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Month: November 2019

Narrative through Panel Descriptions

[ Main site recommended reading: Visualizing Panels, Panel Descriptions, Visual Writing… there’s another one, but for the life of me I can’t remember which one it is, I’ll come back and update here when I remember.]

Panel 3:

Frank Castle shoots the Kingpin.

I see this kind of panel description all the time in comic scripts. I see folks, even established writer folks, defending it as legitimate loose scripting. I generally call it insufficient, lazy writing, but above all, I call it missed opportunity.

Remembering back to the Working Writer’s Guide to Comics; the four essential elements of every comic panel are:

  • Emotion
  • Comictography
  • Mise-en-Scene
  • Movement

All four of these are absent in the above panel description.

But even forgetting the four cornerstones of comic panels, we can simply ask “what is this panel telling us in the story, other than the action at hand (which we could only hope, has significant implications)?

Answer: literally, nothing.

Every panel in a comic is a chance to control and express the narrative of the story. While it is possible to do this with broad, loose strokes, the devil truly is in the details.

Hey, whaddya know, dialogue/narration can make a huge difference in expressing narrative throughout a comic… but for this article, let’s ditch dialogue and focus just on the panel descriptions.

Also keep in mind, much of the time you will express deep narrative movements through a sequences of panels. Sort of reverse engineering things backwards from the kind of panel descriptions above is a bit tricky… eh, screw it, let’s revisit this panel description anyway and see if we can’t improve it, actually expressing the narrative through added details;

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Defining Genre

Unless you were born and raised on a deserted island, you’ve been exposed to fiction your entire life and have an innate understanding of genre; the classification of fiction based on shared form, style and subject matter.

I’ve been working on a breakdown of genre conventions in the primary genres I work in. This article is going to expand on the essence of recognizing and defining genre for your work and serve as a prelude to that material.

Genre

If we traveled back in time to the creation of the first “story,” it would be void of genre. Even if it dealt with goblins, trolls, knights, dragons, wizards, and fantastic realms, it would not be classified as “fantasy.” It would simply be the story, as there would be no other pieces of fiction to compare it to.

Genre emerges only through the collective view of numerous works.

Through this collective view and categorization of fiction, genre gives rise to conventions and obligatory scenes; traditional, typical, and expected expressions. For this reason it’s important to recognize your genre(s); in order to satisfy readers by both delivering and subverting what is expected.

You can recognize genre before you write, using it as a guide in your discovery process, or, you can assess genre after you’ve written, using it as a guide in your editing process… either approach can be successful (though perhaps the most effective technique is to employ both).

 

The Parent Genre: Drama

To some extent all stories are a drama. That is to say, all (well-crafted) stories are more than a mere sequence of events, but a dramatization of those events, with specific narrative purpose.

Drama is the all encompassing genre, with the flexibility to contain and explore all human emotion.

Drama as a genre by itself is more serious in tone, focusing on character arc development and theme. Drama as a genre digs deep into the humanity behind the story.

Similarly, any genre of fiction can push more toward the dramatic, focusing more on character arc development and theme than the other elements that define its underlying genre.

While all fiction will have dramatic moments, don’t label your story the drama genre if the humanity and character interaction are overshadowed by other genre elements.

Because drama as a genre will so often be paired with other genres, clients often hear me refer to the stand alone drama work of fiction as the “straight drama.”

By moving from the general Drama to focus on a more specific emotion, the first base levels of genre begin to take shape. Notice that the emotion is the specific and guiding force here.

 

The Six Base Genres

Regardless of genre, all good fiction delivers a complete experience and expresses a wide range of human emotion. However, the base genres (as I refer to them) have a more intimate relationship with one specific emotion. I define the six base genres as follows;

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