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How to Write Comics by the great Alan Moore (excerpt).



Alan Moore – writing comics

What comics is and what it is not.

Comics is a motion picture that has NEITHER movement nor soundtrack. If compared to literature, it can fall short of scope, depth and purpose.

Rather than focus on the short fallings of comics compared to motion picture and books, comics strengths are in presenting information that can be more complex and non-linearly presented.

Easier to read than a book and more brainy than a movie.

– If I am watching a film, I am trapped in the rigid framework dictated by the film’s time frame but in comics, one can flip the pages back and forth easily.

Conversation tend to happen too fast in a film and cannot hold too much information or will lose the audience.

In a comic, conversation can be read at comfortable pace.

And compared to novels, comics are the better medium because it is in line with the new generation’s greater visual orientation – the generation that grew up watching TV.

In other words, it has CROSS CULTURAL appeal. – visuals is a universal language.

Comics gives more immediate attention than words can do.


elements of a story

1.) IDEA

The IDEA is what the story is about, not the plot or the unfolding events in a story. Ideas can be simple or complex but it MUST be there.

It’s hard to pin down where ideas come from but probably germinate at the point of cross fertilizing between one’s artistic influence and one’s experience.

There is no substitute for LIFE EXPERIENCE.

A story doesn’t have to start with an idea but it has to have one if it wishes to have any impact at all.


A story to communicate an idea, so you have to think about the reader.

While your job is not to offend, you are also wrong to pitch your work to the lowest common denominator as most mainstream media tries to do. Something about a mass market … This can be “inoffensively offensive.”

Its very hard to judge what an audience for your work is like so you really have to choose WHO you are writing for and hope your work will find your way to him/her.

It helps that your raw material is human thoughts and human feelings and ideas.

Anybody who intends to mess around in the mass consciousness for a living ought to be aware of the material he is working with and how it behaves in certain circumstances.

The common denominator that you are pursuing is therefore not the lowest common denominator of public acceptability but rather the denominator of basic humanity.

No matter how special or unique we all think we are, there are certain basic human mechanisms that we share.

If you can identify and use these mechanisms to your own satisfaction then you will have a much better basis for producing worthwhile art.


structure is basically the shape that the story will take.

You will choose a structure that seems to best suit the effect you want your story to have, but beyond that it doesn’t really matter which structure you choose.

The important is that you UNDERSTAND the structure of your work.

4.) TRANSITIONS – pacing, rhythm, smoothness of flow.

Transition is a least understood storytelling devices

The link between one scene and another is the most tricky.

You must move from scene to scene without drawing attention to the fact that you have moved or this would disturb the readers delicate state of involvement in the story.

Transitions can be weak points that wake the readers up from hypnosis.

“A successful story of any kind should be almost like hypnosis: You fascinate with your first sentence, draw them in with your second and have them in mild trance by the third. Then be careful not to wake them, you carry them away up the back alleys of your narrative and when they are hopelessly loss within the story, having surrender themselves to it, you do them terrible violence with a softball bat and then lead them whimpering to the exit on the last page. Believe me, they’ll thank you for it.”

In a comic book, PACING can be controlled by how much dialogue there is to read in panels and how much detail in the panel.

While this doesn’t give you the rigid time control of a movie, you can guide how long your reader should spend eyeing a particular scene, and should be geared towards the scene at hand.

A thoughtful and pensive scene would probably work best with quite a slow pace.

A fast action scene, would work better if moved fast, with minimal dialogue to slow down the action.

Learn the comic beat – transition between one panel and another and its intended effect.

It should be born in mind that a narrative device are only there for conveying your story or some part of it.

If you have a brilliant idea for a narrative device and it doesn’t fit the story, leave it out.


Your story takes place somewhere and happens to someone – know them well.

characterization, depiction of environment and plot – this three elements form a whole.

explaining an environment is the easiest but least effective method.

First you must consider your story environment and research the details.

Most of these will never be used in the story but the writer must have the environment in his head at all times so that the story can seem “real’ and you can talk your story confidently without having to pull out exposition every time.

