DENNIS O’NEIL: (Hey, Dude, ain’t he ever gonna git done yakkin’ about) Continued Stories
Last week, we were discussing the cons of continued stories, specifically what’s wrong with them, and we posited that they have a major problem in the difficulty new readers (or audiences) have in understanding the plot and characters. I said that there were remedies for this problem and now I’ll suggest, a bit timidly, that though remedies exist, nothing is foolproof.
Which brings us to the second difficulty with this kind of narrative, one closely related to the first. A potential reader who knows that the entertainment in front of him is a serial and that he’s missed earlier installments might think he’s come to the party too late, and so he won’t be tempted to enter it. Admittedly, this has more to do with marketing than stortytelling, but anyone who thinks that sales departments and creative departments aren’t entwined tighter than the snakes on a ceduceus isn’t paying attention.
There are probably more cons, but let’s let the subject rest with those two – we don’t want to beat anything to death, do we? – and proceed on to the pros.
Pro number one: Serialized stories build audience/reader loyalty. If you like the story you’ll want to learn what happens next and how the problems are solved and you’ll keep returning to satisfy your curiosity.
Pro number two (and this, to me, is the biggie): Serials present storytelling opportunities rare in other forms, if they exist at all. Continued narratives allow the storyteller to present a complex plot and a lot of subplots, as well as stuff that might not directly relate to the plot(s) but is, well, amusing.
The danger, at least with comics, is that after the editorial team has committed a given number of issues to a storyline, maybe a large number, and the story is well underway, they find they don’t have enough plot to fill the allotted number of pages. Ooops! Then the padding begins, and with it, the danger that the whole enterprise will become boring.
When I was involved in producing these huge continuities, I found that the best ways to minimize this problem were to 1) make sure everyone on the team knows the story you plan to tell which means knowing where you hope it will end and 2) make a reasonably detailed outline before anyone really begins. Some of my colleagues wanted the outline to be extremely detailed. I opted for leaving it loose and allowing writers and artists to have ideas as the venture proceeded, as long as they stuck to the core narrative. No right or wrong here, just what works for a particular situation at a particular time.
What always worried me most when I was editing long and involved, multi-title stories, was that there was some huge flaw, smack-dab in the center of our concept that would invalidate the whole thing and I wasn’t seeing it and neither was anyone else and we wouldn’t, not until it was too late. It never happened, which is probably a testament to the quality of the people I worked with.
Are we done yet?
RECOMMENDED READING: Adventures in the Screen Trade, by William Goldman.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.