First thing a script writer has to know is this graph:
More or less, it’s the first thing you have to know about story structure, and the last thing you should forget. It’s the only rule that is always applicable to writing, and even when writers are breaking it, they still have it in mind (one has to know rules to be able to successfully break them). But still, it applies to 99% of all written stories, ever. Think of it as the best way to organize elements of story. (Incidentally, this graph appears first in Aristotle’s writings.)
Exposition: Giving starting information to reader. Getting to know characters, situation they’re in, scenery, etc. This process actually goes on through other parts of the story, as characters, relations between them, background, sometimes even the entire scenery, changes through the story. But some initial getting-to-know is usually needed.
Rising action: This should be the longest part of the story. Through it, some conflict is raising; Emotions get more and more intensive during the story, so do happenings in story. I usually think of it as a process of preparation for the climax, the most important moment of the story.
Climax is the point where action reaches its highest point. That’s the moment reader was waiting for, as he was prepared for it all through the “rising action” part. Think of it as the moment when detective in crime novel speaks the name of the murderer. Try not to make too obvious from previous part what’s gonna happen in this part. Sadly, some webcomics never reach this point because writer is aware that after this, a lot of effort has to be made to keep a comic interesting. Thus, they prolong this point to keep the readership interested. However, this works only to some point, and it’s usually hard to see when readers are starting to be bored and uninterested.
Falling action: think of it where detective, after he announced the name of the murderer, explains how the murder occurred and how he came to the solution. In this part, things are usually getting clearer for the reader, some aftermaths are given, tension is preparing to go back to the initial point, at which, the story will end.
Resolution is part where any unanswered question is finally answered and the story is ended.
There are many variations of this structure, all of them still relying to given graph heavily.
1. Mountain hills
This is actually more precise and more used variation of the first graph. Specially if the story is long and spans for lots of episodes, a story is gonna have a lots of small climaxes. In fact, if a story is as long as some of larger graphic novels (Mouse, Watchmen) or entire comic series, it would be boring to have one, monotone raising of action without anything resolved from time to time. Some sub-climaxes are required.
If a comic is series of shorter episodes or storylines, each one standing up for itself but also related to each other (for instance, the usual technique for webcomics is romantic involvement of main characters spanning through episodes) a graph will look like this:
As we see, each storyline has it’s own structure similar to the first graph, but also, the entire comic has a given structure. They’re like fractals.
2. Without resolution: sometimes, a writer is leaving the last part out, finishing the falling action out, but leaving us without the hint on what happens with characters after the told story. A first example I can think of is Luc Besson’s series of films “Taxi”. As soon as the hyperfast car chase is over, film is finished, almost at the same moment the car stopped.
Somehow, this structure always leaves the story unfinished, something missing. It gives an impression that writer doesn’t have an idea of what could happen to them, or at least doesn’t care for his own characters. No matter, it’s used often; In Hollywood films, it’s a useful hint that the sequel to this film is gonna be made.
3. Without falling action:
This structure is totally different from the previous, as it cuts the story in the most interesting moment. And it can be very effective. Why? As I said, intention of the writer is usually to leave a reader at the same level of tense the story started in the first place. After disturbing, moving, involving a reader in the story, writer wants to calm him down before ending a story.
The point of this kind of structure is exactly the opposite: to leave a reader on the edge of the seat, thinking about the story long after he read it. This kind of ending can leave a great impression on a reader. This is so called “open ending”.
Good examples are following books: “Magical toystore” from Angela Carter leaves a reader right after the climax, before all the fuss of the climax has settled, without even saying what happened to all characters. On the other hand, “The crying of lot 49” leaves us right before the climax, before the moment in which characters are bound to meet their (existent or imaginary?) arch-nemesis.
Finishing at this point leaves us with realization that we were never to meet him in the first place. On the other hand, this ending is hinting an existence of another story, happening after the story that we just read, maybe even greater than this one, but alas, unwritten.
4. Start in the middle:
Sometimes, a story will start without giving a reader time to adjust, to get to know, writer will rush him into the story (action?) determined to take all his attention before giving him any choice.
