Nine Basic Tips About Writing Comic Books

By Kirk Chritton
copyright 1987, 2008, all rights reserved.

ONE: Read Everything. 

A good writer starts as a great reader. Reading teaches you proper form, helps you become a better speller, and stretches your thinking power. When you read, you’ll continually come across ideas and facts that will spark story ideas in your head. These are absolutely essential if you’re going to be a writer. It helps to keep a pencil and paper handy to jot your ideas down. I’ve forgotten enough great ideas to keep me writing for 25 years. Since I didn’t put them down on paper, they’ll never do me any good.

Reading also makes you more knowledgeable, and the more facts you know, the more true-to-life you can make your stories.

TWO: Always Tell a Story. 

Well, almost always. Later on, you’ll be able to stretch into other formats, but it’s best for a beginning writer to learn the ropes with straightforward, plot-based stories. Trying to get fancy with stream of consciousness ramblings or psychedelic think pieces can get you confused and on the wrong path. Save them for later.

How do you tell a story? It seems simple, but structuring a dramatic, well-balanced tale can be one of the most challenging aspects of writing. you’ve got to have a beginning (but which scene will make the best opening?), a middle (now what elements represent the true conflicts of the story?), and an end (how do I resolve the events logically and with impact?). Simple, right? Ha!

For the beginner, it might be best to stick to a couple of formula plots (mysteries, horror stories) until you get your feet wet. After you’re feeling a bit more comfortable, it’s time to challenge yourself by taking your characters into uncharted waters.

Keep in mind that in your opening you need to clearly establish your protagonist or “hero” and give the reader a reason to sympathize with him. Also, you should establish your antagonist or “villain” and vie the reader reasons to distrust or dislike him.

In the main body of your story, you need to bring the two main players together and let their two points-of-view clash, either physically or emotionally.

Finally, you must resolve your story by logically having the protagonist either win or lose against the antagonist and show the reader how the hero has changed because of your story.

THREE: Have an Ending. 

Didn’t we just cover this? Well, it bears repeating. Don’t continue your story endlessly over dozens of installments. Leave the 300-issue novels to Dave Sim for now. Even he did short stories before diving into the 6,000 page ones.

FOUR: The Villain is as Important as the Hero. 

It seems crazy, but its true. In fact, in many stories, the villain is more memorable that the hero. Think about it. A century from now, who will the average person be more likely to know by name: Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader?

Heroes, by nature, tend to be fairly generic and interchangeable. Villains, on the other hand, should be eccentric and have a sinister charisma. Work on giving your villain a good motivation for endangering the life and loved ones of your hero. Your story will be better for it.

FIVE: Characterization Works for You. 

Not just for villain, but for every major character in your story. If each person you tell about has a believable personality and a consistent set of ethics, he will seem far more real to the reader and come alive.

A nice bonus is that if you think of your characters as real, breathing people, they will write most of your story for you! There’s no need to laboriously decide on each point of the plot because you will automatically know what each character will do in any given situation. Sometimes I’ve sworn that I’ve heard my characters’ voices tell me a secret about them that I’ve never known!

SIX: Spell It Out – At Least At First. 

It really works best for you to be more obvious about events in your story than to be overly covert and “artsy.” Beginning writers often fall into the trap of masking events and motivation in their stories too well. A more experienced writer might be able to subtly reveal an important plot point, but until you’ve been writing a while, you might be so subtle that no one will ever be able to figure out what’s going on and why.

SEVEN: Use As Few Words and Panels As Possible. 

It’s simply a matter of space. Comics take lots of pages to cover action that film could do in moments or prose in a few sentences. When writing in comics, you’ve got to learn to be minimalist — using only the essential words and scenes. If you don’t , your artist and letterer are going to curse you, kill you, and spit on your grave.

EIGHT: Spelling Counts. 

You wouldn’t know it by looking at a lot of comics – from either the major companies or the smaller ones. There’s no need to make excuses for being a poor speller. Perfect spellers have only one thing you don’t: a dictionary.

NINE: Let the Artist Show Your Story. 

That’s why we have them. If you’re going to tell your story in a hundred captions, you might as well be writing prose. There’s no need to write “Bill dove into the swimming pool” when you have a perfectly capable artist to draw that for you. You’re better off using that space to describe something the reader can’t see: the smell of the concession stand, Bill’s innermost desires, or pangs of hunger shooting through his belly. Then again, you might combine the three.

These are just nine simple tips out of the thousands of factors that experienced comics writers balance as they craft a story. For now, just concentrate of these basics and start writing. 

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