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Submitted on
September 22, 2012


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On: Illustration, Comics, and Story Telling

Journal Entry: Sat Sep 22, 2012, 7:35 PM

Don’t suck -- PK

I want to say first of all that sometimes I get people asking, or rather complaining, “why does it seem like the comics always get a better score?  This group seems so focused on comics.  What if I just want to draw pictures?”

Well, that ends up tying into narrative illustration, which is a pretty hard thing to do right if you’re used to drawing single shots of your character against a plain, white background.  Most people end up doing comics because it seems easier right away:  the characters can talk, you can set the scene, it doesn’t require a little description at the bottom...

But, even comics require some know-how to pull off really well.  It’s just harder to pull off illustrations in this story-based environment, because comics make it a little less apparent when it’s not doing a very good job at telling that story.

But, I’ll get to comics second.  First, let’s talk about the illustrations.

Like I said before, it’s called narrative illustration.  You’re trying to narrate, you’re trying to tell a story with a picture.  Sometimes you can do this with a single picture, other times you need half a dozen to effectively communicate what’s going on.  When no words will be paired with the picture, as both the storyteller and the artist, you need to paint in those words for them.

Think about it, and step back from every picture you make.  Ask yourself some basic questions:  “Is it clear who each of the characters are in this picture?  What does their body language say?  Are they clearly interacting with the environment?  Is the message I am trying to communicate getting lost?” It helps at this point to show the picture to a friend and ask honestly what they think is going on.  If they’re entirely off base, don’t be offended.  It just means you missed the mark on communicating something vital to the story, and need to think again about how to set up the illustration.  It also helps to show someone who’s not familiar with the characters, to see if even a bystander can understand the body language going on in the scene.  It should be mostly clear to anyone, not just a person who’s really into the little world you’re writing.

That’s the gist of it.  There’s always, always more to be said about telling stories in art, but the number one thing to remember is that you’re trying to communicate something, and you need to figure out right away what it is that you’re trying to express.

Now, comics...

At a glance, comics are “easier” to use for telling a story -- after all, you can use words!  You can have characters talk!  But there’s a lot more to it than that.  You still need to clearly have a goal in mind for the comic, whether it be to make a senseless, fun comic, or to make one with a story where themes get explored and the reader can notice these overarching themes by the end.  It’s really not a lot of fun to essentially read an RP session you had with a friend, turned into a 40 page comic of walking around and cuddles.  No one wants to really just read a list of events that happened with your friends.  That makes for a very boring, very unfun read.  You’re not really giving us a window into struggles the character goes through; you’re shoving us into what could be a recounting of, as Lexy put it, “Saturday night with your friends.”  No one cares about that.  We have no idea who they are, and we don’t care.  Can you make us care?  Maybe.  Check out the writing advice after this bit.

Comic writing advice overlaps a lot with the advice given by the writing judges below.  After all, there are, you know, words involved.  The plus here is that comic writers get both the benefit of words AND art, able to use both to tell their story.  This also means it’s super easy to get lazy, since you can do a mediocre and sloppy job with both of these things and probably someone can tell the gist of what happened, a lot more easily than if it had been only pictures or only words.  That’s no bueno.  Lazy comics are really apparent at a glance.

Comics give you a wonderful opportunity, so don’t waste it.  I won’t cover the story aspects as much here, since the writing judges are covering that.  (You should read what they have to say even if you enter in the art category; it’s extremely relevant to your entries!  We’re all trying to tell a story!) Let’s talk about each of the aspects of comic-making, and what can kill a comic that could have been really great.

First off, panels.  These are damn important.  You want your eye to naturally be led to the next piece of the story!  And I’ll tell you what you absolutely do NOT want.  You do NOT want NO panels.  I will kill you for that.  I don’t even judge entries usually that can’t manage to add in panels, because it turns it into such an unreadable mess.  If you can’t manage to make nice panels, or it severely detracts from the quality of the page, then get a ruler or use a straight-line tool in your painting program.  Just about all of them have one.  Trust me!