However, more precise version of this graph is:
As seen, reader is still given some rest, some time to recount his impressions, think. This is necessary, as blurting out entire story without any rest, empty walk, will leave reader tired, exhausted. Writers will sometimes do this, but even not so good writers know to appreciate the benefits of the empty walk.
5. Parallel stories: In general, we want to tell more than one story at once. This is the least for practical reasons. The thing is, telling only one story at a time, centering to only one character, makes story too linear, more predictable than it should be, switching between stories can make a needful break from the main and the most intensive story.
Strictly said, parallel stories are two – usually two, it can be more than two, but it can get confusing and overcomplicated – stories pointing at each other with some symbolic resemblance, culminating at same or very close moments of the story. One of those two stories is usually the main one, while the other one is more of a supporting.
Also, these two stories will usually be physically connected too, for instance, characters from them might know each other or meet at some moment.
An example of such structure is Bob Fosse’s film “Cabaret” where two stories happening in pre-WWII Berlin, are told parallel. Another example is Woody Allen’s film “Crimes and misdemeanor” where two stories, one dark and introvert, the other one in usually Allen’s comedy style, are told. Characters from these two stories will only meet at the end, when character from the first story is suggesting to the film director from the second story, to make a film on the first story.
Sometimes, two stories won’t even be in the same time. One story might be happening nowadays, the other might be told through the series of flashbacks.
6. Big leaps from the initial structure.
A film “Reine Margot (Queen Margot)” by Patrice Chereau is an interesting example. Near the beginning of the story, one of the most bloody historical events is happening: famous bartholomeus night of 1572, when 8.000 of protestants were brutally murdered in only one night. This event is represented to extremely and in naturalistic manner, and is horrible in its nature, that everything that happens later in the movie, seems like an elongated falling action. The end of the movie, when Queen Margot’s brother is slowly dying from poisoning, and her lover is framed for that and executed, seems like one semi-climax placed long after the real climax.
This is, however, illusion. In internal life of the main character, Queen Margot, events from the end, deaths of two closest persons in her life, have more weight that Bartholomeus night. Her emotions are culminating right at the end of the movie. Audience is bound to relate to her character, its internal world, rather than to external events, no matter how bloody of gory they are.
So we see that this movie is actually following the standard structure, instead of the one in the last picture.
A negative example:
Shrek (I part):
First part of this movie is telling us about Shrek and his associates helping him save the princess from the castle. Gradually, princess and Shrek are falling in love, so in the middle of the movie, princess is saved, emotions and motivations are mostly resolved, and nothing is stopping this movie from happy-ending after 60 minutes from the start.
In desperation, writers pull one of the backup plot twists from the bad of clichés: Shreck accidentally hears princess saying something to someone else, misunderstands it, and leaves the place without any explanation. Thus the second part of the movie is a chase after Shrek, that seems generally pointless and avoidable in the first place. (By the way “Hearing something, understanding it wrong, and leaving without explanation” is one of the most-used plot twists from the book. It is boring; it looks like a fake delaying of the ending – which it actually is – yet bad writers are always reusing it again and again, whenever they have no idea how to advance the story.)
I won’t comment on “Shrek’s” achievements in digital animation, or even it’s characterization and humor, but story-structure-wise – it’s total bust.
7. Mostly flat.
You might apply this structure to a lot of Jim Jarmush films. “Stranger than paradise” has a very little of the story in it, mostly it’s static scenes and slow conversations. “Mistery train” is consisting of three stories that seem to don’t culminate at all through the movie. His latest “Coffee and cigarets”, a series of shorts, also hasn’t got obvious structure other than flat.
Vim Venders’s “Sky over Berlin” is also very slow, filled with phylosofical internal monologues, with a very little happening.
Wayne Wang’s “Smoke”, and even more his later “Blue in the face”, consisting of interviews and improvisation, don’t seem to have strong structure.
However, this is just a surface impression. Whether it is for slow tempo, or author’s intention, elements of initial structure are existing, although not accented that strong.
