comic book series

A 10-Step Checklist for Writing an Awesome Comic Book Series

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

November 21, 2022

Writing a comic book series of any length is an undertaking, but for some authors, the potential story arcs and possible character developments seem to stretch beyond the pages of just one book. When an author can see that wrapping up the conflicts and characterizations in one book is not possible, they may consider developing the story into a series instead of completing the story in one book.

For other writers, the first comic book has already been written but the characters and plot lines still have plenty of room for growth and expansion through the life of a series. So how does an author plan for such a lengthy project? Let’s look at how you can prepare to turn your story into a cohesive, interesting multi-part comic book series that will engage your readers and keep them coming back for each new installment.

Comic Book Structure

A unique aspect of comic books is that the stories are told in episodes and a grouping of episodes is called an act. Similar to a chapter, an episode is a stand-alone section of scenes that make up part of a serialized story, while an act usually contains at least two episodes. This episode, act, and book combination can be structured in any way that fits the story or the author’s preference, but a good starting point when planning a series is:

  • Three books
  • Seven episodes per book
  • Three acts per book
  • Act 1: 2 episodes (25%), Act 2: 3 episodes (50%) and Act 3: 2 episodes (25%)

 World Building

The next consideration when planning a comic book series is to delve into the worlds that will be part of the series. Fantastical worlds are a key part of comic book stories and when a comic book is expanded to a series length, world-building becomes even more critical. Fleshing out the different locales within a series is more exciting than when writing a standalone book, because a series allows authors to think on a grander scale. Readers are able to grasp more detailed, grand worlds over the course of a series of books.

In contrast, such an in-depth world can be hard to follow or understand if it is introduced in a single book. When planning a comic book series, authors can more easily plan out how to reveal the worlds that they have imagined to their fullest and not hold any creative or compelling details out due to the lack of space in a shorter book or singular episode.

Series Arcs vs. Episode Arcs

The next consideration when developing a comic book series is to think about story arcs. Planning out a series of books entails creating storylines that both begin and end in some episodes as well as some that last longer.

  • Series Arcs are the longer, more intricate plot and character storylines that run the length of the series, over multiple episodes or through more than one act.
  • Episode Arcs describe the character and plot developments that wrap up within the span of a single episode. Some characters may have an arc that completes in one episode while also simultaneously participating in one or more series arcs. Layering these together creates rich characters and compelling plot developments for the reader.

Characters Development

Just like any other story, characters can be fully developed, flat and without much characterization, and everything in between. Primary characters, like the protagonist and antagonist, are present throughout the entire series, although specific to comic books, some antagonists may appear, disappear, and reappear throughout the series to add to the intrigue and engage the reader’s interest in a longer series.

Decide when readers should be introduced to the main character’s nemesis and how the protagonist’s sidekick, buddy, friend, partner, guide, love interest, or mentor plays a part. Some arcs may include episode characters that do not reoccur in the rest of the series (but you can always decide to bring that character back into the storyline at a later date or in the next comic book series).

One excellent method many authors use to plan out characters is to use a timeline that spans the timeframe of the entire comic book series. This type of visualization helps authors to see when a character needs to loop back into the story to maintain interest in the story arc, when a new character should be introduced, or even how to pace the protagonist’s interactions with their nemesis.

Learn From the Experts

An excellent way to discover what makes a comic book series structure successful and interesting to read is to pick up a series or two to evaluate. Looking at the episodes, acts, books, and series as a whole through the lens of an author can allow you to plan your own story by reflecting on the way a successful comic book series author has structured their story.

  • What is the purpose of the episode? The act? The book? And the series?
  • Why does the author separate the story into each episode? Or group each act? Or separate each book?
  • When is the nemesis introduced? How does that affect the story arc?
  • What role supports the protagonist or hero? How often do they appear in the story?
  • How do the episode arcs build suspense or excitement toward the story arc(s)?
  • What role do episode characters play in providing characterization details of the protagonist, antagonist, or supporting characters?
  • Does the timeline make sense?
  • How does the author build the world(s) for the reader? When do the critical details and descriptions appear in relation to the character development?

Comic Book Series Planning Checklist

Before actually getting down to the business of writing your comic book series, using a checklist can help you determine if you have a good handle on the content you need to include. While every author has their own strategy for the actual writing, developing a comic book series means including complex characters and a complete storyline that can support multiple episodes and books while still keeping the reader engaged.

A checklist that includes content checks about the protagonist, antagonist, story arcs, and the overall structure of the series is a helpful tool for any author planning their comic book series.

1 Protagonist inner and outer conflicts that will create a rich characterization and help readers to root for their success

2 Episode arcs that move forward the protagonist’s growth so that they can reach their ultimate purpose at the end of the book or series

3 A complex, believable nemesis characterization that will help the reader understand the conflict with the protagonist

4 Roughed out supporting characters that will add interest and critical details to the series and episode arcs

5 Thorough world-building to engage readers and provide context for the protagonist’s strengths and flaws

6 Backstories for supporting characters that support the main series arc

7 Subplots involving series characters and episode characters

8 An outline for cohesive scenes that can be combined into meaningful episodes

9 A idea of how you will combine episodes to create three or more acts for each book

10 A plan for a group of acts to be read and understood as a complete book, separate from the rest of the series

Comic Book Printing

Planning, writing, editing, and proofing your comic book series are all part of the writing and publishing process. Authors can also decide how to bind their book series during the planning and writing stages, and comic book printing looks great with both perfect or saddle stitch binding, depending on how the author wants the final publication of the story to look.

Working with a printer that you can trust makes the final stage of printing your series easy and is perfect for authors who want to self-publish their own books. So when your series is ready for printing, it’s time to partner with a trusted company like Publishing Xpress to take your comic from concept to a book ready for sale. Publishing Xpress has been helping comic book authors bring their fantastical worlds and engaging heroes to life through their comic book printing services for many decades and they can help you, too.

Developing Your Series

Successful comic book printing begins with a sound, complete plan for developing your story and characters and the fantastical world that they will inhabit. Because almost all comic book series entail a compelling hero with a complex backstory and engaging supporting characters, writers that plan when, where, and how to include all of these aspects into their larger series can be sure that their final book and series will be just as exciting as they had imagined.

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