Okay. So this is my second attempt at this post. I literally just deleted everything. I was at the end and everything. That bites, but I'm determined to get this out to you. So ... take 2.
I was on Facebook earlier this week when I saw a question posed by one of my friends. It was an interesting question, and, even though I responded with a quick sentence answer, I realized this was a very complex situation. After thinking about this question for a few days, I decided to give an in-depth answer right here.
The question, "Do you prefer a graphic novel to have a definitive ending?" That's paraphrased. I don't remember the exact wording, but that's the gist.
As I said, the answer is a little more complex than you think. To truly understand, you have to understand a little bit about story structure. Every story needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end. That's standard grade school language. As far a graphic novels goes, everything depends on the type of graphic novel you are reading. Pride of Baghdad comes to mind. This book was designed to be to a single story without a sequel. If it didn't have a definitive ending, the reader would not have been satisfied and the book would have been considered a failure. That is true for many books that are collected in graphic novels. You can reference Watchmen when you talk about graphic novels with a definitive ending too. However, you should also look at how that book was created.
Watchmen, like many graphic novels, was designed to be a monthly book. It's twelve issues are collected in a wonderful trade. That trade has a definitive ending. However, you need to go back and look at the individual issues when considering story telling. For me, Ultimate Spider-Man was a major influence on my story telling style. Again, this book is made up of individual, monthly issues aimed to create a larger story arc. When looking at the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man, you need to think, Bendis wrote seven issues that made up a greater story. These seven issues were collected into volume one of the trade paperback collection. By the end of issue seven, the Green Goblin was defeated and everyone was happy. But there was an issue eight. So the question that needs to be addressed is, "What's going on here?"
Watchmen, Ultimate Spider-Man, and many other comics are written for a monthly release with trade collections in mind. Each trade has a definitive ending that leaves the reader satisfied. So does each monthly issue. Let's go back to story structure for a second. I gave you the grade school definition of structure, but I left out some key components. Each story needs to have a climax. This is a definitive ending that leaves the reader satisfied. This is true for monthly released and books that are collected.
When you go to your local comic shop and pick up a random issue, you with notice a conflict that drives that issue forward. That conflict will be resolved by the end of the issue, leaving you satisfied with the story in your hand. You might not like the climax, but you will be satisfied. I'm starting to think of the loose issues of Identity Crisis here. Then there's a cliffhanger. Most new writers think that a cliffhanger is a cheap out. You don't need to solve the problem and end the story. Just toss in a cliffhanger and all is perfect. That's not how they work.
I reiterate, every story needs a climax. The problem needs to be solved before the cliffhanger is presented. Let's look at Empire Strikes Back for a second. Luke has to go off and train to be a Jedi. He does this. While training, he learns that his friends are in trouble. They will die if he doesn't leave his training and save them. From there, he confronts Vader. He gets his butt kicked and learns that his enemy is his father. While he is fighting, most of his friends get away. He saved them. Nobody said he had to live. He had to save them, which he does. Well, most of them. Han didn't make it. After Luke loses the battle with his enemy, learning he has to learn a lot more before he is a Jedi, he manages to escape. When the movie ends, Luke has to come to terms with the reality that his father is his enemy and his best friend is lost. There's the cliffhanger. The viewer has a definitive, although aggravating, ending and they have a reason to come back for the next movie.
There is an art form to telling a story across multiple issues. Now that we've established that there needs to be a definitive ending, how to you do that while telling a larger story across multiple issues. First, the major conflict may not need to be established right away. Issue one has it's own individual conflict. The main character will solve this by the end of the issue. The reader is satisfied. Hooray. Within that story, there is a subplot that also needs to be established. This is going to build as the story progresses. This may become the major conflict for the entire arc. Maybe it's a villain behind the villain. The big boss that controls things from behind the scenes. The hero may know he exists. He may not. At some point, they will have to meet and the major climax will be solved.
NOTE TO THE OBSERVANT READER: THIS IS WHERE EVERYTHING WAS DELETED.
Let's keep in mind, everything I just said pertains to regularly released issues. If you're an indie writer like me, you need to be very strategic with your cliffhangers. Saturn and Orion was released last year through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Feel free to pick up a copy. Just click on the Saturn and Orion link under Published Work. (Cheep plug) When you write an indie book, think about how long it's going to take you to release issues two, or three, or four. I bring up Saturn and Orion because last year, when the book was released, issue two was written, and went off to the artist. At this point, book two is in limbo. One artist backed out and another is currently working on a few sample pages to see if he's a good fit.
This is vital for indie writers. Your audience will not be happy if your book doesn't have a definitive ending and the second issue takes a long time to be released. It may never be released at all. That doesn't mean don't write with issue two in mind. It doesn't mean don't write with a larger story arc in mind. All I'm saying is make sure there is a solid ending to that issue. Feel free to embed hidden gems in the issue that seem unimportant when they appear. Saturn and Orion is littered with them. They seem relevant to the moment they appear and look like background filler for the artist. I promise you, they are all part of the bigger arc. If I never get to the issue when I reveal everything, oh well. It doesn't impact book one. Read it and see what you think.
Okay. After deleting the first post and delivering a second, trimmed down version, I finally answered the Facebook question. I'm satisfied. If you have a question that you think I can answer, long-form, right here, shoot me an email, Facebook message, or tweet me. I'd love to incorporate more storytelling questions.
Until next week.