So, “Stranger than paradise” still has a line of events. Those events might seem unimportant to some other director that is more fascinated with action, crime, passionate romance or anything out of ordinary, but such common events are just what interests Jarmush and he builds a strong structure out of these events.
In “Sky over Berlin” a raising of action is achieved through mentioned observing monologues, through which an angel slowly falls in love with a circus artist woman. Culmination of this comic is his lose of wings and their first meet on Nick Cave concert.
In smoke, a several parallel stories go in rather conventional way, from meeting a bunch of characters, their occational chats and little stories, up to the culmination of those stories. Probably the most important is the one about Rashid, a young problematic fellow, meeting his father after a long time. “Blue in face” has a more random structure, but in it, too, impressions are getting stronger toward the end.
So these films just seem flat. Instead, they’re told in a very subtle way, appropriate to their directors. Is there a point in making a story with a “pancake” structure? Probably not, as emotions and impressions of a reader are in accordinance with the structure, and what’s the point in a story that isn’t gonna affect a reader all through it?
Literature theory defines three terms in storywriting as crucial: “plot”, “story” and “discourse”.
Plot is description of everything that happens in the story. No structure is given to it yet; It comes down to describing events from the story.
These elements can be described best through using Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” as an example. Plot of this film could be described as:
-Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield are executing a few kids who tried to froad their boss. They accidentally kill one of kids in their car, so they have to go to their friend and wash the entire car, get rid of their clothes and get new clothes.
-In a moment of enlightening, Jules decides to leave the current job and thy to repent all his sins.
-On the way back, they stop at the restaurant where they stumble onto a couple attempting a robbery. Jules lets them go instead of killing them, as the first act of his “retaliation”.
-That night, Vincent Vega takes Mia, the wife of his boss out. Dull evening happens with a complication when Mia thinks that heroine from Vega’s pocket was cocaine.
-Next morning, boxer Butch wins a fight that he was supposed to loose. Running away from gangsters, he forgets father’s clock that is precious to him. Returning for the clock, he accidentally kills Vincent Vega who is stalking him in his apartment. Then he meets Vega’s boss Marsellus Wallace, saves him from some deviants, and for this, Marsellus grants him a life – but only once.
-In here, we could also insert Butch’s flashback about how he got the clock.
This is with lots of details excluded, plot of “Pulp Fiction”.
What’s a story, then? A story is a plot, with the way and order in which it’s told: a plot and the form. It’s the basic sketch of what the final script will be like. In “Pulp Fiction”, it is:
-Start of the restaurant robbery from the first story.
-Start of the first story.
-End of the first story, the part about Vega taking Mia out.
-The entire story of Butch, with the flashback at the beginning.
-The middle of the first story with washing the car and the robbery.
What can we notice? That the story more or less closely follows the basic story structure from the beginning: Although all mini-stories have their action rising parts, culminations, resolutions, they all, as entire movie, have the same structure. While two first parts have a role of introduction to characters, setting, etc, next two parts are slowly raising the action. The moment when Jules does his first good deed on the way to redemption, can be concearned a final culmination, as it is the most intensive emotional moment for this character. It is even more important because we know that the other one, Vega, is gonna die as soon as the next day.
What’s that? Tarantino has turned the plot upside down, he intentionally structured the order of parts of the plot, so that it follows the general story structure.
We see another important part too: General story structure as well as all variations given up there, are applying to the “story”, as defined here, not to the “plot”.
What that means to us? Let’s suppose that we have a plot that is climatic in it’s middle part, while the half of the plot is going downhill. This might seem as a too long action falling and this part of the story can turn out uninteresting. A good solution might be changing the story structure, so that culminating part comes nearer to the end.
Such thing was done by David Lynch in his film “Mulholland Drive”.
Lynch decided that the strongest part of his plot, and actually the one that carries most of fantastic and horror elements of the story, was near the beginning. That’s why he structured the film this way:
Discourse is the way the story is told. It’s including all elements of the film, that are excluded from the basic plot and story. In “Pulp Fiction”, elements of discurs can be:
-Long smalltalk scenes. Like the talk between Vincent Vega and Jules at the very beginning. Smalltalk with kids before they elliminate them. Smalltalk of Vega and Mia in restaurant... etc...