Next?  Text bubbles.  Some of you make wordless comics, and those are difficult (but amazing when done correctly).  This part isn’t for you.  For the rest of you, though... Please, please, please make use of text bubbles.  No one will ridicule your comic for doing so, and no one wants to see the art behind the text bubble.  We can’t even properly appreciate that art anyway if you’re just sticking text with an outline behind it.  You ruin both the text and the art if you’re not making good use of speech bubbles.  So, please.  Please, please, please.  Use them.  I want to cry every time I need to get super close to my monitor to see what your yellow-on-green gangster text says against the forest background.  Don’t do this!  

The Magically Degrading Quality Pages.  This is such a horrible thing to see.  There was an entry I judged where page one was full color art, page two was inked with flat colors, page three was inked, page four was sketched with text bubbles, page five lost the text bubbles, page six was just messy... and then it kept at this worst quality for the entire rest of the 20 page comic.  It broke my heart!  Nothing says “I rushed at the very last moment” like a set of really bad sketches that do not at all match the first 2-3 pages of your comic.  It shows that you did not care much about presentation or the final result.  Yes, school gets in the way etc. etc, life happens, but there’s an easy way around this problem.  

Planning!  Planning comics is great because you can thumbnail big projects before you start to get a sense of what happens when, what you need to fix and move around, how to improve pacing if it comes out poorly the first time you thumbnail it...

Here’s a thumbnail page I did for the first PMD-e doujin:…

It shows a few different thumbnails and a draft of the text that’s supposed to go on each page.  Doing all the thumbnailing actually helps expedite the comic process! Did you know that?  You can cut out the unnecessary parts here and do all the editing before you even get to the main drawings, saving yourself painful work later when you realized that a whole page didn’t quite work right because you didn’t plan out panels or the dialog flowed poorly and you only realized after it was done.  

Thumbnailing lets you understand the scope of your project from the get-go, so that you understand your whole comic will be 20 or so pages from the start.  This way, you don’t have any awful surprise when you have 5 days left to complete your entry in time for judging and then suddenly realize the comic needs another 15 pages to be told at its finest.  Rushing is uncool.

Furthermore, the best way to work on a comic to ensure the quality is evenly spread is to do ALL of the page sketching, then ALL of the inking (or flat coloring), then ALL of the text.  You do things all at once in a single step devoted to solely that step’s goal.  This makes things go quicker all around, and helps give you a very good idea of how long the rest of the project will take.  If it takes, in general, an hour to sketch a page, then you know you need to allot 20 hours over 2 weeks (or whatever) to sketch out your 20 pages.  If all the inking takes you 2 hours each, then you know you need to spend 40 hours over the next 3 weeks to get all that done.  And then you can decide how to use the remaining time left for anything else you want to do -- maybe you have time to color, or maybe you only have time for text.  Who knows?

Sure, this ruins some of the immediate gratification people get from uploading a page at a time to their audience, but it does expedite and unify the pages’ looks in general.  It also makes editing easier early on.  Not to mention helps you manage time a bit better!

I’ll leave the rest of the writing advice to the dudes below.

--P “Treasure” K

Writing a story that gives your characters good development is always a big issue with writers.  It is far too easy to skim over or tell your readers flat out what each event in your story does to define your characters.  Really, the fault lies in the order most writers start to tell their story.  Most people want to tell events that happen to a character, but really it should be the other way around.  One must tell a character in which they react to events.

I suppose that sounds a little zen and cryptic, but let us imagine you, as a person.  You are defined by many things, words, actions, thoughts, beliefs.  All of these things define who you are, and the same applies to your characters.  So what spurs these showings of your traits?  Simple enough: it’s the events that occur throughout your life.  There is a common saying in theatre: “action is reaction”.  By simply reacting to stimulus in the world, you are showing what kind of person you are.  So the same simply applies to your character.

So in order to tell a good story in which your characters are developed, one must think on the characters themselves.  How are they defined?  What traits do they have?  What flaws?  How do they see the world?  These are important questions to ask yourself, and ultimately VERY hard to answer.  It is easy to write characters that you are or you know well (such as friends), but to find a character who is polar opposite of your own personality?  It’s tricky.

