Spooky Story Skeletons

It’s April, which means it’s a Camp NaNoWriMo month! While I’m not officially participating in Camp NaNo this month, I’m still using April to draft the Blythe vs. the Werewolf script.

Before diving into the draft, I wanted to get some prep work done. The hope is that if I’m well prepared, I won’t spend the entire comic-making process floundering. Since it’s a visual medium, I want to get the design elements—like character and setting designs—figured out before I start drawing pages. But I also wanted to figure out some plot design, so to speak. Before I can do the thumbnails, I want to write a script. Before I write the script, I need to create the story’s skeleton so I have a frame to stack all that meat onto.

I devoted the back half of March to putting together that skeleton, my outline for Blythe v.s the Werewolf. I have to admit, I kind of dragged my feet working on it. I’m not exactly a planner, and yet if I try to just dive right into a draft, it’s very easy for me to get lost once I’ve gotten past the first handful of scenes that I was most excited about.

Blythe vs. the Werewolf is a short story, and a fairly simple one, so I knew how I wanted it to start, I knew the reveal, and I knew how I wanted it to end. There were some details I was fuzzy on, though. That’s where the skeleton comes in. The outlining stage, at least for me, is a great time to get some brainstorming in and throw around different ideas and determine what will work best. The very act of forcing myself to come up with a point A to B to C got me thinking about those fuzzy details and figure out what might work and what wouldn’t.

It took me a few tries, and a few different approaches, but each time brought me closer and closer to what I needed.

Approach 1: The Loose Outline

This first attempt was the brain dump approach where I listed out all of the things I already knew I wanted to include. No bulleted lists, no specific plot points. Just writing everything down in as close to chronological order that I could. This was my loosest outline, where nothing was set in stone. I mean, that’s the case for any outline or draft, since you can always change things in revisions. This outline, though, was the way to get everything out of my head and onto paper and generate new ideas as I went.

I started with a cold open scene, because I’m going for a noir mystery monster of the week kind of set up, and I knew that’s how I wanted to introduce the monster. Once I got everything else out, I made a few notes on the scenes and lore, as well as items I wanted to explore more and what points I needed to focus on more. That prepared me for the second attempt.

Approach 2: By Major Event & Prewriting

This version of the outline is where I started going into more detail, where instead of just getting everything out of my head, I thought of things in terms of specific events within the story. It became a more structured version of prewriting than my first attempt at the outline. I started off not using a bulleted list for this one, though I did towards the end when I was trying to tease out how I wanted to climax to unfold.

Although this attempt expanded on the previous one and helped me figure out more details and even some of the dialogue, there was a point where things got fuzzy. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle and portray some of the scenes and bits of information, and I also felt like I was straight up missing some things. I’d worked out some of the issues from the previous outline, but it wasn’t quite there yet.

Approach 3: Point by Point Outline

This is the outline where I started using bulleted lists from the beginning. I attempted this approach twice. In the first one, I took every single event of the story and tried to describe each with a single sentence. More of the details over the specific problems the characters come up against and the solutions they use came to light between this outline and the previous one, but it was here that I realized I had a pacing issue.

Doing the point by point outline highlighted the fact that the story was happening too fast, that there wasn’t any breathing room. Something was definitely missing.

I agonized over it for a few days, searched out tips on outlining your story. It was after watching the McKay and Gray video How to Outline Your Comic that I had an “aha!” moment and realized what I was missing: I hadn’t pinned down the actual midpoint. In fact, I hadn’t pinpointed which scenes and events acted as any of the “tentpoles” of the plot.

Bones and Ursula’s youtube channel is an invaluable resource for creating comics, and the advice in that video made me realize that I needed to pinpoint the scene that acts as the story’s pivot point. I needed to figure out where Blythe moves from coming up with more questions to finding the answers. Something needed to happen that acted as a wake up call not only for him, but for the villagers who doubt that a dangerous creature lurks in the forest surrounding them.

The midpoint needs to be an event that makes Blythe realize what he was wrong about, and makes him reconsider his approach.

It was the realization that I hadn’t identified or even created a proper midpoint scene that also made me realize my first attempt at a point by point outline was too loose. I was ready to take a second stab at it, and figure out which events were the most important. Those aforementioned tentpoles.

For this, I kept the 7 Point System in mind. I didn’t follow it to a T, though, since trying to pin everything down to specific points is a recipe for overwhelming myself. I tend to get too caught up in worrying over whether or not the event I chose actually matches up with whichever point in an outline or structure I assign it to.

Since this approach was about distilling the story to its most basic points, it’s the shortest of my outlines. Once I had these basic points labeled (though they aren’t necessarily set in stone), I moved onto my last outlining approach.

Approach 4: Scene and Setting

With this version of the outline, I decided to go from location to location in chronological order as best as I could, and describe the event that happened there. For example, for the first location I listed:

  • Gauthier Farm: The farmer’s livestock is attacked by what she believes is the legendary werewolf

This is the cold open scene of Blythe vs. the Werewolf. For the purposes of the outline, I’ve established the where and the most important point of what happens there. I continued doing this, going to the next location and listing the plot event that happens there, and then the next, until I reached the end of the story.

This version of the outline was actually the one I had the easiest time putting together, and it helped me figure out the most solutions to issues I still had with my plot. I think in stepping back and putting the focus on the movement of the characters and where they are, instead of what they’re doing, helped me view the story with a fresh perspective. It’s also a good way to make sure that every scene and every movement the characters make serves a purpose.

A few things still feel a bit jumbled and out of order, but I’m confident enough in this version of the outline (supplemented by my previous notes) that I have a good roadmap that will keep me on track while drafting. I mean, I’m sure I’ll still hit some snags along the way, but I have other points on the map that I can jump to when I get stuck. After all, the very act of writing out something further along can give you the solution you need to fix that earlier snag. And you always have the option of fixing things later!

There you have it! That was my approach (made of many approaches) to outlining Blythe vs. the Werewolf, and a look into my process. This isn’t a “writing tips” blog since there are so many great resources out there already, but I wanted to share that “aha!” moment and how I got to it.

Anyway, since this is a drafting month, more Blythe vs. the Werewolf progress and development posts are on the way. This includes more art heavy posts like Character Concepts and Setting the Scene.

Here’s to a great writing month!

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