User Submission: Writing Well Part Four

Started by Rob, May 03, 2010, 04:17:04 AM

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Today's tutorial post was submitted by Gibson Twist, creator of Pictures of You. You can check out more of his work at Sinister Squid. Where this article and successive entries were originally published. Part one of this series can be found here. Part two can be found here. Part three can be found here.

The following is the fourth in a series of six tutorials designed to help novice writers build a better story.

Okay, Technique... this one might have some people scratching their heads. To be honest, I scratch my own when I think about it sometimes too. Consider your work so far, Concept, Tableau and Plot as a song that you've written, and consider the next step, Composition as the playing of that song, then Technique is the equipment through which you'll play it. The kind of instrument, the amplifier, your posture and so on. In writing an effective story, you'll want to
pay attention to your choices in Media, Chapters, Voice, Language and Tense. Technique is a subtle influence that frames your story and defines how your story will be told. It's an important yet undervalued step that can help writing shine when done right or ruin it when done wrong.

As you read this tutorial in particular, it might help to remember something that might not occur to you...even this tutorial has been written with these things in mind.


Writing is the base model for many different kinds of artistic work, including but not limited to prose, comic books, webcomics, playwriting (for stage) and screenwriting (for television, video and/or film). Each of these Media has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different rules and guidelines with its own Techniques for writing them*. As a result, how you write your story will be influenced dramatically by the Medium in which you decide to work. Prose, for example, is wildly different from a comic prose you can depict much more detail and emotion while script allows you to get across information in a more concise structure. Many of these also allow (or demand) collaboration on varying levels, and therefor require you to write in a manner that is both informative of your intended story but provides for interpretation by your collaborators.

Another important aspect of Media is that a story which works in prose will not always work as a script. For that matter, stage plays will not always translate well to the screen. Have you ever read a fantastic book only to see it butchered by Hollywood? Or Dark Horse? Consider the story you have crafted and ensure that the Media you choose is appropriate to the story you're trying to tell. Understanding the unique needs of your chosen Medium is essential in telling your story well.

*I don't have the space here to discuss the finer points of the various writing Media and the distinctions between them, as they are myriad. Look for another tutorial on this subject in the future, or for more immediate information visit your local search engine.


For lack of a better term, this is the segments into which your story is divided. Are you writing a comic with 24 pages in each of four issues? Are you writing a graphic novel or a webcomic with more relaxed page counts? Are you writing a sitcom with a specific allowance for time and commercial breaks? Are you writing a series of tutorials on how to write a better story? It's good to know how long your story sections will be and how many of them you'll have before you start writing. It provides a stronger parameter for the Composition and gives you a good series of milestones to reach, and I'll discuss this more in the next tutorial. See? That's how Chapters work!


Essentially, this is the perspective from which your story is told. Whether it's a secondary character or a god-like other party or even a story comprised only of dialogue and no narration, someone is telling your story. No matter how you tell your story, you will choose a voice, even if you don't realize it. Most new authors tend to use a default Third Person narrative, or perhaps tell their tale from the view of the protagonist, but often it escapes us that there are other choices, and each of them has benefits and limitations.

  • First Person – This is the protagonist (or antagonist) of your story, someone who experiences the events firsthand. This narrative style provides a closer connection with the events and the players in the story, and can make the story seem more real, but it can also restrict the narrator's ability to relay certain information...if he or she didn't see it, how do they know it happened? First person is best used in a story of personal journey or experience.

  • Second Person – Second Person narration is rare and hard to write, but it is an option. Essentially, it relates the events in a story as happening to the reader. You move quickly up the stairs as the sound of footsteps follows behind you. Your heart races as you think "Where can I hide?" It's used chiefly in Choose-Your-Adventure stories and is very effective in certain works, but it requires characterization that is very generic (the reader will have difficulty reading themselves with personality traits they lack) and limits the kinds of stories you can tell with it.

  • Third Person Perspective – Whenever a secondary character in the story, a non-protagonist (or non-antagonist) is the narrator, this is Third Person Perspective. When done right, it can read much like you are saying to the reader Hey, let me tell you about this guy I knew once... The problem with this style is that it limits your narrator's level of information more than any other. I recommend against this style, even with more accomplished writers, but there are stories in which it is the better choice.

  • Third Person Omniscient – By far the most common style of narration, Third Person Omniscient is exactly that...a third party who knows everything. You know what the hero is thinking, you know what the villain is thinking, you know what the secondary characters are thinking, and you know every single action that takes place among them. This narrator can be an overseeing god or one of the characters who knows more than they would. The reason this style is most common is that it is the easiest to write with, but it lacks the personal connection of the others.

  • Combinations – Many stories will have more than one narrative voice, and this can work very well in adding a dynamism, but it is tricky. A story with variable timelines would do well with more than one narrative style, but a story following a single protagonist on a single journey might not. Not every story is a good candidate for multiple narratives, and I tend to caution newer authors against it. As with my notes on Natural Progression in the Plot tutorial, it's vital to make sure the Voices are complimentary.


Language is tied very closely to Voice and is more than just the tongue in which the words are written. Think back to our examination of Characters in the second tutorial, looking at Demeanour and Speech Pattern. Your narrator will have these things as much as any character, and a good writer will understand the parameters of what the narrator and the narration will say. If your narrator is a young girl, the Language will usually be somewhat flowery and sweet, so using a lot of technical terminology would be inappropriate. Conversely, a dark and sinister villain telling the story wouldn't describe something as being 'delightful' least, not without a sneer. The personality of your narration should always inform your word choices, and the more you pay attention to this detail, the more coherent your narrative will be.


Also known as Past, Present and Future, you'll need to decide if your story is happening as it is being told or if it's already happened (or, for the more adventurous among you, if it hasn't happened yet!) This sounds simple, and it is, but be careful. It's a common error to switch Tenses without noticing during Composition. That doesn't mean you have to use only one Tense or another when you write, but it does mean that when you alter tenses it should be meaningful and done with purpose. As with your Voice, it is possible and common to employ more than one tense, but different Tenses require their own considerations of Voice.

And there you go. Once you've decided upon your Technique, you have the tools you need to start your Composition.