Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guest Blog: Bwillett Talks Writing and Planning for the Long Haul

Hi, I'm Bwillett, and I was asked by the gang at Beyond the Trope to do some guest writing. For those who have never heard of me, I've been doing web comics for over ten years, starting with fan comics before moving onto my own original series: Midnight Menagerie and Sorcerer's Apprentice. I have a LOT of experience working on web comics and a lot of my fans come to me asking for my advice on writing and drawing their own series. So I've decided to talk here on Beyond the Trope about what it's like to write web comics.

Most of what these guys talk about has to do with the tropes more commonly used in books, which, along with movies and graphic novels, where you get big ol' chunks of plot all at once, is a completely different animal than working on a monthly series. Those differences are even more apparent with the frenetic pacing in the world of web comics. As such, this style of writing has developed its own set of tropes, good or bad, that an aspiring writer has to be aware of. While people tend to think of web comics as more akin to the daily gag strips more commonly seen in newspapers like VG Cats or Penny Arcade, there are just as many web comics that have an ongoing, engaging, long-term plot. It's just as possible to produce award-caliber writing with a strip that updates only weekly, or heck, even only when the artist/writer/team/what have you has time, as for someone who created a graphic novel. It just takes a bit of thought. And a heckuva lot of planning.

On one hand, you have to make sure that each and every page you put up is at least somewhat engaging. You might be in the middle of a dramatic scene, but a new visitor may only see your newest page. If you want them to start checking out the archives, each page counts. The other thing you need to remember, especially if you only update once a week or so, is that important plot points may not pop up for months or even years while the story is playing itself out. So a big dramatic reveal that would seem very sudden in a book or movie may take a few weeks to play out. People have short memories. A good device to use is recaps. Either have a 'story thus far' page or within the story itself remind your readers who people are and why things are important. From your angle you might be repeating yourself a lot, but from your readers' you are reminding them who someone is and what's going on. If you're lucky enough to make it to print editions, you can always edit these recaps down a bit.

Another thing you need to keep in mind when you create a web comic with an ongoing plot, especially one you plan as one big long story rather than a series of story arcs, is to always remember what direction you are going. The most common piece of advice I give my own readers is to always know how your story begins and how your story will end. This way you avoid painting yourself in a corner. Even if it takes years before you get to that point, as long as you have a fairly sure destination you'll avoid head-scratching changes in a story that will make your fans rage-quit. You can always change details along the way, especially if you get new ideas or if characters become more or less popular with fans, but a fairly concrete ending in mind will keep the ship on its course. I knew how Sorcerer's Apprentice will end, down to the last line of dialog, even before I posted the first page online.

Once you have your ending set and keep things engaging, the sky's the limit. One of the greatest freedoms of web comics is that absolutely no one can censor or change your work. You don't have to worry about genres or demographics or what an editor will tell you will sell. No one can ever really tell what will take off or why. Just look at the explosion of the Homestuck fandom. Write what you think is good, think beyond what's already being published, and do what you think will do the story justice.

Bwillett lives and works just outside of Denver, where she reinvents genres and character tropes in her web comic series. She does all of her own writing, art, and post-production work (whew!). And in photos she poses with a squirty toy fish named Icthyus Ignatius Bonaparte Fisherton III. Seriously, you just can’t beat that. Her work is a fantastic blend of anime and Western styles, and lovers of 90s-era anime will find a kindred spirit in Bwillett’s creativity. You can find her online at, on Facebook at /BwillettComics, and on Twitter at /BwillettComics

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