Fear in Comics: Gaming the Format

Content warnings: violence, blood, gore.

Fear in Comics: Gaming the Format

Ever searched for a recipe online only to be led to a website where the author goes on and on about their family, job, and dog? Like… your girlfriend is an hour away and you just want to know the ingredients to get at the store – not the cut of meat Bingo (I know right. Lazy dog name) prefers when he is sad. So, trying to avoid that pitfall, let’s get right to the gist of gaming the sequential art format to create tension and horror. Welcome to Fear in Comics Part 2: Gaming the Format

(Spoiler Alert for a bunch of comics and webtoons. Gore Alert. The comic samples used in this article are for academic purposes only. The author isn’t glorifying the acts carried out in the stories.)

Panel and Framing

The Super Long Panel/Margin

(Killing Stalking by Koogi)

Like we discussed in our previous article (Fear in Comics: An Introduction), when it comes to fear, our goal is to play with the audience’s expectations in horrific ways. We build them up, then we linger before we meet or subvert those very expectations we’ve worked so hard to create. It’s a pretty psychopathic process if you ask me, but it works. 

In the vertical scroll comic format, usually just called “webtoons” or “webcomics”, we’ve seen creators use extremely long panels to do just that – creating panels where each scroll gives us new information whilst creating new questions in our minds. As the audience, we dread the very journey to the end of the panel where we know some uncanny reveal awaits us. 

A simpler way of creating that feeling is to have your regular sized panels, but the margin between them becomes the tease (or torture). In Killing Stalking, our protagonist (if we can call him that) has just discovered his crush has a helpless girl gagged and tied up in his basement. Still in shock, we scroll through a very long black margin wondering what our protagonist would do, only for it to be revealed his psychotic crush was standing behind him with a baseball bat in hand. This gorgeous technique, though simple in the grand scheme of things, is very difficult (if possible) to pull off in prose, the classic comic book format, or in a movie. This was birthed by creators who have decided to game the sequential art format to create something truly gripping.

 

The Tight Panel

If you’ve watched the movie, Ex Machina (2014), you would notice how a simple narrative can become so thrilling when the storyteller has mastered the art of the control of information. Giving the audience just enough information to keep them wanting more or putting them in a state of unease can be a very powerful tool in creating tension. And in the visual department, the tight panels, are your best friends. 

(Silver Coin by Michael Walsh)

Usually, in comic books, to help your audience have a sense of space (and location) and so the art can shine in its storytelling, you give the art some room to breathe.

(Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples)

But when it’s time to scare your audience, you can take that privilege away from them. You can tighten the panels so, the audience loses the sense of space, direction, and location. They will also lose a sense of where other characters (or monsters) are or what they’re up to. Limit the amount of information they can get from a panel, and watch the unease and claustrophobia slip in. 

(Babyteeth by Donny Cates and Garry Brown)

Storytelling with Panel Layout

I love simple panel layouts. I find that following a story is usually easier with them, and arguably the most critically acclaimed comic book (Watchmen) has very simple panel layouts. 

(Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett)

But many find them boring and uninspired. They want stories with panels bleeding into each other without demarcations or creatively shaped and placed panels. Lately, I’ve discovered a lot of comic books do both – keeping simple layouts for mundane scenes and going crazy for the dramatic scenes. Why not play around with this expectation?

(Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett)

If you have established in your story that the panel layout stops being a grid every time the monster attacks, so why not retain a grid layout the next time your monster attacks so the audience doesn’t see it coming. You could also go the reverse route by using wild panel layouts to get the audience pumped full of adrenalin for an attack that’ll never happen… yet. 😊 

Don’t just think of panel layouts as tools to tell your story. They can be a part of your story.

The Page Turn

(Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez)

The First Left Panel 

In our previous article (Fear in Comics: An Introduction), we’ve discussed how it can be difficult to shock (or surprise) your audience in comic books because, at the turn of a page, two pages worth of panels are available to you at a mere glance – story spoilers begging you to stare at them. Well, except for the first panel of the left page. That panel is always new (at the turn of the page) - making them perfect for revealing new and shocking information to the audience.