Let go with an example.  Let’s say you want to write about a shy eevee who, despite trying his best, seems to always fail with things.  Why would he always fail?  Would it be due to self confidence issues?  Maybe he’s brash and deterministic?  Maybe he just can’t do the things needed to get a job done?  There are more reasons of this, but let us focus on one of these three.  Let us go with the common one, self confidence issues.  Now we go into smaller scrutiny.  Why?  What would cause such a self confidence problem?  Was he the runt of the litter?  Dad always pushed him too hard?  Mother didn’t care for his failures?  Older brother always took top?  We can see the more we question our eevee, we delve into deeper into the rabbit hole, revealing more to you, as a writer, than most people could imagine.  Don’t be afraid of sticking with tropes!  It’s not important if your teammate came from a destroyed village or a happy family, it is how they ‘react’ to the world the group puts forth.

But I feel we’re getting sidetracked.  Let us assume you do the work and effort to flesh out your character.  Now we put him in the world.  This, surprisingly enough, is the easy part.  Going back to our example, we have a shy eevee who always fails.  Now let’s put them into the world of Mission 7.  His teammate (whoever it may be) is gone.  He is alone.  He is shy and afraid.  What mission would you think he took?  He has no confidence in his ability, so obviously he wouldn’t  choose a gung-ho mission.  Most likely he’d stick to the side missions out of fear of failure.  But would he do even good there?  Would he be so afraid to mess up?  Or would he show renown to prove his past wrong and try to succeed (and do so?)  How would he go about doing these things?  Would he show that fearful resolve?  Would he pessimistic to other people’s words?  Would he avoid conflict and talking?  What would he be thinking?

If you’re observant, you noticed that we’ve not actually talked about the writing aspect.  That’s because it’s really not needed at this point!  All these questions I pose to you is the work involved.  You ask these questions and the questions that follow about your character.  What if we had a brash Mamoswine that hated pokemon instead?  How would the questions change?  How would they differ in answers?  By asking and answering these questions, you begin to get into the mindset of your characters.  How they react and interact with people.  You begin to understand what they may be thinking, and by result, what you want to show.

The rest comes naturally, really.  When you get into the mindset of your character, you can begin to write how they /react/.  With that, they begin to write themselves.  You see the characters with a set of morals, actions, and so on;  ultimately distinguishing your characters in the progress.

Also stop using Arceus.  Really.  I’m serious.  Stop it.  You’re being silly.  Bad Writer.  Bad.  No I am not being funny.  Stop it.  STOP.

-Wind “Goto 10” Slash

Introductions are hard to get into sometimes, and I’ve definitely noticed a lot of people seem stuck on how to make them. Unfortunately, most people figure if they just jump right into the mission, or into a random fight occurring sometime in the storyline, that that will be good enough of a start. Rarely does this work as a technique. And even if one decides to open with a heated battle, try to take a moment in story to explain just how they got there. Don’t wait too long to tell us just who we should be rooting for, here!

I can empathise with the difficulty in getting started as well. Sometimes it just feels like you have no idea how to, you just want to get to the ‘real’ story part. But I must advise that you try anyway. Even if you have to force one out initially, there is nothing stopping you from going back and fixing it. I also suggest you not wait until you either ‘feel like it’ or ‘have the time’. Although I am currently attempting to be an author, I do not necessary just feel like starting, like my hands have a burning desire to type. I just open up my word program and go. If you feel like you have a ‘block’, then try to work through it anyway. In my experience, and the experience of others, those tend to go away as long as you’re working. Now back to my main point...

Pacing is vital to a good story, and jumping into action most of the time just leaves a reader confused about what’s going on. As hard as it might be sometimes, it really is better to just start at the true beginning of a story. You may think it’s boring and it’ll push readers away, but in reality it’ll be what brings them in. They’ll learn who your characters are, why they should be invested in them, all that good stuff. Take the extra time and effort to open up earlier in the tale, I can promise it’ll be worth it to the story.

