Jan 06 2009
1. The story fails to hook readers in the first three pages.
The easiest way to do this is to show a likable character facing a serious problem. It doesn’t have to be a life-and-death threat, but that helps. Another method is to establish that the writing style is particularly compelling.
2. The plot lacks urgency.
A character walking from his door to his car is not very interesting. Running to his car to make it to work on time is better. Running to his car to avoid gunshots? Even better. To make the plot more urgent, I recommend making giving the characters goals that are time-sensitive and high-stakes. If John doesn’t make it to work in ten minutes, he will be fired. If Captain Carnage can’t find and defuse the bomb in ten minutes, the building will explode. Etc. The goal doesn’t have to be life or death, but it helps.
3. The writers rely too much on exposition (particularly narration and dialogue) to tell the story.
Try not to tell your audience things that they should be able to see in the picture. For example, check out these two versions of one of our panels.
The first version tells us something that should be obvious: this bystander is surprised. Well, of course he’s surprised! His expression already shows that. The second version develops the story by adding humor and makes the mood more wacky.
Here are some signs that your story relies too much on text.
- You use more than 200 words per page. As a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t recommend any more than 175 unless you have a really good reason. If your audience is young and/or the series is action-heavy, you might want to set a guideline for yourself.
- You use big blocks of text, particularly if you use more than one on the same page. Isn’t there any way to bring that information into action, body language or some other visual?
- Characters say how they’re feeling, either in exposition or thought-bubbles. Try using body language and actions instead.
4. The cast is gratuitously large.
If you’re writing a new series about a team of superheroes, I’d recommend using at most 5 teammates. You probably won’t have enough time to develop many characters that are completely unknown to the audience.
Having a large cast will also probably complicate your fight scenes and action sequences. When Green Lantern and Superman are fighting with a villain, what are the other five Justice Leaguers doing? You’ll probably have to flit around to describe what’s happening. That could put off some readers, particularly if some heroes are more interesting in battle than the rest. (I want to see Batman and the Manhunter, not Superman or Wonderwoman).
5. The series doesn’t have a clear audience.
There has never been a comic that appeals to everyone. So you need to pick an audience and go for them. Having an audience in mind will really boost the quality and marketability of your work. For example, if you’re not sure whether you’re writing for 10-year-olds or 20-year-olds, your dialogue will almost certainly miss the mark. It’s also extremely difficult to write comedy unless you know who you’re trying to amuse.
Finally, aiming for a particular audience will make it easier to find a publisher. If you have a narrow, well-aimed audience, your publisher will probably conclude that you are competent and have at least a basic grasp of marketing. If the work doesn’t have a clear audience, the publisher will probably wonder if this book is going to sell at all. If the publisher isn’t confident the book will sell, they probably won’t pick up the series.
Here are some possible audience groups to consider.
- Males vs. females. This should probably affect the proportion of the series that is devoted to combat rather than dialogue. (Broadly generalizing, women usually dislike rolling slugfests like Dragonball Z but are usually more excited than men about romantic adventures). Also, if you’re even thinking about women readers, try to avoid boob-shots and other cheesecake.
- Pre-teens vs. teens vs. college and above. Among other things, this will probably affect how much text you use, the sophistication of the comedy and writing, how much of the plot you have to spell out for the readers, the mood of the story and the level of violence/sex/drugs. Most comic book readers are 16-25; most superhero cartoon shows are aimed at a much younger audience.
- Fans of a particular genre (sci-fi, horror, comedy, etc.) This should affect artistic style, which plot devices are acceptable, origin stories, etc.
- Fans of a particular show or series.
Did you find this article useful? If so, please read the other articles in this series.
- Part 1
- Part 2