The Last Right Panel

With that logic, you would think the last panel of the right page got the short end of the stick. By the time the reader gets to it, it probably has little to hide. Well, not really. It’s hiding the next set of panels, which is usually another two pages worth of panels. For this reason, creators usually make them cliffhangers. Consider the above image. Two armed men show up at the door. We see they’ve killed two people. We are left to wonder what will happen to the lady who has opened the door for these dangerous men – a cliffhanger. We are forced to turn the page.

In the above image, the last panel to our right also works as our “bomb under the table”. It’s a ghastly image that warns us of the future. The fact that our eyes keep going to that panel, gives a different context to everything we read in the panels that come before it. Tension is immediately created. This tension is only created because we can see both the present and future at a glance in comics. What many see as a flaw becomes a strength in the hands of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

Get Creative

(My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris)

In conclusion, stay curious and keep experimenting. My Favorite Thing is Monsters was illustrated with ballpoint pens in a notebook. Maybe your comic could be illustrated on those classic journalist jotters where you can only view a page at a time. You could go the digital route where whenever something scary is about to happen in your story, the computer takes control of the scroll feature. 

Just have fun. Make mistakes. Learn. The format isn’t a prison. It’s just a torture toolkit, and your audience is the willing victim. 

Comic Recommendation: 

The Magazine: http://skelehime.com/the-magazine.html

Next Episode: 

Fear in Comics: Make Us Care About Your Characters 

 


Fear in Comics: An Introduction

Content warning: gore, blood, and body horror

 

I love comic books. I think it’s one of the most powerful storytelling mediums. Most of my favorite stories of all time (like Extremity, Watchmen, God Country, Secret Wars, Y the Last Man, etc.) were told in the pages of comic books, and some of my favorite authors/writers (Robert Kirkman, Brian K Vaughan, Joe Hill, Jonathan Hickman, etc.) are comic book writers. But I’ll have to admit it, compared to other storytelling mediums, getting a good scare is a rarity in comics. In comics, the consumption pace (speed at which you navigate through the story) is totally up to the reader, and there is no support for sound, so much so that pulling off jump-scares and a whole lot of techniques seen in horror movies are impossible.

(from Basketful of Heads by Joe Hill and Leomacs)

In prose – the other end of the spectrum, every page, every paragraph, every sentence, is a mystery until, well, you read it. But in a comic book page, panels are mere glances away from each other. There is hardly any mystery as to what will happen next. So, how do you then manage to shock and surprise your audience? How do you put eye-widening terror into them?

Either it’s for your next horror comic book project, or a comic book project in another genre that needs a couple of frightening scenes, you can try out some of these simple techniques to unleash fear.

(from New Men by Murewa Ayodele and Dotun Akande)

(Because we’ll be discussing how other creators pulled off fear in their comics, I suppose a SPOILER ALERT for a few comics is in order. Due to the subject matter, GORY IMAGERY ALERT too, I guess)

 

If You Can’t Shock Them, Put Pressure on Them

Without further inspection, we might think fear is only born from the unexpected and the uncertain. But that’s not necessarily true. There is a deeper type of terror that can only be achieved through unwavering certainty. Arguably the universal fear we all have to a degree is the fear of death. And what makes it so damn scary and lasting? Because we know for a concrete certainty that we will die. So, the fear is born from the how and the when of this certainty.

(from Haha #1 by W. Maxwell Prince and Venesa Del Rey)

In your comic project, why not tell us “how your story will end” right from the beginning and watch the pressure build as the audience can’t contain their expectation of that “ending”. And how soon can you give this “ending” away?

(from Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera)

Yup. From the very title of the comic. 

When we choose our titles, we look for options that reflect the uniqueness of our plot, summarizes our theme, showcases our setting or character, etc. But we can get the audience working right from the title of our projects.

I am currently writing an episode for my action-adventure fantasy webtoons series, My Grandfather Was A God, titled Heroes Die Too. From the title reveal, I hope to put pressure on the audience as they wonder which of their beloved heroes will lose their lives. So, this technique is not only limited to horror comics or to opening sequences/scenes. You can mount pressure as early as from your cover page.

(Here is what the great Alfred Hitchcock has to say about the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPFsuc_M_3E)

Art & Book Design

A lot of the techniques we’ll be evaluating will require playing with the reader’s expectations. Your art and book design are powerful tools in your creative toolbox to this effect.