A good thing to do when first getting into a story is the basics: Who, what, when, where, why, and how. Who are your characters? Where are they right now, and where are they heading? Why are they in this position? What happened to bring them here? I see a lot of people jumping into their story and assume everyone has read the journals and prequels, which is a fair assumption, but it leaves a blandness to the story. How did your team react to the situation? How did they find out about what’s going on? I advise you act in story as if there were no such journals, and show your character hearing about it, or seeing it themselves.

Pacing is also good for lengthening out your story. A rushed story is never enjoyable. I did a collaboration with someone once who explained that he used less words and description for a fight to create a rushed, confused feeling for the reader. Unfortunately, the only confusion I felt was in trying to read it. I had to skip several paragraphs just to understand what he was writing. It’s a thin line between being intriguing and being annoying. Even in cases of trying to create an exciting, fast paced battle, description is still needed to make it seem exciting. In these cases, you just need to use it more sparingly than if, say, you wanted to describe the serene beauty of a moonlit forest. Which will take me to my next point.

Travel sequences need pacing and description arguably more than anything else. Never, ever do this in a story.

~Two hours later, in Creeping Forest~

That is a big no no [in fact Wind will kill you in your sleep if you do]. In comics, sure maybe from one page to the next you can show them entering a new area, but in writing it looks awful and worst of all, lazy. I love reading about travel descriptions! And they give a great chance for you to show your character’s thoughts on the situation at hand. And, if you wish, to broaden your vocabulary as you find ways to describe the surrounding area. Done right, descriptions will give a sense of passing time on its own, without you needing to explicitly say it. It’s not so bad to end off a description with ‘By the time they reached the forest, several hours had passed’ or ‘It was nearing nightfall when they reached the forest’, but that’s because we have already gotten the feeling of time passing.

This will also rid you of the problems some writers and artists have, which is that they tell us everything happening instead of simply showing it to us. What this means is that the reader should be able to understand the feelings a character has and the atmosphere a setting brings without you telling us that, say, it’s a tense situation. Especially because no one, in reality, thinks that way. They feel. Show us those feelings in story! It’ll help garner empathy for the character as well, which leads to people feeling invested in the story and coming back for more.

As you can see, pacing is more than just padding out a story. Done right, it can make a bland, unreadable mission into an exciting and intriguing tale that people can’t wait to read more of. Hopefully this is helpful to all of you!

- Lynion “The Dutchess” Poe

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, George went to the store.  At the store, he bought some bread and cheese.  He paid for them, and then he went home.  He made a sandwich and ate it.

Wow!  This story is terrible.  But why?

There's the obvious reason—nothing interesting happens—but I can tell exactly the same story without draining your life force with the power of excruciating boredom.

George set out for his usual morning stroll, a habit he'd done his best to keep up since his doctor had given him a speech about his sedentary lifestyle three weeks ago.  He'd seen it coming, but hearing it from someone wearing a white coat somehow made it all the more real, so he'd adopted this daily walk as a nod towards a healthier self.  His favorite deli was in a sweet spot, too: just far enough away that walking there felt like exercise, but not so far that he dreaded the effort or time spent.  The view was nice enough, as well; most of his route ran along the edge of town, between the last row of cheery old-timey houses and a vast expanse of grassy fields dotted with an ancient oak here and there.

The twenty minutes flew by, and George was almost sad to find himself at the little shop.  It had been here as long as George could remember, and even as a young boy, the butcher had known his name by his third visit and always gave him a generous slice of his favorite sausage to nibble on while browsing the shelves.  He naturally turned to glance at the meat counter at the far right end as he walked in, and saw the familiar broad face grinning at him—Jim was already holding up a toothpick skewered through a fresh disk of meat.

I hope you can see where this is going.

Notice that even less has happened here.  In two paragraphs, this new story has only covered one sentence of the original; George has yet to buy bread and cheese, or even find them on the shelves anywhere.  Yet this version is (I hope!) far more interesting than the original.

