Three Writing Concepts To Keep Your Readers Around

Our review with comic artist Craig Ferguson has been delayed for a week, but I’m still back with another Friday Artist Talk! This week we’re discussing a few tips on good storytelling and how to keep your readers engaged. In a lot of media, it’s really the story that can hold it all together. Sure, you still have to get an audience to check out what you’ve created, but it’s creating that connection and drama that keeps it going. Naturally this is more focused towards ongoing stories.

3. Begin with a rush!

There are exceptions to every rule, but a good place to start most stories, even an introduction, is with a bit of action. While there are times that a peaceful lore based intro can work, with web comics you’re working with a limited focus per update. You want your readers to get something out of each page if you can. Action can get their attention at the start, and keep new readers interested because they’ll want to know what happens next, or why that conflict occurred. Again, these rules aren’t set in stone, but it can help.

Personally, I’ve been there before having a slow plodding intro and after writing it I find difficult to draw the thing. Sure it’s fun to get into the characters lives and all that fun stuff, but after you’ve established that exciting things can happen, it can bookend your happier moments. You always need to remember, you love the characters because you know everything about them. Newcomers to your comic see them as strangers and you need to win them over. That can be very difficult, especially when walking the line of keeping secrets hidden about your story but still trying to make the mysterious folks fun and likeable.

Getting a little bit of action in there can help to promote your characters. Who defends whom? What sorts of dialogue is thrown around in the heat of the moment? Establish your characters based on what they do as well as who they are in more peaceful situations.

2. Give your readers time to breathe.

It’s easy to get caught up in a grand sweeping story and throw tons of detail into every page’s dialogue balloons. Just don’t forget that this can be overwhelming to your readers at times. Especially those trying to catch up. You want to have a good collection of establishing shots and downtime as you progress through your series. That doesn’t mean these moments need to be forced in, but when they fit the natural flow they can add quite a bit to the story. Body language and interaction are important parts to your story, just as those deep yearning emotions that everyone is potentially keeping from one another. Consider these things when moving forward with your story. Would your lead character really explain things in length at that moment, or just hold the person in distress closely and comfort them?

Of course you don’t want tons of pages together with little much going on than relaxed interaction and background scenes, but these can work well as a buffer. Has there been a lot going on? Maybe it’s time to let the readers take a moment to ease into the next scene. After all, you’re probably telling a story with a range of emotions. Rushing from action to despair over and over can be quite jarring. However, it can also work depending on the tone of your story. If you are looking for more of a flow though, it can help to allow downtime to let readers relax. Or naturally too, even comedy to lighten a mood. The last thing you want is for readers to give up with a “Too long, didn’t read” response if they end up feeling too overwhelmed.

I’m not the best at these sorts of things my stories. I prefer to make roller coaster rides and allow my readers some time to relax when the ride “pulls into the station” so to speak. It tends to work well because I do a lot of action scenes, but I’m looking to bring more more drama and understanding into my recent works without alienating my audience with too drastic of a change.

1. Mysteries keeps your readers around.

It’s cliché to include mystery just for the sake of it but it can be these sorts of bread crumbs that can keep your readers around to learn the answers. It tends to be better to make it something more obscure, not a question that could just be asked and answered. Take things like a character who keeps their identity hidden, or an unexplained power that even the user of cannot understand. These topics can be fun. Of course, you don’t want to drag things out too long either, unless it’s your overarching mystery that the series is currently hinging on.

The whole nature of “what will happen next” is what your readers do return for. Adding more layers to this with mysteries can deepen that eagerness, or even better it can inspire your readers to look for clues and discuss your comic. Characters doing stuff is fun, but even something as basic as who your main star will end up with in the end is something to keep your readers going.

These sorts of unanswered questions are fun, but you do want to have some that you’ll answer in good time too. Dragging things along for too long can get your readers agitated. You want to keep them around, but they’ll want to have fun with your comic. If they feel upset with a long wait, they could eventually give up and hopefully check back in months later to see if that story arc has progressed to an answer.

So how about you? What elements do you find to be important in your stories? Let us know in the comments section below! As always, you can log into Top Web Comics on the front page, come back here, and use your current login to post! Join in!


8 Comments

  1. DemonDan March 22, 2014 8:39 am 

    Yay! A shop talk for writers! ;)

    Those are three great points. At first, we started our comic without an action hook. Pages 2-4 were pretty dialogue heavy setting up the interaction between two of the main characters. It was kind of slow. So we decided to add an action-y prologue as a hook. And it works! When looking at my site stats, people always breeze right through the action prologue. They often do get stuck at pages 2-4 still, though ;)

    I often find it hard to conceptualize my story in the bi-weekly updates that my readers see. I know how the whole thing goes down, and each update is just a fun release of that. But they only get them in those chunks. In fact, I almost feel like the pace of the update schedule gives them lots of breathing room. I almost feel like I want to give them a page that will validate them waiting for the update.