Let’s consider Jupiter’s Legacy. The art and book design for the comic book series is bright, colorful, and hopeful. So, when truly despicable acts by the characters start to unfold, they are very shocking, jarring, and most importantly, unexpected. 

(from Jupiter’s Legacy by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely)

Whereas in comics like Something is Killing the Children, the inks are scratchy, the colors are dull, black borders & margins are common, and there are a lot of blacks in general. From the very first panel, the reader understands this is not the book to read alone in the night.

(from Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera)

There are lots of directions to take but the key is to be fully aware of the strengths your art choice brings to the story.

Make Us Care for Your Characters

Unlike motion pictures, the budget for a comic page is the same whether it’s just a couple of guys having a drink at the pub or Cthulhu going bunkers in a city made of glass. This creative freedom is one of the reasons comics are so powerful, but it’s also the reason comic book creators rush to deal great violence on their characters. I’m sorry but no matter how much of a character’s intestines you show us, if we don’t care about the character, we won’t care what happens to them.

The Boys is a series that’s often criticized for its excessive use of violence and gore, but the death of Robin, both in the comic series and the TV show, hits like a truck because in the little time we’ve spent with her, we had fallen head over heels for her.

(from The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson)

This may be true for all storytelling, but it is especially true in comics; making us care about the characters (and the stakes), in turn makes us scream when they enter the wrong room, cry when the door locks behind them, and remain completely motionless when a wide sinister grin shows up in the shadows. 

Game the Format

(from The Walking Dead Deluxe by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard)

For your floppy comic books and graphic novels, why not put the shocking imagery and/or big reveals on the left-side pages. This way, the reader can’t see them until the turn of the page – retaining your ability as the storyteller to create some mystery and surprise.

(from Unholy Blood by Lina Im and Jeonghyeon Kim)

You could also try telling your story as a vertical scroll webcomic. In this format, readers can be forced to view a single comic panel at a time – giving some control of information back to the creator.

So, research on print and digital formats that’s best for your story. The right story told well in the right format is sure to give readers the good kind of Stockholm’s syndrome 😊.

There is Strength is Subtlety

Let’s be honest. No number of unreadable words thrown across a comic panel could replace hearing the scream of a victim as a monster crunches down on their skull swelled by the incorporation of ominous music. Even the most talented of artists struggle to replicate simple cinematic experiences. Reading a comic book is not the same as a trip to the theatre, so why do comic creators try to replicate the same kind of horror? And when comic creators aren’t trying to replicate the same kind of horror as cinema, they try to overcompensate. Till today, I don’t understand why I was subjected to reading pages and pages of an old lady’s corpse being tossed in a washing machine from a horror anthology I read recently.

(from Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett)

And what are some of those subtle ways to instill fear?

Uncanny Valley

You can create unsettling imagery with your understanding of the uncanny valley.

(from Shingeki no Kyojin by Hajime Isayama)

Phobias

Experiment with real life phobias… bugs (although overused), mushrooms growing on people, darkness, drowning, etc. For example, I have the very real phobia of grouped holes called Trypophobia. If you create a monster that puts those weird patterns on people’s bodies, you’ll definitely scare and creep me out way more than intestines hanging over a flagpole. 

(from Basketful of Heads by Joe Hill and Leomacs)

Constant Feeling of Dread

Some critics say there is nothing scary about a slow-moving threat. They want the threat dangerous and fast, but I think there is more than one way to skin a man. In The Walking Dead, the zombies are slow but they are numerous and ever-present. If you’re in the toilet, they could be the ones knocking at the door and not Mr. Can’t-Hold-It-In-Anymore. You could jump into a pool and they could be the one’s that’ll catch you midair. Because of this, we the audience are never relaxed. We are always tensed because no place is safe. 

(from Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino)

Your story doesn’t have to feature zombies, but why not create an inescapable threat that’s ever-present to get your audience tensed for many pages. Comics shine with stories like this.

In Conclusion

These aren’t all the tools available to you for introducing fear into your comic projects, rather, a scratch of the surface; one I hope can build up your confidence in your capacity to infuse different emotions into your comic projects – including FEAR.

