The 5 Golden Rules to Follow When Writing Your Comic

1) Follow a Four Act Structure, NOT THREE


You heard right!  You may be well aware of the three act story structure, where you have your story split into three parts or acts: the Setup, the Confrontation and the Resolution. However not many people are aware of the not so common fourth act that fits right before the Confrontation and the Resolution.  Many great movies and stories actually contain this fourth act and may even fail to realize it themselves.  Although it may very well be a three act structure that is followed in most stories to a tee, it is exactly this type of story that falls a bit flat since it does not contain something that is a key ingredient to a flavorful story.  

What is that ingredient? Well my friend, it is the evolution of a character that is necessary for our hero to succeed.  I’ll put a simple example, we have our hero fight the big bad guy the first time around, and our hero has all the confidence and skills needed to fight him.  He goes into battle and uses all the skills he or she knows, however sadly our hero is torn apart and gets beaten, very badly; our hero has his mind, body and or spirits shattered to the point of no return.

Now, in order for him or her to defeat the big bad antagonist, he or she must evolve and become the hero needed to defeat the big bad guy.  Whether it’s a physical, mental, spiritual journey, or perhaps even Batman level of research, our hero must transcend his current self and undergo a metamorphosis in order to defeat the evil antagonist. This is similar to how Rocky trains hard before fighting the tall evil Russian. or how the Karate Kid must undergo a spiritual martial arts training journey with Mr. Miyagi to defeat his long time bully, Johnny Lawrence.  Lets call this fourth act, hmm I don’t know, “The Evolution.” 


“…our hero must transcend his current self and undergo a metamorphosis in order to defeat the evil antagonist.”


2) Know How Your Story Will End

If you haven’t figured out what your major plot points are, or if your are having a bit of trouble with figuring it all out, you seriously need to consider figuring out the final confrontation first. Doing so not only gives you a better idea on how all your plot points will fit together into this beautiful thousand piece puzzle you’ve created, it helps you flesh it out with much greater detail.  

Also by knowing how your story is going to end, it will give you more room to play with the plot points in your story and introduce, exciting plot twists and turns; after all you already know how it’s supposed to end. Just like that the entire story is now putty in your hands. This will give the reader an exciting and fulfilling experience, that will leave them with a satisfactory smile at the end.  

One thing you must keep in mind though, is to be sure that the resolution is not something so easy or so straightforward that it cheapens the story entirely.  This is the main event, the climax of your story the reader has been waiting for this moment ever so patiently to see what tricks the writer is going to perform.  So make sure that your hero doesn’t just finish the job so quick that it leaves the reader unfulfilled (and um, there’s a premature joke that goes here). Make sure that the resolution is something that the character couldn’t have possibly known or learned at the beginning of your story.  

“…it will give you more room to play with the plot points in your story and introduce, exciting plot twists and turns; after all you already know how it’s supposed to end.”

3) Make Your Characters Relatable

Nothing distances your reader more than the all-powerful protagonist, who is the super skillful character that barely has any flaws.  He or she is just the biggest, baddest, coolest character, who barely shows any emotion to any situation.  This kind of character is not only the biggest mistake you want to write about, it is also one that becomes easily predictable and will give the reader no reason to doubt his or her success; therefor not giving them much reason to be invested in such a character.  

You’ll want to give a flaw or flaws to your characters to add some human dimension to them. Perhaps your main character is one that possesses a great martial arts skill, but lacks the ability to be a great martial artist because he or she simply does not work well with others, and perhaps working in a team is the key to defeating the main villain.  Or perhaps our main hero just lacks brains or any fighting skills needed to face up against a new threat. There are a million and one angles you can use to make your main hero less than perfect.

Let’s take it a step further and paint your protagonist as the underdog to your story.  Try to remove anything, and I mean ANYTHING that makes the character extremely likable by everyone or too powerful. Incapacitate the character, and have your character evolve to become that person needed to defeat the big bad guy or situation.

You may decide to do this by giving them some sort of disadvantage in life, such as poverty, intelligence, some sort of disability or a handicap even.  There is nothing more exciting than to see the underdog of the story win, one battle at a time. The audience will root for them every time, and in doing such it makes for a very believable character. It will be even better when you add losses, and show a side of the character that your audience did not expect to see. 

“This kind of character is not only the biggest mistake you want to write about, it is also one that becomes easily predictable and will give the reader no reason to doubt his success”

This goes for your bad guys as well, find a good motive for them being evil and add a good reason for why they became the way they did. Make sure your audience can relate to the unfortunate result of your main villain. Maybe your bad guy just drew the shortest straw in life and no matter what he tries to improve his situation, bad things just keep happening to him or her.  Something must resonate with your audience, because in real life no one is really fully evil and no one is fully good.  If you can make your audience empathize with your main villain or at least understand his or her ideals  you’ll have accomplished your part in giving your characters humanity.