-Use of music through the film: Old greek song in modern version for the scene of restaurant robbery. Twist for the scene of Vega and Mia dancing. Music in the scene of Butch’s heroic act.
-While we’re at that, decision to put a saber in Butch’s hand (instead of baseball bath), lifting him to the level of a noble hero from a story.
-Quotes from other movies: The gangster image of Vega and Jules and the overall “cool” feel around them; Dancing scene that recalls of Travolta’s previous careere in musical and dance films. Butch’s “samurai” scene;
-Spurts of violence, sometimes very humorous: When Butch kills Vega because he is startled by a toaster – reflecting the way Vega killed a kid previous day.
As we see, discourse might even be the determining part in success of the script. For sure it is determining how fun for reading our comic (script) will be. Once we thought out a story, we’ve only done a half of the job. Writing actual dialogues, working on details, actually symbolically connecting elements of the story – is a tough job as well.
Important part of discourse is presenting information to reader. In fact, discourse itself could be defined as transition of information, from writer to reader, be it what we standardly consider information (background of characters and plot), elements of characters itself, or just what’s happening in the story at that moment. But once we get to the later part of action rising and culmination, storytelling goes much smoother. Tricky part is establishing all elements of the story at the beginning, and wrapping up the story after the culmination. We have to take care of two things:
1. Be subtle. Don’t throw informations right into the face of a reader. If some info is important for the story, if it’s gonna turn out as a clue in culmination, it’s a good thing to present this info as not much important in the first place. Put it in the same level with other information and give it it’s real significance only in culmination. That’s gonna make your story less predictable and linear.
2. Be interesting and funny. When asked why he wrote his great book “The name of the rose”, writer and literature theorist Umberto Eco said “I wanted it to be funny”. Although this book was written in maneer of great literature of the century, it doesn’t tend to bore a reader. Some think that high art is in contradiction with funny. 20 century critique proved that it’s not.
My point is, don’t let your story be boring for a reader in one moment. Lots of amateur writers think along the lines: “As soon as I make an exposition, things will get more interesting. Readers have to stick with me to get to the more interesting part.” Well, this is wrong. You have to find a way to present information in a way that is interesting for readers. You can’t think along the lines of a “bad part” and “good part” of your script, because as long as it has a “bad part”, your script is less good than you think it would be. Your script can’t be judged based on only one part of it.
For instance, painfull job of introducing characters can be done more interesting if we present it through personal quirks of characters, their likes or dislikes. Here, we have two examples of the same dialogue.
The personalization of the scene makes it more interesting. A girl did something very interesting (that I actually saw in one movie): Made ice coffee by pouring coffee right over her ice-cream. A guy is demonstrating part of his personality through his part of conversation.
Remember, humor can’t always be underprecciated. A script doesn’t have to be a commedy or news-paper-like comic with punchline at the end of every strip, but a healthy dose of humor - the one that doesn’t make anyone laugh out hard, but adds a charm to the story and characters – can do a lot for your comic.
But in short, don’t just blurt informations in front of reader.
The lack of information can be as important as informations themselves. One of mottos of modern literature is that what’s left untold, sometimes speaks more than what’s told. That’s the whole philosophy that’s standing behind the modern short story.
Perhaps the most important writer of short forms, Jorge Luis Borges, developed a technique in which, instead of writing a long novel, he would just write an article about this imagined novel, retell it in a short form. Big part of this non-existant novel would remain unknown, but that was just the thing that made it so good – because this great novel can be as good as we want it to be.
Some reasons for leaving information out:
-It’s too obvious from other information and telling it is just reiterating. This is pretty often reason for too long stories and too slow pacing (under “too long” and “too slow”, I mean “longer than the artist intended” and “slower than the artist intended”).
-It is not obvious but can be concluded from other information. Sometimes it’s good to just leave it out. Let the reader think a bit. Engage his intelectual capability. Don’t let him be just a static voyeur of events. Don’t feed him like a baby.