Join me next time as we delve deeper into the intricacies of storytelling in horror comics. See you soon, but in the meantime… have fun making comics.

Enjoy horror comics? Why not try:

  1. Gideon Falls
  2. The Walking Dead
  3. Basketful of Heads
  4. Something is Killing the Children
  5. Hellstar Remina

Preparedness, the Archive, Your Bio and Blurb

The work of writing requires another kind of work  --- the work of preparing materials that support your presence as an author. It can be a drag or it may be a joy; sometimes it's both.

Most publications now request and require a couple of things that you should have at the ready: these are a bio and a head shot. Not having them at the ready can also affect your future publication and participation in a particular venue.

Every writer should have at hand a bio, short for biography. This biography can take many forms depending on where you are in your journey.  Most often requested in the third person, it includes your name, perhaps where you're from or where you currently live, perhaps your degrees, your awards, and your publications. I strongly suggest that you write a long one, maybe two pages, and then a one-page one, and then 100 word  and a 50-word one. The publication will specify the kind they want and the length of bio they want. More and more request them upon submitting. I've been asked for 50-word bios, 100-word bios, and, more rarely, 150-word bios. You must think of this well before the time of request or submittal, and have it at the ready because the moment that it is required is rarely a moment that you want to think of the cleverest and most authentic way to present yourself. I recommend that you review this annually and that you update it. Read it aloud, get a friend to vet it.

I also recommend that you keep a literary vita, a literary resume where you list every publication, including the name of the editors, the date of publication, and the website linked to it. This forms the basis for your bio recollection and having this data kept updated regularly is very useful, should you want to apply for nearly anything. I keep such a list and I came to find out that I've been published every year since 1974 except one. Isn't that a cute and compelling line? It doesn't survive every bio I write, but when there's more room it's a nice thing to mention. I’m able to say that and prove it because I've kept a list of my publications from 1974 to date. You should keep a list of your appearances if you do readings as they do accumulate and may be fodder for your bio or information for some other application.

Another thing that you have to have,  in this era of internet and online worlds is a headshot, in other words, a picture where your face is prominent and there's nothing else in the frame. This too may be requested, as any number of publications like to show who the authors are, as well as tell who the authors are. If you have it at the ready, it makes life so much easier for a presenter. I use the image of the reader in the promotions that I create for my reading series. I create several different flyers for each reader and release them at different times so it's helpful for me to have the headshot and the bio.

I have also needed bios for collections and anthologies that I've worked on. Readers want to know a bit about the authors, don't you? Every time I read a piece I like and look for a bit more about the author, it enhances my experience to make that connection. So know that you should be ready to provide that for your readers.

A timely response is as critical as having these tools–– that is, a commitment to timeliness in answering professional emails. From the editor/presenter's perspective, nothing is more irksome than chasing down authors for their information.  If you get a lot of emails, consider getting an email account dedicated to your writing so you can see immediately when a publication/venue is trying to get in touch.

I’ve had writers miss pay days because I needed their information or a grant. They didn’t get back to me for weeks and so missed the funding. These are people I never want to work with again, because while it was their loss, it was also an expenditure of my energy and concern. Sometimes days are too long when everyone else answers in hours, the person that took 3 days is out. When a bunch of people answer immediately and one doesn’t – there’s a message there.

Your goal as a writer or creator should be to routinize and make the administrivia as seamless, automatic and pain free as possible. Routinize recording your publications and appearances, keep a head shot handy and organize your email.


Non-Fiction Writers: The Unsung Heroes of the Industry

For some reason or another, non-fiction’s never gotten its due. When we debate who belongs in the pantheon of great writers, rarely will the likes of Maya Angelou, James Boswell, or Ralph Waldo Emerson be brought up. If they happen to be, they’ll likely be relegated to their own category away from the ‘real’ writers that we should be talking about. As is usually the case in publishing, speculative writers have it even worse, with only the nonfiction written by noted spec-fic writers receiving any significant attention (barring a few exceptions here and there). Those who channel their energies exclusively into short nonfiction seem to be left out of the conversation entirely, their work being treated more like a flavor of the day conversation piece than a genuine literary accomplishment. Which is a damn shame because, for years, short nonfiction writers have toiled away at quality work for measly sums and little-to-no recognition even though they are as integral to the speculative genre as any of the major fiction writers.

