|Writing Comics: Structure and Character|
All content originally from my magazine project on writing, enjoy!
3 ACT STRUCTURE
The First Act
This is the short period at the beginning of a story. The first act is an introduction to the characters and the world they inhabit. All major characters and the set up for the films plot should be established at this point. The first act is of equilibrium as the protagonist has not been caught up in the events that will eventually unfold over time. For example: Luke going about his life on the farm in Star Wars, the initial disruption is the two droids arriving at his house. Act 1 ends and the disruption begins when his aunt and uncle are killed forcing him to go on the hero’s journey to defeat the empire.
The Second Act
This is the main chunk of the story in which all the action and story development takes place. The story has kicked off and taken the protagonist and other main characters into a journey, whether it is emotional or physical. Characters are developed further, the narrative goes from scene to scene, crafting the story. Characters engage in conflict in order to try and achieve their goals. Everything has changed and the characters are caught up in it. Subplots may also come into play (side stories that relate to the main plot), the most used being the romantic subplot. Most protagonists’ will meet their romantic interest during the second act and by the end of the 3rd act will be together. Star Wars example again: Luke goes on his mission with the rebels to defeat the Empire. On the way they get to know each other, battle against the villainous Darth Vader and take on different odds stacked against them. In a narrative sense Luke’s romantic subplot is with Princess Leia despite it not being actual romance. The 3rd act culminates in their friendship.
The Third Act
The climax of the story. The second act has come to an end with a major plot point. This may be a twist in the tale, or the final steps towards the characters journey. This event will lead to the climactic end of the story which usually features the protagonist taking on the main villain to accomplish his/hers goal. Once the 3rd act is over, everything resumes to a new equilibrium for better or worse. Star Wars again: The characters work themselves through the narrative when they discover that the Death Star plans to destroy the planet where the rebels are hiding. The 3rd act begins when they take the offensive to the looming Death Star and defeat it, along with a triumph over the main villain Darth Vader. Once destroyed they rejoice in celebration. The new equilibrium being the threat is over and Luke has succeeded through his journey, but the Empire isn’t completely destroyed.
Sticking to this structure can be crucial to how well you tell your story. But also remember that rules are meant to be broken. The 3 act structure is a helpful guide through your story, but around that structure you can construct weird and unique plot points and develop around it. Simple is still the way to go, but experimentation is encouraged when creating your stories.
Perhaps the most important thing in telling your story is having well developed and interesting characters. Stories with vast amounts of action and thrilling chases are often boring and negatively received when the characters are thin and uninteresting. What is meant by this is that they are not well developed and therefore un-relatable. If an audience can’t relate to a character and learn about them, they cease to care about the character and won’t be involved in the story. It is only when a character is well developed, has an identifiable personality and background can we get involved in the story and enjoy the ride. Remember your story is about these characters, if they’re cliché or poorly written, you don’t have a story. Also remember when developing a character, do not instantly tell everything about them from the start. Reveal their past, personality and changes throughout the narrative.
The protagonist is the main character and the majority your story should include a great amount of development and characterisation for him/her. Main supporting characters can be just as equally important and back story and development must also be included for them. Incidental characters (ones that are barely in the story but move it along) do not require such extensive development, but a basic understanding of who they are can help with writing their dialogue. Main characters to be fully developed will change or learn something over the course of the story. The events in the story have mad them maybe grow stronger, realise they love someone, change their attitude towards beliefs. The events of the story must affect their perception in order for the audience to really care about them.
The dialogue of your character is extremely important, and a well developed character is a character with well written dialogue. When it comes to writing for them, take into consideration their personality, their history, their feelings and fears. Once you incorporate all these into your dialogue you can create your characters voice. Example: An arrogant Doctor will use very confident language in a smug manner, a poor southern man will use more slang and be more sombre. If you had an arrogant doctor using simple language, swearing and using slang it would seem vastly out of character. A consistency in your character is important. Dialogue can often be used to reveal something about the character which adds to their development. For example: A battle scared soldier who keeps quiet to himself (due to his experiences) may let slip his past actions in a scene. He see’s kids playing out in the street together and starts to freak out. He might come out shouting at them to break up, or rant away at his wife about how it isn’t safe anymore and how they could be hurt. This reveals that his past actions may have involved the death of a child without actually stating it. The use of subtext in dialogue rather than just blurting out exposition is a far greater tool when it comes to writing your story.
Here’s the steps in order to make your protagonists’ strong, well developed and have great characterisation.
Create a Background
Similarly to creating a background for your stories settings, a background is also very important when it comes to character creation. Before you start writing a story of any sort, constructing a lengthy background to your character is highly recommended. Usually in the form of prose, write a past experience that your character has had: life changing moments, where he was brought up, describe his parent, has he suffered loss or experienced great happiness? Knowing the details of the characters past can provide vital material when it comes to writing his actions at the stories moment in time. Characters will speak, act and even look different based on their past experiences. Writing a background can also be used within the story but telling absolutely everything about the character may be unnecessary. Some of the things you write can just be for you to help understand what the character is all about. Once you have all the past information that affects the character, you can move on to developing them further within the story.
Emotional Mind Map
After creating the backstory a simple way to keep in touch with your character is to formulate a mind map which features the personal attributes of that character. These attributes will come into play when writing the characters dialogue and actions. The attributes can also be conflicting in order to portray in more depth what the character is like, for example a character may be aggressive and self conscious. The character is only overly aggressive because of his insecurities. Keeping these in mind can be a great reference point when constructing your character.