Unfortunately, Holywood movies got audience used to being fed like a baby, with every little bit explained and elaborated. It is up to us – as well as any independent art – to teach them out of thet.
-It raises a veil of mistery. If a crucial information is given at the beginning, the reader is confused and he’s expecting us to give that information later, or at least give information that will help him come up with the important info himself. Sometimes, this will happen, sometimes not (like in a slasher movie where identity of the killer is not revealed). But following events through the veil of mystery can have it’s certain edge, a magic, so you can give readers this pleasure.
I used to fake the feel of mystery by reading archives of some webcomic from the middle. Needless to mention, all magic would be gone after I re-read entire archives from the beginning.
A single scene might be motivated by various reasons:
-Giving an information to a reader, which I was just telling about.
Try not to make a script where every scene has a sole purpose of handing out informations for advancing the story
Showing some character in it’s natural enviroment and it’s ordinary doings, or how he reacts in certain situations, is a good way of building a character in the least boring way.
-Building an atmosphere.
Metaphore is, according to one definition, shortened comparision. The only part of comparision that’s left is an object with which the actual object is compared.
A whole story can be a metaphore. For instance, a war between aliens and human can be a metaphore for wars in general. Certain scenes might be used to make this metaphore more obvious.
-Achieving desired pacing.
Sometimes you’ll need to stall a reader a bit. For instance, if your rising of action is not taking much time, and you don’t want it to be short in comparision with culmination and falling of action, you can prolongue raising of action by intersecting in with other storyline, showing some activities of characters that are not advancing the story, or maybe even giving some info that you think readers might be interested to read.
I’ll tell more about slowing down the pacing later.
-It looks good.
Sometimes, if you feel like having a scene that you imagined, that looks impressive to you, that might be the reason for finding a place for it in the script. Sometimes, the entire story can be revolving around such scenes.
I’ll mention Umberto Eco and “The name of the rose” once again. This novel is revolving around the series of murders in an italian convent and is a complex study on religion, knowledge and importance of written word.
When asked how he started the novel, he said: “I wanted to kill some monk and dip him into the barrel full of blood.” He later built a story around this idea and found a motivation for every single element of it.
-It feels good.
Sometimes, you’ll put a scene because you feel that it has to be there, that it’s its right place. In other words, for no objective reason. That’s cool.
Lenght of the story is an important issue with webcomics. It’s a question, how long can you hold attention of the reader who’s following your comic as it updates, on one story?
My experiences are, not more than one month for a comic that updates with one comic srip daily. Of course, this is longer for comics that update more rarely and have larger updates. Does that mean that every story can take thirty updates before getting too long? I don’t think so, it’s not a correct proportion. For a comic that updates with a page weekly, that means less than two decent storylines a year, which is not much.
Another issue is lenght of a single scene. My experiences say that after it exceedes three pages, a scene becames just too long. That means you have to be able to give all needed information in less than three pages. More pages per scene also means longer storyline or less scenes per storyline (which can also damage the storyline).
These numbers are just my personal judgement, but in any case your pacing may appear too slow and you may try to shorten it.
If you come up with too long scene, think about it: is all info just necessary? The odds are, you came with too much useless dialogue, with characters that just repeat the same lines with variations, or just stand around confused. Likely, you’ll be able to clip out enough text from the scene.
Same goes for too long storylines. Try to see which scenes are too long, or which scenes are not neccessary. Try to clip them out, to transfer important elements of it into some other scenes.
Sometimes, with humor comics that hold to a storyline, an interesting effect can happen: a writer gets lost in humor and confusion, forgetting the initial story for a moment. Maybe three pages are a bit harsh estimate for humor comics, but either way you shouldn’t overdo with their length. Try to leave some jokes out, no matter how funny they are. Don’t leave your story out of sight. Don’t let readers do that either: sometimes they’ll lose the story in a pile of jokes, even though you didn’t. You know where the comic is going, but readers don’t. Have that in mind.
