How To Build A Storyline For Your Comic or Graphic Novel 4

One of the most common questions I got asked is if I could do a video or an article on how to build a story line for your comic or graphic novel.

For this reason I want to share with you the very basic that all story lines worth reading have in common.

I assume that you already have a main character for your story in mind or even better, you already created one.

The properties a good main character must have is worth another video. I will produce one in the near future.

So let’s get started.

First of all we need an event that brings the life of our main character in unbalance. In other words: our main character needs to have a problem and the desire to fix it.

Therefore it’s best not to give him a problem everyone could fix in no matter of time. The more unusual, the better and more interesting your storyline will be.

Don’t misunderstand me here, there are many good all day problems build into very good stories. But you will soon find out that it’s more challenging to keep it interesting if the problem could be solved by your grandma while she is making dinner.

After the event you main character will try several differnt approaches to solve the problem so that he or she can go back to his normal life again.

It would be pretty boring to make his first attempt a success.

What we need is that the problem gets worse or his or her solution leads to another problem.

In simple words: his problem is resisting the harder she tries to solve it.

You already notice that you can go on and on for a very long time with this.

You can easily bend this narrative arc over a large series of issues. This is not just true for comic books and graphic novels but also for written books. Think on the Harry Potter series where in every book were a narrative arc and there was also one bend over all the seven parts of the series.

Once you are done wis all the drama and setbacks that the resistend problem is causing you go finally over to another event: the climax.

In the climax you decide if your main character proceeds in solving the problem or definitive fails to do so.

Ending a story right after the climax has taken place isn’t a good idea. Often there are too many loose ends that have to be tied up. Of course it doesn’t have to take a whole series by it’s own but a short denoument should be worth your time of telling.

And finally we have The End. Whether it’s happy or not, your story is told, over and out just as this article.

I hope you found this useful and I look forward to see you back at the next one.

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4 thoughts on “How To Build A Storyline For Your Comic or Graphic Novel

  • ZuzannaM

    Hello Mario,

    Ah, all the secrets coming OUT in Manga Studio…
    Now I can create my own problem and fix it, eh?
    Very good blog Mario, thank you…:)


  • Piledriver

    In short:

    (1) Situation

    (2) Complication

    (3) Crisis

    (4) Climax

    Not just story structure, but also conventional scene structure.

    Individual scenes follow the same pattern as this while being strung together to form the larger story, but to keep the reader turning pages one thing is added:

    (5) Hook

    The hook is the introduction of the next scene’s Situation, as it has been emerged from the resolution of the last problem, or otherwise emerges to interrupt the calm of the moment.

    In the spaces in between, little clues and hints of the bigger picture can be revealed, keeping the reader involved and thinking.

    While you have the reader on that Hook, you can switch to another scene, featuring a different POV (point of view) character, and possibly her compatriots, picking up a different hook from earlier. Such weaving of scenes and parallel plotlines (subplot? hey who is the hero here???) can make for very engrossing stories.

    A good example of this approach (it is not the only valid approach, nice as it is) in practice can be found in Robert Asprin’s M.Y.T.H. series of fantasy/humour stories, some of which were adapted to comic-book form — possibly to be found in that quarter box at the back of the comic shop.

  • joe

    The Monomyth by Joseph Campbell covers the 12-step outline used in works for epic novels from Gilgamesh through the Starwars screenplay.

    Another thing to consider is software such as Dramatica and the Writer’s Dreamkit, or Storyweaver. These three can help shorten the time from start to finish by organizing the story structure and elements. After some practice it takes about 15 minutes to complete the structure, and it lets you change structures in about the same time or less. When you have a structure that you like, you write the filler from event to event identified in the report the software produces.