    On the other hand, I can see the importance of having a good flow/rhythm for new readers trying to digest the whole archive. And for when I eventually print it/publish it. And when I just tried to make an example of a boring page (main character sitting on the couch scratching himself), it actually sounded pretty funny and character developing. I’ll have to make room for those.

    And with mysteries, I sure try. Foreshadowing without giving things away is hard! Especially when your readers are very observant and imaginative with their theories :D

    One thing I would add, is the importance of really developing your characters. They should be become real people who act and react in real ways, based on a real personality/backstory you’ve developed for them. I reach a point where I feel like I know my characters well enough that I can predict how they will react to a given situation based on who they are and not what my plot demands of them. I feel like having characters like that really strengthens a story and keeps your audience engaged.

    End overly long comment.

    • Les Major March 30, 2014 8:48 pm 

      I actually had The Demon Archives in my mind as one of my references when writing this. You’ve done a good job of keeping the pacing flowing in the series. There are down times too that give good breathing room in the series, such as Tenzin waking up in the morning. Lots of action and little breathing room otherwise works well for The Demon Archives however. The flow is kind of like a jet preparing for take off in the sense of Tenzin preparing for his mission and then getting into the actual action allows you to keep going.

      True too, I should actually do a full update on character development and back story down the road. Thanks for the idea! :D

  2. JFD March 23, 2014 1:21 am 

    I agree with all three points. I didn’t want to start my comic with a battle, but I did sort of start it on a mystery by purposefully making Eyldram and Hollgar’s conversation vague in the first couple of pages.

    Originally, I had planned for their conversation to be much longer as Hollgar was to give Eyldram (and the reader) a more detailed overview of the world’s history, but I realized it was way too heavy and I cut that part off – instead, bits of history will be revealed here and there. That scene is still dialogue-heavy, but I tried to keep it short and interesting.

    In fact, a good dialogue can be as effective at hooking up readers as an action scene. A few well-placed cliff-hangy comments, unanswered questions or even threats will make for a conversation that can be just as interesting as a fight scene.

    I did feel the need to introduce an action scene quickly, however, and that was the fight between Thany and Eyldram.

    #2 is something I definitely agree with. Too often, whether it is in webcomics. books or even in RPG sessions, action scenes and drama keep coming relentlessly and I think this can be as bad as a lack of action. Balance is important, and you need time for idle chatter, relationships building and funny moments. The reader needs to learn to know and associate themselves with the characters and this is hard to do when everyone (including the reader) is constantly high on adrenaline.

    Hollywood movies tend to make that mistake as well – maybe they’re afraid to lose our interest or don’t think we watchers will be able to handle too much character development and so they just knock us unconscious with action or sex scenes. :-S

    • Les Major March 30, 2014 8:43 pm 

      Thanks for your feedback JFD! Dialogue can be a good hook as you noted, but it has to be written so that it captures the readers interest and creates a situation. A good example of this is something I experienced on a World of Warcraft roleplaying server. Two characters in the middle of town were hashing it out in front of a guard. Each was trying to explain their side of the story with one character being accused of casting some sort of magic on the others friend. At first it was just like, “Oh, they’re squabbling,” but as the conversation went on, myself included, a crowd began to form to see what the truth of the matter was and to make their own opinions. Quite an interesting and powerful RPG session sort of reaction.

  3. bmosley45 March 23, 2014 1:46 pm 

    One thing I noticed with writing in a lot of television series and even some comics is that writers will make a cast of entirely reprehensible characters with no redeeming qualities, put them into ridiculous situations, and let everything play out (It’s Always Sunny/Seinfeld/etc.). Have a character in your cast that is likeable. Maybe even two likeable characters that the audience can connect with and would want to hang out with.

    • Les Major March 30, 2014 8:38 pm 

      That is a good point too, and very much a method that has been used. I think the main reason it really worked in Seinfeld was that many of us could think of at least one friend that was like a cast member. With web comics, I do think it is important to have likeable characters. Sometimes you only have a brief chance to introduce your comic to someone and in that time you really need to make an impact on why they should keep reading.

  4. IPendulum March 24, 2014 4:59 am 

    Thanks for this. It was really informative and helpful for my webcomic (http://ipen-manga.net)

    Since the readership of the series all comes down on how intriguing can the twist of plot can be.

    • Les Major March 30, 2014 8:34 pm 

      For sure! I’m glad you enjoyed it! :)

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