Another often mestake of webcomic writers is loosing themselves in “falling action” part. That happens when writer, although he finished the crucial part of the story, doesn’t know how to wrap it up. It’s a strange thing to happen, and it can be stopped if you think a bit ahead. If you don’t have an idea how to wrap up the story, try to think of a solution before the culmination. Have it worked out before you have to publish it. The worst possible thing to do in this case is to say “I’ll think about it along the way”. Still, if you find yourself in such situation, the best thing to do is to cut it right where it is, to unwrap it the most simple possible way. So, simplify. To get out with this succesfully, you have to notice that you’re stuck on time – not let the falling action prolongue for too long. Be honest to yourself and tell yourself “I’m stuck”.
When talking about the length of the story and scene, I was looking at it from the standpoint of the reader who follows the comic update to update. My main concearn was whether the reader is gonna stick to the comic, or just get uninterested at one moment end let it go. However, this rule doesn’t apply in other categories: 1. Comics delivered in one piece, not page after page; 2. Other kinds of narrative art than webcomics; 3. Webcomics, when a reader is not following them update after update, but rather waiting for the critical mass to form in the archive and then read it at once.
Finally, if limiting to the length I reccomended stands against what writer had in mind, then that’s the reason enough to slow down after all. The matter of story and scene length falls into a second plan when we’re talking about pacing. Earlier I said that “long” and “slow” categories can translate into “longer that writer intended” and “slower than writer intended”. Writer is free to set his own pacing of the story. Maybe he’ll want a slow comic, maybe that’s just what will fit into his vision, with his ideas about the story.
Pacing can be very slow. When talking about the flat story structure, I named several very slow-paced films. Each of them is delayed by common dialogues, long moments of silence, monologues and whatnot. And each one is great in that.
On the other hand, straight-to-the-point approach has it’s magic too. Franz Kafka’s famous novel “Metamorphosis” about an unfortunate man who transformed into an insect, starts with “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning after a bad dream, he realised he transformed into a giant insect in his bed.”
But, building a hestitation, slowing down, is a very tough task in comics. Reader is free to set his own pacing, skipping over parts that are intended to slow him down. Tempo is not forced upon him by real-time like while watching a film, or by amount of text in a book.
However, some ways of slowing down the pacing:
-Long, still, silent panels – that, as I said, usually don’t do the trick as rushed reader is gonna glance them with one view and go further.
-Silent panels in which some activity is occuring – even as simple as washing dishes, it’s gonna hold reader’s attention for a moment.
-Textual narration – much more useful. Try not to describe the action already visible in the picture –it’s annoying.
Narration can actually be description of some object or place of happening. Narracion can be poetry too, why not.
-Factography – Hugo Prat used factography to delay his story in key moments. His factography was historical, being that his comics were set in or revolving around history. In SF comic, factography can be scientifical. Even if reader skips it, he’s left with the wanted impression of time flow.
-Smalltalk – Tarantino used smalltalk about old films, about tv shows or even about cultural differences in fastfood restaurants. He was even hired to write smalltalk for scenarios of other writers. Smalltalk works better if it’s about something particular. Also, it can help in characterisation.
-Digression – a short story not related to the main story. Digression can be as short as one scene, or a part of the scene. But it does the work, and if it’s centered around important characters, it adds a charm to them.
Don't forget one thing: Just because your story is in slow pacing, it doesn't have to be boring.
Getting ideas can be a tough part. People often complain about the artist block. Although block can be unability to come up with a convincing dialogue, or artistic block, the problem is usually in lack of ideas. There are various how people get ideas:
-While watching movies, reading comics or literature. Big alert: watch out for unintentional plagiatrism. And even if your idea seem to be far away from what you were watching, chances are your story won’t be much original. It will be in domain of “already seen”, “variation of known theme”, in other words, there won’t be much originality in those ideas. That’s why I don’t suggest this way of getting ideas.
-While doing some activities that don’t fully engage your brain: walikg, laying in bed before you sleep – even sitting in boring classes. Some ideas might develope from yout you see with the corner of your eye, or through the chain of your thoughts. Even when you’re bored, don’t let your brain be idle.
