Story Arcs

“How do you build a story within the 20 page framework of a comic while at the same time building the story for a larger story arc?”

The short answer:
The trick is working backwards, using your already built outline as the guide to fill material for each issue, rather than trying to write issues sequentially, attempting to build the story as you go.

The long answer:
First, you build the story independent of format. This is the outline.
The outline doesn’t care if your story is 5 pages or 500 pages.

Your outline is going to reveal to you your core story arc and any support story arcs.

Once you’ve outlined the story and know how the central arc begins and ends, you can look through the outline and pull out the key points of this journey and make a chart of progression.

START: Luke is a depressed farm kid
* Luke hires a bounty hunter to get him off Tatooine
* Luke rescues princess Leia
* Luke sees Obi-wan die
END: Luke is a lead fighter in the rebellion and destroys the Death Star

Although, in the big picture of the main arc the key points will serve very distinct and different structural purposes (one may be an inciting incident, another may be a Plan Outcome moment), at the individual issue level, they will often take the role of the issue’s climax. Ultimately this depends on the complexity of your outline and the length of the series run.

// Dealing with the support arcs is a matter of juggling and splicing them into the main arc in an entertaining manner that supports the central arc (rather than disrupt it). The key with multiple support arcs is organization. And keep in mind too many support arcs will water down the main story on an issue by issue basis. //

Now of course, each issue must have it’s own complete structure.

You can’t just establish a nice complete structure for the outline, then pull apart scenes and stuff them into the issues thinking everything will line up nicely. They won’t.

Once you apply a scene as the climax to an individual issue, you have to build (or more accurately refine) the rest of the issue’s structure around it.

A large portion of good writing is plotting and planning. The ability to recognize which key points in the story arc are strong enough to carry an issue in a series and how to establish the rest of the narrative around it.

Luckily for the writer story structure is fractal in nature. You can apply (and see) the same structural points at virtually any level of the story, the series, the issue, the act, the chapter, the scene, etc.

Structure isn’t something I went into much detail in the book.

<< Since the writing of this article I released Storycraft for Comics, which specifically tackles story structure, from beginning to end. Despite the book, I’m going to leave the remains of the original article intact.>>

There are a lot of good story structure guidebooks out there. When you start reading them all, you realize, all story structure is very similar at its core.
Myself, I have a 24 point structure that works well for me, but that would be beyond this post to explain in detail (It’s basically these three points below with “a bit” of embellishment).

Reduced to its most simplified core, story structure is:

1) Introduction; that hooks the reader.
2) Complication; that challenges the MC.
3) Resolution; change.

So every story arc, whether it’s over 1 issue or 48 needs to contain these three core elements.
Through these elements Characters, Theme, Setting, Plot, Conflict, Tension, Pacing, Stakes, Irony, Suspense and more, are established.

Working off the outline to define your issues’ structural bones, will let you establish solid single issue arcs while driving towards the ultimate series arc conclusion.▪

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.

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© 2016 Nick Macari. No reproduction without written permission.