A logically constructed world for your story to be set in will go a long way to suspending the disbelief of your reader and dragging them into a hypnosis previously mentioned.


study yourself and people around you in detail and you will see that stereotype often doesn’t work.

The voice of the character is often underplayed.

How we speak depend on how our mouth is shaped and we each have a different, recognizable lisp and accent.

So that not everyone is a moving puppet with the voice of the puppet master.

One conclusion I have come to is that almost everyone has a practically infinite number of facets to their personality but chooses to focus upon no more than a handful for most of the time.

We all have areas within ourselves that are cruel, mean-spirited, cowardly, lecherous, violent and greedy.

Conversely, all of us have sides that are noble, heroic, unselfish or loving, whether we care to admit them or not.

Dealing with a multitude of different character types that you’ll probably create in the course of your writing career is at once absorbing and demanding.

You will be forced to consider people who are either politically and morally offensive to you and try to understand them.

6.) The PLOT

What a plot is not – A plot isn’t the main point of the story or the story’s main reason for existing.

It is something that is there more to enhance the central idea of the story and the characters who will be involved in it than to dominate them and to force them to fit its restrictions.

There are plenty of tried and tested formula to fall back on. Cause and reaction is the most overused.

What is difficult is to come up with a plot that gets a stronger reaction than – “so what?”

An obsession with the demands of a concrete and linear plotline is often one of the most dependable ways to crush all the life and energy from your story and make it simply an exercise in mechanical narration.

“Some stories may need very complex plots and other stories may have no plot at all.”

The plot is sometimes there as just a device to move the reader’s interest through this world, taking in the sights and to provide an illustration of how things work in this landscape.

A good one-FRAME detailed painting in itself can contain a plot – think about that.

So how do you come up with a plot if you need one?

– Look at the whole thing and try to see the whole shape before you try to get down to specifics and describe the parts.

A plot is the combination of characters and environment with the single element of time added to it.

If the environment and the character can be called – the situation – then the plot is a situation as seen in four dimensions – character, environment, situation and time.

Each panel in a comic must be like a fine painting – a frozen moment purposefully chosen that allows us to move around within it, mentally, enjoying the subtle shifts in perspective and meaning.

Plot then is the fourth dimension – also known as passing of time.

But it must be a continuum with a past, a present and a future otherwise its a meaningless series of causal and effect events.

For example, you can have a plot that often takes place over a couple of weeks but contains the history of 45 years within and the hope of the future all coming together in the present.

That is the true function of the plot – a narrative thread to tie down the story.

The Plot is NOT the story.


Now you must make your idea, character, environment and plot all fit into the limited pages of a comic and within the panels.

This is story designing – you must have a rough idea where you will have a splash page, where there will be a twist and turn to the story so that you keep the reader hooked.

And you must have enough pages left at the end for a comfortable ending and not abrupt.

If you have done everything else and got it, this is the easy part – it is cut and paste work.

A final element – style of language – verbal narrative.

What separates an interesting sentence from a dull one. it’s not the subject, it’s not the big words.

It’s something in the arrangement of words that brings whole structure alive with meaning and makes a powerful impression upon the reader, not the content of those words.

In other words, big words don’t impress. small words arranged well does.

The element of surprise is often the most appealing thing about a sentence… the surprising use of a word or the juxtaposition of two interesting concepts.

Also lastly, consider verbal rhythm – does dialogue read out well?

8.) The X FACTOR

If you want to be a truly great writer, it is perhaps worth remembering that even in this, it is more important to be a good human being than to be a good writer.

The artists … writers, painters, musicians … whose voices speak loudest to us across the centuries are those that turned out to have the most profound souls, those who turned out to actually have something to say that was of lasting human value.

Love people. Love yourself and love the world.

It’s only when we love things that we see them in their most lucid and perfect aspect; that we truly know them.

And if you want to write about something, then you must know it, you must understand it as fully as possible.


Your imagination, dare to experiment and trying ideas which you are not sure will work is the reason you became a writer – NOT to sell the same story over and over again.



Brian M Logan