Not only do you want to give “character” to your characters, but you’ll also want to apply a genuine reaction or reactions to situations . Lets say you’re character is on a train held up by robbers, resist the urge to write in some silly catch phrase like, “its clobberin’ time!” Instead you could write what your character’s genuine reaction would actually be.  Ask yourself, what would you say in that in that situation, and gauge your character this way. If you don’t know what your characters reaction would be, now is the time to start writing a good character profile, where you’ll get inside their heads, and become one with them.

3) Put Your Protagonist Through Hell


Not only will you want to make your main character less godlike, but you’ll also want to put them in the most unfortunate situations that you can think of and when you think it just can’t get any worse, become evil and make it worse, muahahaha.  Escalate the unfortunate situation even further to intensify the problem to where it may seem impossible for our hero to escape.  Of course you’ll want to make sure its not so impossible that your character has to be a god to get out of the situation.  But it must be a situation that he or she gets out of on their own, and doesn’t get some coincidental assistance some how every time something like this happens.

“’ll also want to put them in the most unfortunate situations that you can think of and when you think it just can’t get any worse, become evil and make it worse”

As a matter of fact, remove any coincidences, like “look there happens to be the tool needed to get the character out of his situation,” or “well what do you know, here’s character so and so who shows up in the nick of time to save the day.” Have the character improvise if needed, it makes for a more intense situation for the reader.  

What’s even more important than this, write it as if though it were a real situation that has real consequences for the character.  So yes, your protagonist might have been able to escape from an angry pack of wolfs, but if there isn’t a scathing mark, a hospital visit or some time off, it will come off as cheesy and very unrealistic.

4) Make Absolute Sure You Have a Theme

What is a theme? Simply put a theme is the central topic that expresses the intended lesson, conclusion, message, or point of view of the author.  Themes connect all the parts of the story such as characters, plot, problem (or conflict), setting, and event(s). A theme is what keeps the writer on point and focused on what he really wants to write about.  Think of this as a way to dive deeper from the plot of your story to find some meaning and significance behind it all.

Perhaps you wanted to provide a moral to the story and tell all kids everywhere not to do drugs, or drop out of school.  Although it can sometimes be defined as the moral of a story, it actually doesn’t have to be one at all. You could also raise some sort of awareness on wars around the world, or add elements of cult control in our society, government oppression, the racial divides in our society, and the list can go on.  

Adding a good theme to your story will not only give a meatier presentation for your reader, but it will give the reader a reason to be passionate about what they are reading. Along with this, it will give you the writer a renewed sense of motivation, something to look forward to typing away. Not only is providing meaning to your story engaging, but it can be argued for it to be a great story it is absolutely essential. So search deep within your soul if you need to, take a spiritual journey through society, and find many good themes that you could include!

5) Hook Your Readers!

What makes a story like crack cocaine?  “I NEED TO READ ONE MORE ISSUE!  NOW!” Well there are many ways to hook your readers, just look at some of your favorite TV shows and take notes.  Some of the most addicting shows contain lots of hooks throughout the show and always end with an awesome cliffhanger (yep, cheesy I know, but I had to use this pic). Seriously! I highly encourage your to sit down with a notepad the next time your favorite show comes on and ANALYZE the heck out of it! This is my method, and believe me there is a huge list I have going on.  You will be surprised by all the techniques that you will learn with this new set of eyes.  I will gladly go into some of my notes in a later article with some of the hooks I have noticed, but for now, I’ll gladly share with you this one nugget of gold that I found very useful.  It is something that will keep your readers hooked all the way throughout the entire episode or chapter,  

You ever notice how some of the most action packed movies or shows keep you on the edge from beginning to end? Well they add a layer of intensity with something that is entirely time sensitive, this is what I call “The Ticking Time Bomb Effect.” Whether it’s a speeding bus, plane or train filled with explosives headed to a populous city, an actual ticking time bomb hidden somewhere within the city, the hero’s grandmother that is dying if she doesn’t get the needed cure, or even a city infected with some sort of disease that will completely zombify everyone if our hero does not find the secret serum in time.  

By adding this layer of intensity, you keep your readers on their toes at all times and a reason to stay hooked until our hero can finally get to that ticking time bomb to save the day.  You must be careful when using this though, as it must be used as a single factor to your overall story.  Relying solely on the “ticking time bomb” as the crux of your story will only give it one flat dimension, and will lead the reader to see it as such.


In Conclusion

Well everyone, these are my five golden rules for writing a great comic.  If you found this beneficial in any way, or if you have a Golden Rule that must be shared, please comment below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts! Until then, thank you for stopping by!


Alex A. Ayala Written by:

Writer, artist and Founder for Comic Indie, with a passion for the art of storytelling, art, and entertainment. By day he works as a Systems Engineer, and by night flying through the universe of Indie Comics.

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