by Bryan Patrick Avery
I got stuck a few weeks ago.
It happens to every writer, eventually. Characters refuse to cooperate, dialogue sounds like something created by poorly programmed AI, or plot points get swallowed up by gaping plot holes. So, what to do when this happens to you? I found the answer to my latest literary crisis in an unexpected place: Japanese comics.
Yonkoma, sometimes called 4 Koma, is a comic strip technique popularized in Japan which has become a staple in comic strips. The intent of Yonkoma is to tell a story using four panels of equal size and structure. This gives equal space to each part of the story. The plot is broken down like this:
This is the introduction. It sets the stage for everything that follows by introducing the setting, the characters, and anything else we need to know.
The second panel kicks of the action. Once we’ve learned where we are and who we’re with, we can set everything on motion. That happens in this panel.
Once everything is set in motion, this panel reveals a surprise or twist that moves the story in a new direction.
This panel is the punchline, the payoff, or the conclusion. It wraps up the story in a satisfying way.
And that’s it. It’s a key format in many comics including Nathan W. Pyle’s Strange Planet and Charles Schultz’s Peanuts.
You may be wondering, “How can this help me with my writing?" Here’s how:
If you’re struggling with entire plot of your work in progress, try boiling the plot down to those four panels. If you write using the three act structure, think of Panel 1 as your Act I, Panels 2 and 3 as Act II, Panel 4 as Act III. This will help you boil your story down to its essential pieces.
If you’re struggling with a particular scene, try breaking the scene down into panels. Again, this will help you locate the key parts of your scene. Obviously, when it comes to writing, you’ll be able to embellish a bit, but you’re have a blueprint for the scene that will keep you on track.
If you're struggling to develop your characters, you can create a four panel plot that shows two or more of your characters interacting. The restricted space will, again, help you focus on what’s essential for your story.
Give a try and see if this approach can help you like it helped me.
That’s all for this month, Happy writing and have a magical month.
By Melissa Stoller
This is a great month to skip, dash, and MARCH toward ideas! Here are a few exercises to help inspire your next story or to add details to a current manuscript:
1) Write out the word “MARCH” and then brainstorm thoughts that spring to mind. I think about marching in parades. I also remember Jo March from the novel Little Women. Finally, I visualize months of the year. Does anything on your list inspire a story idea?
2) Jot down some childhood memories of activities you remember doing in the month of March. For me, there was often snow in March, and I remember sledding. Go through your list and notice trends that stand out that could form a story arc.
3) Next, note any travel experiences you have had during the month of March. Family spring break trips to a beach destination immediately surface. Jot down memorable sights, foods you enjoyed, and any souvenirs you brought home. Do any of these experiences lend themselves to your current work?
4) Finally, look outside your window during the days and the evenings. What do you see? Where I live, flowers often start sprouting toward the end of the month. Also the stars are bright on a clear night. Include some sensory details you note in your manuscripts.
This month, MARCH toward collecting ideas from brainstorming, remembering past experiences, and observing your surroundings. I hope this will help spark your creativity. Let me know in the comments.
(Image from Canva)
Melissa Stoller writes to bring connection, joy, and a bit of magic to her readers. She is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Return to Coney Island, and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush; Ready, Set, GOrilla!; Sadie’s Shabbat Stories; Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom; and Building Bridges: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (co-written with Callie Lovvorn and Shirin Rahman). Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Rate Your Story Judge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, a Book Meshuggenahs member, a Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center Advisory Council member, and a past school and synagogue Trustee. She also interviews authors and offers resources on her blog. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer/editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and Central Park walks. Melissa is represented by Jonathan Rosen at The Seymour Agency.
CONNECT WITH MELISSA:
By Shirin Shamsi
I’m so thrilled and honored that the wonderful Mira Reisberg invited me to write for BLOGFISH. I’m excited for all that 2023 holds, and to see what unfolds in the coming months.
March signals the arrival of spring. It brings with it optimism and hope. This March will be extra special, as it’s also the month of Ramadan, which is the 9th month of the Muslim lunar calendar.
Growing up in the UK, my parents were Pakistani immigrants, at a time when there were few. Even teachers knew little about my culture or background. There was no representation in the books I read. This is one reason why I became passionate about writing books, first for my own children, and now for all children. One of my first stories was about Ramadan. Well, it was about a girl, her family and it was set during the month of Ramadan.
Why do I focus on multicultural books? That’s simply my default. I write from my background, my history, my culture. It’s important. Everyone has a history that is specific to them. Every story is important. Until every child is represented in books, we as writers must keep creating books for all children everywhere.
Tip: Write your family history!
Interview the senior members of your family, for their stories.
There are treasures to be found in the memories of our seniors.
Have fun treasure-hunting!
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome multi-published former student Shirin Shamsi who will be focusing on Muslim and cultural kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break