Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hotspot #4: How to Completely Spoil Suspense Using Webcomic Extras

Through Waffle, I've just stumbled accross a fantasy goldmine. Or more accurately, a fantasy writing goldmine: Limyaael's Rants. It's educational stuff, all about fantasy writing and avoiding the cliches (Boy did I have fun combing through it to see how many rules my old comic The Longest Sojourn violated!). A lot of it could also apply for non-fantasy stuff.

Anyway, there's an interesting article on Suspense (and how not to kill it), which is a great read, and also inspired today's hotspot topic: How to Completely Spoil Suspense Using Webcomic Extras.

We know that webcomics come with a lot of extras print comics don't. Cast pages, Art Galleries, Forums, Blogs. Those are pretty much the standard features of a webcomic. Unfortunately, if a creator is indiscreet, they're also the standard way creators spoil their own comics. Let's look at them:

  1. Cast Pages
    Cast pages can be a handy reference to a new reader when they're new and can't quite get the names and faces right yet. On the other hand, overzealous creators often end up inadvertantly spoiling the story for the readers by putting far too much information in the cast pages. Some examples include:

    • Introducing characters that haven't appeared yet. To pick a comic that does this off the top of my head: Take Tauhid Bondia's Spells and Whistles.
      "Now what harm could introducing characters early could possibly do?" You ask?
      Well... as a smart forum poster once said elsewhere, if you take the current storyline, where Rakne (One of the main characters) falls off a cliff, you're not really going to be remotely worried or scared for her, because you can tell from the cast page not all members of the 'party' haven't been introduced yet, it's not likely they'll be offing any of the characters any time soon. Which really takes away any suspense you're trying to drum up from something like this page.

    • Telling the reader what actually happens in the comic, or even worse, what WILL happen in the comic in a part they haven't gotten around to telling yet
      I considered tacking on a real-life example of a comic that did this, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Besides, I don't really need an example to tell you why talking about something that happens in the comic is bad without a spoiler warning. Or why introducing a character and what that character has to do with other characters in the comic and what will happen to that character in the future is a bad idea when that character hasn't debuted in the comic yet.

      Yes, I know sometimes we're impatient to introduce the cool new characters and awesome concepts we come up with and can't wait, but please... DON'T.

    • Including excessive personal or background information that gives the whole thing away
      Especially if that thing is the central plotline. The simplest example I can think of is say... a new (apparently human) character is introduced to a comic. And in the cast page the character is listed as a "XXX, a blood type AB vampire. Congratulations. You've just let the cat out of the bag. We all pretty much know what's coming up next, don't we?

      On the other hand, explaining all of a character's motivations and goals isn't a particularly bright idea if you want to keep the suspense there either.

  2. Extra Art
    Possibly the biggest killer of romantic suspense in a comic. You have character A and character B. And they've barely met each other at that point the comic. Yet for Valentine's Day you have a special piece of extra art, which turns out to be...

    A lushly illustrated picture of both of them in a passionate embrace with rose petals raining down.

    What can I say about that, really? It's stupid.

    "But it's just a bit of a fun doodling!" Someone protests. "Well, you know they were going to get together anyway!"

    Maybe, but maybe you could... I don't know... at least give us a little hope of doubt? If we know character A and character B are going to end up together before they even start dating in the comic, are we really going care to watch the process of them getting together when we know how it's going to end up? Even worse... if you introduce a rival, we already know she/he's going to fail.

    Simply put, there's pretty much no point to having that romance anymore.

    Oh, and for this same reason, please don't draw and put up pictures of the future children of Character A and Character B either. Thanks.

  3. News Posts
    I'm quite sure that HNTRAC did a few spoofs of this somewhere, but this is basically the creator telling the readers what happens in the next installment of the comic, or tell the reader exactly what to look for in the current comic.

    Join us for the next episode of my comic, where Hero C defeats Villian D and the hidden power of Princess E is finally revealed!
    Here's the first appearance of Character F, who will the the romantic interest of Character G in the comic. I have a love triangle between her, Character G and Character H coming up. It's going to be great! (And Ping fights urge to kill author)

    And don't laugh. I've seen these done in real life!

  4. Forum Posting
    Yes, I know this is hard and I know that sometimes readers can really know how to ask questions and try and get answers out of the creator before the proper time arises (i.e. It's revealed in the comic.) Speculation is all fun and nice, but in such situations, it's up to the creator whether they want to admit the speculation is on target or smile mystically and say: "Maybe, maybe not..."

    Webcomicdom is unique for the level of interaction a creator can have with their readers, but please don't start blabbing about what's going to happen next just because someone asks. Have some restraint, if you please. "No Comment." can be a valid response

And thus concludes my list of spoilers in webcomic extras.

Thank you very much for reading. Ping out.


  1. Guess "less is more" holds true here, then? If you think about it, though, minimalism really does have its advantages with things like the cast page. I mean, I thought the whole point of the cast page was to tell you who is who, maybe give you a bit of insight into who each character is as an individual. It's sort of like a roster for a ball game, right?

  2. Uh-oh, Ping.
    You kinda made me nervous for a bit. I thought you were talking about my cast page...

  3. Hah. I thought the same thing to myself as I read through this, "Does my cast page reveal too much??..."

  4. Bo Lindbergh2/18/2005 2:18 am

    "Does this cast page make me look fat?"

  5. I've been trying to avoid spoiling things in my cast page. I figure I might as well not update it until the character appears and is seen to be somewhat important.

  6. At the same time sometimes the author isn't really interested in keeping the suspense. The example that comes to mind is not from the webcomics world, but from TV: On Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski wrote a episode showing the future, where the shadow war was long finished and they had won. He explained on the Usenet: I was writing these heroes for four years do you think they would lose? My interest is in showing the process of how this is accomplished, what sacrifices are made, what are the twists... these I didn't spoiled, but the results should be already obvious.

  7. Actually, that's a very good point. If suspense was never the point, then it would work. (Frankly, we don't see enough of stories that set out to defy the convention)

    But for stories that rely on suspense to work (even if they don't realise it), then being indiscreet is not such a good thing.

    K-Dawg: Well, it's an excuse not to update ;)

  8. Well, in works that suspense is the point, I like particularly webcomics like the The Order of the Stick where the cast page is also a comic, and all the things divulged there is information the writer wouldn't mind you knowing. Not only does that but at the same time introduces the reader to the kind of humour that characteristic of the strip. Well, it breaks the 4th wall but so does the strip, so I don't think is a big deal.