Comic book writing experience #3 – Establishing my story’s ‘Controlling Idea’

Welcome to the third installment in this series of blog posts, in no specific order, that will highlight the various issues and obstacles on the road to creating my first ever comic book series. I’m not necessarily trying to advise other creators, I’m simply sharing my own experiences and thoughts and you guys can take from it what you like.

I should establish straight off the bat that although I have been writing for a few years now, I do not yet consider myself a ‘professional’ level writer so please do not assume that my way of doing things is necessarily the best path. I’m simply sharing what works (or doesn’t) for me.

And if you missed it, here’s the previous segment in this series:

A White Australian creating Indigenous characters

What is a controlling idea?

What is your story trying to tell the world? Or even simpler – what is the moral of your story? It helps to try to answer this question in one clear sentence and then shape your story around this idea.

If you don’t know what your story’s controlling idea is, take a step back from your writing and ask yourself what your story is saying about how the world works. You pretty much have your controlling idea once you answer this question!

We could go much deeper into the nature of a controlling idea but I think you get my drift. I don’t want these blog posts to turn into academic lectures. If you really want to explore the subject, buy Robert Kee’s book ‘Story,’ which is hands down the best guide to creative writing I have ever read.

What is my controlling idea’

The controlling idea of my series is ‘How we deal with death and loss shapes who we are.’ While it was obvious early on that my story dealt with death, it was only until I dug deeper that I discovered that what drove each character’s arc was the manner in which they coped with the death of loved ones. I won’t delve into this as I don’t want to give away too many spoilers 🙂

Why is it so important to clearly identify it early on in the writing process?

As I mentioned above, centering your story around a basic idea provides structure and allows the reader to walk away with a clear idea of your story’s purpose. Everyone has their own writing process though, some have a distinct notion of their controlling idea before they commence, while some only meditate upon it once they have already started writing. When it comes to my series, I definitely fell into the later category, in that the controlling idea only really came to me as I was scripting the panels. In hindsight, I would have preferred to have had established my controlling idea well before I started writing as it was a bit of pain to re-structure the plot and character arcs once the moral of my story actually dawned upon me (I already had the theme worked out – but theme is an entirely different matter). However we are all treading our own winding paths so just go with what works for you. There is no one hundred percent correct standard of story structure and process.

Thanks for reading!