This is not a guide for comics that follow the one off strips, but rather a set of methods used to get some form of direction in a long running story based comic.
Before we get to such topics as caveats and emptors, let’s do the first thing necessary to any continuing story. Motivation!
I have found out to my joy that writing a webcomic is very different to writing a book – the biggest change being writing is a more constant and shorter endeavor. I find to write a full week of scripts takes about 3-4 hours and I knock it out usually every Saturday, leaving every other hour of the week that is not spent working, eating or using the bathroom to stress over site stats. That’s time management! Actually thanks to the iPhone the bathroom is not a stat free zone either.
The point is, as I write more frequently I find the process of change is accelerated, as such ideas I have about the comic mutate and new character emerge from the primordial ooze to become a semi-regular or even *gasp* a regular! Candi in my comic was supposed to be a quick fling, now she is in the banner advertising. However a character is introduced, as a major plot device or almost by accident if their motives are solid then they will be solid. Basically it is method acting by proxy. Get into the head of each person on the page, come up with a set of goals – whether simple (Grunt – sex good!) or complex (Rule the world to show the kids in 4th grade that he is more than a skidmark that happened one gym day after taco night) the point is the same – allow yourself to breathe for them and their lines will always sound natural. Things like accents or other affectations are cheap and will not add anything to your character. Let me give a quick example from my comic:
Kevin: Nerd who was always the good guy in a room of bad guys. Not highly motivated but smart.
Levi: Champion of dying ways. Classic example of road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Candi: Fun loving, smart but her quirkiness leaves her underrated by her peers.
Camonte: Diamond in the rough. Uneducated but with a heart in the right place, and with enough will to push through obstacles.
So now using this I can make a scenario off the top of my head. Kevin and Candi (who are dating) go to the funfair. Levi is a third wheel, Camonte is working a booth.
Levi tries his hand at a game, which is run by Camonte, and fails. Kevin tells him the game is rigged and Levi is outraged, confronting Camonte but ultimately going away unsatisfied. Candi promptly wins at the same game because she knows the trick to it. Kevin then has Levi carrying around the massive prize Candi won for the rest of the funfair because of some verbal trickery.
See 5 minutes, one script overview. It is easy because people behaving in character takes a simple scenario and lets it write itself.
That subject out of the way, let’s move on to why we came. Plot!
A plot for any series does not necessarily have to have a distinct ending. It can, but it doesn’t have to. If it does have an ending it can be wielded like a mighty hammer of justice, ready for when you are finished with these characters, this scenario, webcomics, the internet or life. Just FYI I don’t think anyone has ended a long running webcomic as of yet with a suicide note so if you are looking for a chance to put “First” in a will, there you have it.
In absence of a final point, what you have are goals. This is a topic that is familiar to me from my day job as a programmer, nothing is ever complete there are just goals and deadlines. This is very much like that. Suppose you work by the year, which a lot of comics seem to simply for the ability to write a simple 1, 2, 3 on the subsequent dead tree version. These can then appear as if by magic once per calendar – probably in time for Christmas. Make a goal for each of the characters and a goal for the story each cycle. Don’t be afraid to change things up either, or the result is Garfield looking at that same damned pan of lasagna.
To get from here to there is probably going to be nearly impossible to estimate. Maybe here is the heroes stuck on a planet and there is them taking off in a spaceship cobbled together out of parts from other ships, which they have to barter off of local merchants (Yes it does sound a lot like the plot of Phantom Menace, don’t bug me haha ahhhhh). Point is how long does that take? I dunno. Ummm 3 months? Well it turns out it will not, because you have iterated through none of the steps to get from here to there. How do we solve this? Sub tasks!
1) Establishing the main characters
2) Finding a place to work on the ship
3) Winning the structure to the ship but it doesn’t have an engine
4) Doing mercenary work to pay for an engine
5) Fitting it/Character Exposition
6) Blast off
Each of those tasks has a much more manageable bite and could if necessary be split into sub tasks again.
Now for the part that is more art than science – filler!
If your comic updates once a week, forget I said anything off to the races with you, hero. If however you are an idiot like me who thinks a great idea is to update daily then those tasks might not last a full year. After estimates are done, extra time is filler and that means filler arcs. I LOVE filler arcs, I get some of my best ideas for the main story in some crazy little subplot that doesn’t really move anything along.. and I get to do what I love best – character building. For me, I have a general rule of about 2 weeks on main plot, 2 weeks with the characters completing a side task. I also like these miniseries because in a world where the main goals might well take months it is a small story with a beginning middle and end that wraps up in a neat manner.
However if I do too many my main story doesn’t move so in all things, balance. If you find yourself in that boat, consider adding to the main plot some additional complexity. Maybe the substructure of the space ship is stolen. To me that illustrates the perfect difference between a filler arc and main storyline. In a filler arc they get the substructure back and are back to where they were in the start, in a main storyline point they lost it and have to start from scratch.
That concludes my thoughts on the subject – I hope they have been helpful!