Chris Butcher has a long important post spinning off from Queenie Chan’s comments on making her Tokyopop OEL/OGM THE DREAMING. First quote is from Chan:
âFrom this perspective, it’s almost inevitable that “The Dreaming” is structured in a Three-Act Structure. Does that mean that the three-act structure suits the 3-book format? Heck, no. This is because the 3-book format requires each book to be of equal length, which is NOT what you’re supposed to do with the three-act structure. The first act, mostly of set-ups and introduction, ought to be shorter than the other two acts, acting as a “hook” to draw the reader in. Over-extend the first act and your readers will start wondering when the plot is going to start. And yet, that’s EXACTLY what you have to do for the 3-book format. In other words, anybody who uses the three-act structure in the 3-book format is bound to hit against a similar wall. To be true, nobody complained about that aspect of “The Dreaming” vol1 to my knowledge (except me), but I thought vol 1 was too long, and it’s a flaw that I couldn’t fix as long as I used the three-act structure.â?
And here’s Butcher’s reaction:
And thatâs where her essay stopped me dead in my tracks. Iâve re-read her essay a number of times and I can only assume that sheâs serious, and that she firmly believes that adhering to a three-act structure actually means that each physical book needs to be an âactâ of the story. I can only call this a spectacular failure of imagination on the part of her or her editor. Having an overarching narrative in three acts is fine, but why not, say, have the first act âendâ? half way through the first book, introductions and premise out of the way, and then start your second act with plenty of action? Why not have your second book recap a brief introduction and then just get progressively crazier, with the climax of your story coming on the last page? Why not have your third volume offer the climax resolution (the end of act two) and then offer the dÃ©nouement (act three)? Whereâs the rule that says the acts have to rigidly adhere to your publisherâs formatting decisions? Because in any sort of creative writing class I’ve taken, I have to admit to never encountering that rule. The fact that Queenie-chan, and seemingly other OEL creators have accepted this as gospel truth of pacing is a little upsetting. There are hundreds of multi-book seriesâ on the racks, manga or otherwise, and none of them that I’ve encountered follow this model.
Butcher hasn’t read THE DREAMING, so he talks about the story structure of FOOL’S GOLD. Elsewhere, the structure of MAIL ORDER NINJA has also been discussed of late — this story was split into two volumes, which is not the way it was intended to be read. Butcher has been aken to task by a few other manga-ka for being harsh in his criticisms, but lets face it, Johanna and Chris are important critics because they don’t pull punches based on who they want to hang out with or work with or any other reason.
If nothing else happens from here on out, Tokyopops great original manga experiment has already been a significant undertaking that has introduced an entire generation of cartoonists who will be very important for the next decade, and, hell, let’s be honest, it’s paid them to learn on the job. But in reading all of this handsight, it seems to us that the Satisfying Chunk has become tainted.
Based on the books that sell the best, manga readers aren’t really that big on story structure. However, almost all the good manga we read is broken up into chapters or even short stories, because of the original serialization. Books from YOTSUBA&! to NEGIMA to RANMA 1/2 are broken up into segments, all with rising and falling action. We haven’t read THE DREAMING or MAIL ORDER NINJA either, so we can’t comment on how well the stories play out…or don’t. And as tempting as it is, you can’t compare everything to LORD OF THE RINGS.
Perhaps the bottom line is that just making a chunk bigger doesn’t make it satisfying. With all the graphic “novels”, or big picto-rockets coming out, you’d think people would have sat down and read Robert McKee at least. We don’t hold with all of McKee’s dictums, and certainly his ubiquity in Hollywood has led to rampant homogenization and predictability. (Speaking of which did anyone catch this week’s SOUTH PARK with Stan and the peewee hockey team? Genius!)
But if you’re going to write a 500+ page comic book, study story. It certainly can’t hurt. And it might just help you overcome vague editorial advice and logic-defying marketing decisions.