We mustn't forget that short nonfiction is the primary outlet for us writers and readers to air out our grievances with the SFF market and, more importantly, to propose ideas on how to change things for the better. Short nonfiction also informs us on what to (and what not to) do when it comes to both our writing and careers, offering us invaluable advice that we’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

We are as influenced by short non-fiction as we are by the classics and what’s popular in the market right now, but that influence never translates into anything substantial for short nonfiction writers. As it stands, their work is never recognized in any significant way, their writing is rarely, if ever, collected, and more often than not, pro magazines don’t even pay them pro rates. There are very few outlets that even bother to publish speculative nonfiction, and writers who place their works in academic journals are bound to go both unpaid and unread.

If we want to move this industry forward, we have to do something about this. We can no longer allow the unsung heroes of speculative fiction to be taken advantage of like this. They deserve better, and I don’t think anyone reading believes otherwise.

So how do we remedy this?

For starters, their pay needs to be bumped. It might be tough right now to allow to them make a living off it, but at the very least it should be worth their time. If that’s not feasible, and I doubt it isn’t, they should at least be recognized for their work in this field in a way that would further their careers and up their pay. That’s why the major spec-fic awards need to begin recognizing short non-fiction writers. Having some of these awards on your resume is a career boost that few other accomplishments in this field could ever hope to match. Even if someone doesn’t pay heed to awards, it’s hard to argue that some of these awards won’t open doors that would otherwise be closed for these writers based on their work in this niche. And even if they don’t, we should still do it because short non-fiction writers deserve to be recognized just like anybody else.

Now, the industry isn’t entirely to blame for this. They merely cater to what we readers are willing to pay for, and the noticeable dearth in essay and article collections is mainly on us. Even writers who are having their fiction published will have a hard time trying to sell their nonfiction because they’re not big enough names to warrant it. We’ve also developed a nasty habit of shirking at the thought of paying for what we read from magazines or new sites. Many thought a sustainable model could exist with ad revenues, but as these revenues trend downward, publications are having to rely on donations more and more to sustain themselves. If it works, that’s great, but the way the market currently operates has it prioritizing fiction writers' pay with non-fiction being treated as an afterthought that could be included if the budget permits it. Plenty of short non-fiction writers are even expected to work for free, and those that aren’t have better-paying options elsewhere.

After all, writing quality nonfiction is hard work. It takes a certain skill set and talent that’ll allow you to excel in other fields where your efforts would be more appreciated. The only reason anyone even bothers to write these short non-fiction pieces is because they’re passionate about what they have to say and want to change things for the better with it.

We shouldn’t make them pay the price for that.


Make a Thing Month(s)!

There's a chill in the air tinted by the ever-increasing energy of spooky season starting. Which means for those of us in the northern hemisphere, sweater season, warm drinks, and falling leaves. It also means that rolling around the corner are the months of creating things, of making and sharing (or not sharing!) art and writing and whatever else you might have in mind. Whether you're an artist, a writer, or just a creative looking for inspiration from prompts, October and November are excellent times to come together, find a spot in the community among other creatives, and encourage each other to make things.

The goal of these challenges isn't to gain popularity, or to compete with each other. You could go the entire next few months quietly creating away, supported by the community, and never share a thing. The important part is the process! Let the creative juices flow!

Under the cut is a collection of art challenges/prompts. Most of these are intended for use for art, but the creators are quite flexible - tag them so they can see (if that's your sort of thing) or keep them to yourselves, they can even make great prompts for poetry or short fiction.

And, as NaNoWriMo peeks around the corner, be sure to pop by the Dream Foundry Discord server (discord.gg/dreamfoundry) and join the community of writers there for support, sprints, helpful advice, and more! Not a writer? Come by anyway - the Dream Foundry server is a space for all creatives, artists, game devs, comics makers, and more!

Read more


An Interview with the Dream Foundry's Writing Contest Coordinator Vajra Chandrasekera

In light of the Dream Foundry’s Writing Contest opening submissions, we asked writing contest coordinator Vajra Chandrasekera a few questions about the contest and what these sorts of opportunities mean for emerging writers.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the process of reading and evaluating submissions? How does it differ – if at all – from reading slush for a magazine?

