Creating Comics For The Web Part II: Writing

Typewriter typing "Stories Matter", photo for writing comics on the web article
Writing for web comics presents the greatest challenges and greatest opportunities for the art form
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Writing Fiction For The Web

Comics writing for print is a well established trade skill, but writing for comics on the web is in its infancy

There’s a lot to overcome for comics on the web, but the potential for web comics is unlimited in the digital age.

Digital Comics illustration faces its own challenges, but thankfully writers and artists are in this mess together.  Luckily for both writers and artists, the greatest challenging facing each (and sometimes these are the same person) is the challenging of coming to terms with the potential of the art form in a new medium.

Comics at their most basic are fundimentally just content, and like all content on the internet, successful web comics must succeed by competing against all possible content the same way any article or web page has to. This means assuring readers with limited time and conflicted attention spans that what they find in your web comic will be something they can read and digest all in one click, and share just as easily.

Most Web Comics Are Too Long

The biggest detractor to traditional comics writing on the web is creative stinginess.  Comics writing in general in print and on the web has lost its economy. Most stories are too drawn out, meaning the level of substance is low for the number of pages a reader has to turn. 

Read a classic short story like Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque Of The Red Death” (go ahead, it’s barely 7 pages long), then try to imagine how many comic book pages it would take a modern publisher to tell the same story. Then ask yourself if the reader would still be interested after 45 pages of middling wordsmithing and stoic, static illustration. 

The problem with using the same writing  approach for web comics starts to become clear, doesn’t it?

Short, Digestable Fiction

If you want to get a picture of the untapped potential of comics writing and creative writing in general on the web, consider the top 25 best selling books of all time

By far the most widely circulated content on the web is non-fiction, but (and correct me if I’m wrong) I see only one non-fiction book in James Clear’s all-time best-seller books.

What this should tell us is that, between fiction and non-fiction, it’s high quality creative fiction writing that people would really want, if they could choose what content was available in which format.

How to write and deliver short fiction?

This is an open question to writers, but to consider it in brief, the question is how to reach and entertain readers with the promise of easily digesetable, bite-sized fiction pieces (illustrated pieces, in the case of comics). Likely this task requires a completely  new approach. Probably such an approach will need to rely on some of the outlining tools used for the production of non-fiction, and it will be a challenge to develop this sort of writing process while also holding on to that creative spark that needs to drive every word when storytelling.

Fiction writers for the web likely will need to develop some of the conventions of journalism and non-fiction writing, but isn’t that exciting? Or does it sound completely mundane? Think about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and countless other 19th century books) — the conventions of non-fiction could be found there too. Indeed, Dracula and Frankenstein are laced with imaginary newspaper articles, while Stoker even writes huge chunks of his novel in the form of short diary entrees.

One of the advantages digital fiction writers would have over the masters is that they can publish anything they want today, then go back and edit it later, or even add parts to the sequence long after the fact.

Short, Prolific Comics Writing

We won’t use this article to attempt to define a set format for writing every digital comic book, but we will suggest that one approach may be to go ‘back to Bram’. 

Next time you’re planning out a new story, try thinking of it as one of Bram Stoker’s fictionalized short articles. What can happen in the feature story when you get to make all the details up yourself? Find some quality old books on writing for newspapers and try to find all the ways you can use those story reduction techniques to create the same kind of fiction today. The odds are that after writing 2-3 short pieces like that, the way forward is going to start to become clear.

From there you’ll be able to start making the process your own, and develop a unique micro-fiction style, that you’ll be able to publish daily and compete with the so-called “non-fiction” publications.

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