choices. Errr, I mean it’s the next step where you breakdown your plot into more detail, going from pages to panels. Until then, try running some of your stories through a structure tool, and see how they fair. Maybe you’re on the right track, maybe you’ve got some work to do, either way keep making comics!