-While sketching, you can draw some character that will inspire you to an entire story or some scene that looks impressive enough to make you build a story around it.
-From dreams. Some weird dreams might consist of good comic material. And even if they don’t seem to, don’t reject them right away – write them down, with time they might turn into something else. Don’t reject them because they’re too weird, sometimes that can be just the edge you needed.
-From reality. You may decide to tell something that really happen, but watch out – not all scenes remain funny when retold. Specially if retold in comic format. You might also get idea of a story based on something from real life, but significantly changed and adapted into the context of your comic. Or you might just want to transfer your emotions from real life into the comic. All those can turn out to be a good material.
Writing first things that come to your mind. Writing first associations to what is already written. Works best when you do it with a bunch of friends. Also, try to write a story this way: everyone from the bunch will write one sentence of the story. This way you won’t get a suitable story for comic, but it helps inspiring you.
Now, comes a practical part:
Here, I will use one mcDuffies storylines, “Rat Wars II”, as example, and I will tell how I wrote it. I suggest you read the storyline but I will make it not neccessary.
Note: this is not the exact reconstruction of how I wrote it. I will adjust it so that it’s more educative. However, it is a possible way how this story could’ve been written.
-I needed the next sequel for my previous “Rat Wars” story, where army of rats attacks a “mcDuffies” restaurant. I wanted something more involved than the first one, and this “saga” would get more complicated every time.
-Also, I wanted to introduce Rat King, hideous giant mutated rat, a leader of the rat army. The idea of his becoming was very silly, instead of mutagen there was some unsuccessful gastronomic experiment by Gordon. As “mcDuffies” is basically a comedy, this explanation works better than any serious.
-One image I had in mind was the scene of sewers full of rats, sitting on pipes in half-dark.
-Another idea for a story I had was, horde of rats rounding up the restaurant, attempting to barge in. If this story wouldn’t work out, I was ready to leave it for the next sequel. Luckily, it worked just fine.
-There was one plot line dragging through the series that I wanted to advance. That was romantic involvement between Rebeca and Tommy. In fact, Rebeca loves Tommy, while he merely dislikes her. I thought this story would be a good oportunity to put in some of this story.
-Ok, I had the main plot: characters being rounded up in restaurant, rats trying to get in, finally crew somehow getting rid of the horde and winning.
-But I also wanted to introduce Rat King. One possibility was that he speaks to them from outside, but I wanted something more sinister and close-up. So I decided to split the crew and take Tommy and Boss to meet Rat King personally.
-Splitting crew is one common plot device. Besides telling more of the story at once, it has other benefits too: by switching between two or more stories, we avoid the certain monotony that would happen if we were following one group all the time. Also, it gives oportunity for the “unexpected save” plot device, when one group saves the other when the situation seems hopeless.
-Tommy’s and Boss’s part of story goes on like this: they get down to sewers to find the lair of rats and destroy it, but they get captured by rat king. Later, they get away.
-These stories are told paralelly, sometimes intersecting. Here is a graph of how I planned out a story:
-Of course, I didn’t have idea about how either of groups would get out of trouble. So I had to intensively think about possible solutions. Sometimes, when a part of puzzle is missing, there’s nothing to do but sit down and think.
-So I came up with this idea: Gordon will climb on the electric post, cut the wire and electrocute rats standing above, in the rainy street.
-There lied a solution for Tommy and Boss problem too. If Gordon cut down the power, they can use dark and lack of electricity to get away.
-But how does Gordon get to the post? I decided to make a hommage to Hitchcock’s “Bird”, a walkthrough between the waiting birds (in this case, rats).
-I got the idea of Gordon being hit by a thunder while he’s up on the post, but surviving through consequences. These things happen in real life, much less often in comics, it seemed like an interesting addition to Gordon’s character, and it deluted expected happy ending a bit.
-This would conclude most of planing for the culmination.
Beginning of the story:
-To go back to the image of sewers full of rats. I decided to use it for the intro of the story, before groups split up.