It’s really quite similar! All submissions are read and responded to; a shortlisted selection will be discussed further, and final selections will be made out of that.

How do contests and open submissions drive the creation of encouraging environments for emerging writers?

Effectively, or so I hope. Writers need opportunities to be paid and recognized for their work; writers at the beginning of their career, especially, need more opportunities that aren’t predatory or exploitative like the Church of Scientology's Writers of the Future contest; or foreclosed by restrictive eligibility criteria or entry fees like many prestigious literary fiction magazines and contests; or walled off into invitation-only prestigious genre publications.

Professional development spaces for emerging writers are not necessarily easily accessible to those who need it most. How do you see opportunities like the Dream Foundry’s writing contest fitting into the professional development of new and upcoming writers?

I think nine-tenths of “professional development” for a short story writer at the beginning of their career is learning how to make their own practice effective. This means figuring out what they want to write about and what they’re good at writing, and writing more stories where they do those things, ideally at the same time. Sometimes it's just that a contest gives you a clearly defined set of constraints to work within, which can be very productive. Sometimes it's good to hang out in a discord with a bunch of other people who are trying to solve the same problems you are—so you can commiserate and share experiences and animal pictures, if you're into that sort of thing, and even if not, these are good spaces to eventually share knowledge about the industry, too.

Do you have any advice on how emerging writers can get the most out of participating in the writing contest?

One of the most difficult hurdles in a writer's entire career, in a rather cruel irony, is the very first one: submitting your work for consideration in a contest or for publication. I think most of us struggle with it in the early going. It takes practice for it to stop feeling like a huge leap of faith every time—it never stops being a leap of faith, but you do get used to the jump. So if you're a writer eligible for the contest who wants to participate but is already stressing about whether you can even write something for it, you're exactly the person this thing is for.

What kind of experience do you believe transfers from the writing contest to publishing at large? What can emerging writers learn from this process?

If you want to write and publish, then you have to write and submit work as much as you can. This may sound like a mere tautology, or maybe too simple to require saying out loud, but it's neither of those things in real life. Properly connecting the back half of that sentence to the front half can be the work of years, but what matters is that you get started—and when it falls apart, that you get started again.

 

Interested in joining a community of other writers participating in the contest? Come join our Discord server (discord.gg/dreamfoundry) where you can discuss writing and ask for help in #writer-chat, ask for and receive feedback in #find-crit-beta, discuss industry goings-on in #industry-chat, or just come update us on your story progress in #am-working!


SFF Craft and Industry Resources for and by Black Creators

Here at Dream Foundry, we encourage and support new creatives in the field of SFF. As the internet has provided a wealth of resources for new and emerging creators, we've compiled a list specifically geared toward Black creators and helping get more Black voices out into the world.

The list currently skews quite heavily toward writing but we continue to search for and add to this page as new opportunities arise. Please feel free to check back and/or to drop us a line if you see something we haven't added.

Representation

Manuscript contest with the award being rep by DongWon Song. Genre: Commercial fiction, also MG and YA speculative and contemporary and graphic novels. Black writers only.

https://publishingishard.substack.com/p/the-only-lasting-truth-is-change

Scholarship/Resources:

Jobs

Residency:

Events:

Art/Design

Directories:

Lit Mags


Flights of Foundry, May 16-17, 2020

Interview with Flights of Foundry Guest of Honor Ken Liu

In case you don't know, we're hosting a virtual convention this weekend, May 16th and 17th, called Flights of Foundry. We've got a ton of great content lined up that will be going almost 24 hours a day, including panels, interviews, seminars, workshops, and more. If you want to check out our schedule, go here. And when you decide you absolutely have to attend, you can register for the con using this link.

We have a plethora of Guests of Honor that we've invited to attend the convention to give you insight into the world of professional writers, artists, translators, and editors in the speculative genres. And today we have a special treat, because one of our Guests of Honor, Ken Liu, is here to do an interview in advance of his appearance!