The ultimate difference is this: the first story is a mere list of events, as you might find in an encyclopædia.  The second one isn't about a sequence of things that happened; it's about George.  Stories are ultimately about their characters: their desires, their impulses, their reactions, their relationships.  A story that's only about some things that happened is no story at all.

Nearly everyone has heard the "who what when where why" list of questions to ask when writing something.  There's a little trick here: the words are in that order for good reason.  The core of a story is who is involved in it, and why those characters make the plot unique—that is, what can your characters contribute to this story that couldn't be done by anyone else?  If you only mention tasks that anyone anywhere could perform, like buying groceries, then the characters become indistinguishable nobodies.

Only once you know who your characters are can you know what they'll be doing, because you need to put them in situations that emphasize the particular traits you decided on.  You can have a basic skeleton in mind beforehand, of course; I wrote the first story before even thinking about the second, but I filled in the details based on the particular person starting to form in my head.  From here, the setting—the when and where—tend to fall out naturally, but remember that you have to convey them to the reader well enough to provide context for the what.

Why is less about why the character is behaving in a particular way—that should present itself on its own, as long as the behavior is consistent—but why the situations you've constructed occur.  If a character merely stumbles from one conveniently appropriate situation to the next, the plot will feel hollow and artificial.  Sometimes the situations will be normal enough that no explanation is necessary; sometimes you might discover an entirely new plot thread behind what's going on that you can explore; sometimes the character brings everything upon himself.  George's trip to the store became a walk to the store, which was prompted by a doctor's comment at a check-up, which in turn revealed that George probably plays too many video games and needed a kick in the pants to get up and move around.  The little details of why the plot is what it is both made George's world feel less empty (there's a doctor, and a butcher he's known since childhood) and hinted at aspects of his personality that don't need to be mentioned explicitly, but that I could have visited again to make him feel more vivid and real.  And all this just for a walk—something a lot of budding authors would gloss over entirely.

Stories are small worlds, and worlds are complex and vibrant.  Other people on the street may look like anonymous specters to us, but they are just as deep as you, with their own wants and feelings and reasons for being there.  Remember that your readers only know as much as you tell them: your characters are just like those strangers passing by, unless you tell us why they're more interesting than that.  Draw inspiration from your own life, from particularly strong memories: what are the details that stick out to you?  Who was there?  Why was it happening?  What were you thinking about at the time?  Why did you act the way you did?  What led up to the event, and what effects did it have?  Even if your characters have personalities very different from yours, just remembering the questions and knowing what kinds of answers you have is extremely helpful.  Your story should read like a friend telling you a personal story, not a secretary transcribing events in a conference room.

- Lexy ”Diminutive Detective” Eevee

Add a Comment:
agreendayinheaven Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2013
I'm trying to wrap my brain around this whole "thumbnail" thing, but I'm just not grasping the concept. Can someone please explain what it is? I looked at the example already but I just don't get it. :confused:
MissFluffyKitty Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
To me, the thumbnail thing is a way to organize your thoughts or story into a comic page. You use it to figure out how you want to organize your panels, what should be drawn in the panels, and if any words or dialogue should be in there.
agreendayinheaven Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2013
Ok thanks :).
Another-Color Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I gotta say, very helpful journal. It took me a long time to read, but this is one of those interesting "wall of texts" you should read.

Thanks for the advice, guys.
SenpaiLovesYouBakas Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012
This... this is beautiful. I really hope I can stick to this, I think I broke a couple of 'what not to do's but I'll try to improve and get used to it.
blanewind13 Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012
This is very helpful. Thank you guys =)
Tanglecolors Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012
Do you guys have any tips on transitions from place to place in comic making?
I've always been bad at that.
Windshrew Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2012
Typically, your best and safest bet is to find something that links the two transition ends together. It could be an object, a phrase, or even using the time of day.

Just don't do star wipes (copyright LucasArts TM)
Tanglecolors Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2012
ok, thanks!
Winged-Wolf22TM Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Student General Artist
This was very helpful I guess planning out the whole story or thumbnailing aren't my strong points. Just something for me to recognize and work on and to better myself, and technique at comics. Thank you :)
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