-But why would characters get into sewers in the first place? After some thinking, I came up with the idea of a gass leak that makes Gordon and Smiley get under the restaurant, where they meet eye in eye with rats.
Tommy and Rebeca sub-storyline:
-My main plan was to make Rebeca overly worried for tommy while he’s in sewers. Later, near the end, she’d tell him how she feels, but he’d reject her.
-The first part didn’t seem like enough preparation for the second, so I decided to insert one more scene in between those, that would make Rebeca’s intentions more obvious to Tommy. This is where I got the idea of elongated culmination, or a rather intense action falling, where rats from the sewers barge into the restaurant following escaped Boss and Tommy, keeping Tommy and Rebeca in squeeze.
Ending part, detailed:
-But in this last part, we needed to leave Tommy and Rebeca alone for one moment. Aslo, I wanted to involve smaller part of the crew in this part, to avoid iteration and deflate the tension.
-So I decided that Jess and Smiley went to get Gordon to doctor, while Rebeca was left to keep the restaurant, thinking that it is safe now. Then Tommy arives, followed by rats, and he lost Boss somewhere along the way. That’s enough setup for interrupted romantic scene that I intended in this part.
-Why was the scene interrupted? A logical solution comes: Boss arives out of the blue, as a saviour; Turns out he left to get his flame-thrower.
-Finally, there was one more joker that I didn’t want to miss to use: Jessie and Smiley likely sent help. Of course, Boss could’ve turned out as final help, but I wanted to use all cards I had to I decided that firemen appearing at once, will have the final word.
-I got the idea of the next scene: Jessie and Smiley, breaking through a hospital window with a car. However, I decided to leave this scene for after all the action. Therefore, it’s told through the flashback (story) of the firemen.
-I needed a lot of delay for the part where crew is surrounded in restaurant. First, because I needed an action delay so that culmination with Gordon climping on a post doesn’t come too fast. Second, part with introducing Rat King was going on in a parralel story, and I needed to fill a scene or two with actions.
-I inserted two attacks of single rats, one through the hole in the front, the other through ventilation.
-I added tension rising among the crew, through the fight of Jessie and Rebeca. However, I didn’t want to accent this element too much.
-These helped story getting it’s final structure.
-What storyline wasn’t ended?
-I left Rat King issue intentionally open, so that I could deal with it in later stories. “Rat alarm” shows the system of protection from rats that Boss thought out, and “Rat Wars III” is the third official sequel of the story.
-I had to show how Gordon’s parents reacted to his hurting. It would be illogical to act as if he has no parents or as if they were not informed that he’s in hospital. Followed by that was the reaction of mcDuffies crew.
-In last walk through the story, I added some details. For instance:
-Chat between Boss and Tommy while they’re going through sewers. I added this so that their walk through sewers wouldn’t seem too short.
-Gordon’s phone talk with his brother: I intended to introduce Jordan for some time. The beginning of this story seemed a good oportunity as any.
How hazard affects the story:
-While making this story I had a major computer crash, followed by slow recovery of data that I had on it. All I could come up with through that time was a small digression where characters from student dorm deal with some unknown stalker. This story was happening at the same time as events described in main story. I did this story because I had no sources to make full pages in regular quality, so I didn’t want to affect the RWII story by drawing it in such sketchy, rushed maneer. So I decided that it’s better to delay it and meanwhile keep readers entertained with a side story that drawing in this sketchy manner didn’t hurt much. A bit later, I continued with the RWII story.
-Looking back, I like this digression in the place where it is. It delays a culmination of the story, gives the entire story a specific timing, gives amoment of rest, and, what’s interesting effect, gives an impression that life in this comic is happening outside of life of main heroes and their reastaurant. Therefore, circumstances advanced this story in a way that I wouldn’t think of myself.
So, go on, write. Reread your work and see what mestakes you did, what you had to do but didn’t and what you shouldn’t have done, but did. Read novels, watch movies, read comics. Try to see their structure. Try to realise what part in structure various scenes have. Don’t ever think that you learned all.