Read more


Flights of Foundry, May 16-17, 2020

Flight of Foundry

Dream Foundry is thrilled to announce Flights of Foundry, a virtual convention for speculative creators and their fans. Registration is open and the convention will take place May 16-17. Our guests of honor are:

Comics: Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Editor: Liz Gorinsky
Fiction: Ken Liu
Games: Andrea Phillips
Illustration: Grace Fong
Translation: Alex Shvartsman and Rachel S. Cordasco

In addition to panels and information sessions, our programming will include workshops, a dealer's room, consuite (yes, a virtual consuite!), and more.

There is no cost to register, though donations to defray costs and support Dream Foundry's other programming are welcomed. Dream Foundry is a registered 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting creators working in the speculative arts as they begin their careers.

To register, go to: https://flights-of-foundry.org/registration/
For more information about the convention: https://flights-of-foundry.org/
You can learn more about Dream Foundry or check out our other programs by visiting our website: https://dreamfoundry.org/


Mastering Plot

So you’ve decided to write a story. You have a cast of amazing characters, you’ve settled down with your drink of choice and your favorite writing accoutrements, and you’re all set to write The Best Story Ever.

And you have no idea what to do with those characters. You need a plot.

According to Ronald B. Tobias, there are twenty “master” plots that encompass all of human storytelling (or at least the whole of Western canon and the most famous examples of Asian and possibly African canon—literary theory is racist and imperfect so take this with a healthy grain of salt). These master plots are:

  1. Quest
  2. Adventure
  3. Pursuit
  4. Rescue
  5. Escape
  6. Revenge
  7. The Riddle
  8. Rivalry
  9. Underdog
  10. Temptation
  11. Metamorphosis
  12. Transformation
  13. Maturation
  14. Love
  15. Forbidden Love
  16. Sacrifice
  17. Discovery
  18. Wretched Excess
  19. Ascension
  20. Descension

I find Tobias’s Master Plots extremely useful as a guide to help frame a plot, because like many writers, I am very good at beginnings and endings but not as strong at middles.

So if you have a bunch of characters with personalities and backstories but you don’t quite know what to do with them, the master plots can help you decide on a plot structure that suits them. Remember: The key word here is “help.” The plot structure you choose should serve the characters’ extant goals, drives, and exploit the conflicts inherent to their personalities, not just be the one that makes you think, “Oh, that’d be cool!”

In my own work, I like to separate The Plot (macro) from The Story (micro). The Story is all the details of what happens to the characters, while The Plot is what’s happening at large to propel the story forward.

Example: The Story of Hamlet is everything with ghosts and murders and damned incest and depressed Danish princes, while the Plot is the backdrop of international politics that’s happening during Hamlet’s breakdown and in spite of it.

Another example in this vein would be a long-running D&D campaign if/when a character dies and a new one is created. The Plot, in this case a Quest, must still go on.

The Plot has to keep moving forward (somehow) in spite of the Story (or Stories) happening between the characters. I’d advise against having more than one or two Plots in a given piece, but you can have as many Stories as you can juggle, and you can use the same list of types for Stories as well as Plots.

So, let’s say you have a deeply religious fellow as your main character—we’ll call him George. You decide to build a Forbidden Love plot around George. (Tobias differentiates a Forbidden Love plot from a Love plot because in this master list, a Forbidden Love always ends tragically.)

In this plot, George can still have a Rivalry with another character or make Sacrifices for his friends or family, and even go on Adventures, but none of those are the central point of tension in the piece. The driving force of the narrative, the thing that pushes George forward, is that tragic Forbidden Love plot.

As I said above, the key thing to remember about using a master plot to structure your story is that one word, “help.” The plot structure hasto make sense for the characters you have—for all of your supporting characters as well as your main ones. You can make almost any set of characters work with almost any plot…but then the word to remember is “work.” Some plots aren’t a good fit for some characters, and while you can do the extra legwork to make them fit, it will take more time and more effort on your part and might well end up not being the story you wanted or needed to write.

Figure out who your characters are, what motivates them and what they need, and then decide on a plot that is most suited to those needs and motivations. It doesn’t necessarily mean the characters will all get what they want, in the end, but it does mean that you as the author will be utilizing your characters to their best advantage to serve the needs of the story.

Now go forth and plot!