Comics Creators

Question for Writers


How do you guys go about developing ideas/writing for short, five page stories? I’m trying to really get into them and seem to have an issue having ideas that are that short.


I’m not an expert on these things, but usually for a short story I have to be economical about what I’m writing. I try to think about what story I am trying to tell and how much plot, action, character etc I can afford.

For me a short story is largely driven by progressing the idea to it’s natural conclusion, so I try to find ways to jettison stuff that the story doesn’t need (even if I like writing vast tracts of dialogue or would love a cool splash page). Mostly I tend to find myself looking over Comics and Sequential Art and trying to figure out how Will Eisner did stuff like that (with admittedly a couple of extra pages) in The Spirit.


Hi Jared. A good way to become adept at five page stories is to convert a long story to five pages. Take a movie like Star Wars: A New Hope. Work out how to adapt that story coherently in five comic book pages by pairing off more and more of what you don’t actually need to show in panels (like a storyboard). This will teach you how to be economical but still tell a story effectively. Then use that new skill to tell any story you want in 5 pages. You can improve even more by seeing if you can tell that story with even less panels/pages. It’s a good method of practice in telling stories in general, too.


That’s good advice.

For example, Grant Morrison retold the origin of Superman in two pages


Exactly the type of thing I was thinking but couldn’t think of examples off-hand, thank you Simon.


Thank you for the advice. I really appreciate it!


I will definitely give that a shot. Appreciate the advice!


I’m happy to help.

As with everything around writing, it’s a case of trial and error. If something doesn’t work for you, or give you what you need, do it over again.


Well… it depends on what kind of thing you are looking to write. For most short stories it’s important to have a strong central concept, or a twist in the story. So if you can start with that, do that. “The guy trying to kill him is actually his future self who has gone back in time”. That kind of thing, you know? You tell a scene, and then there is the twist.

If your trouble is that every idea you have seems to bring with it a long-form approach, hundreds of pages and volumes, the simple answer is, none of your ideas probably actually need that. You can tell a short about any of them simply by taking one core scene that would be in any of those books and telling it in an accessible way.

This is another approach for which you don’t even necessarily need a concept with a twist or anything: the slice of life story. This has, after all, been a type of short story for a very long time. Imagine you have a longer story, and tell one slice of that. Could be a conversation between the hero and his nemesis. Or a crew discovering a habitable planet in a distant solar system. Take one moment, tell it in five pages. Try to figure out how to make it flow, and how to make it interesting.

More generally, you might try out different techniques of developing ideas. For sci-fi? Do what Warren Ellis does, read the tech websites and think about how this technology could develop in the future. Then, think of a short story for that.

Or imagine situations, or characters, that catch your interest. Or think of ten first sentences, and see if any of those gives you something to work with tomorror. Or think of your favorite novels and about how you could give those stories a twist.

There’s a lot of creative writing techniques of how to come up with ideas; it’s actually not that hard. Writing the actual thing is, on the other hand… but that goes for all lengths, whether it’s 5 pages or 500.


Thank you!


The 2000AD Submissions page offers some good advice for writers putting together short stories.


Oh, man. Nice. Thank you for that.


Sorry Christian, could you rework that advice into one paragraph please? :wink:


Most advices here cover the subject I think. I have a very weird advice to give you , that really worked perfect for a friend of mine. Take a walk out. You must push your body to its limits and also walk like 5-10 kilometers in the best speed you can. After a little ideas (ok most of them useless but still ideas ) come like rain. It reminds me of a young writer that always worked jobs that didn’t need much of his brain and while he done his job he was working on his writing ideas.


Actually, I work out 6 times a week and that’s where most of my ideas really come in and develop. I think my problem is what much of the people here have said, that I just overdevelop them when I don’t have to. So, I don’t think that’s weird advice at all! Pretty essential if you ask me. Thank you for the reply!


I actually think it’s far, far easier to write something short than something long. Long means you sort of have to spend a lot of time on things that would otherwise not be essential to the story. Any good story can be summed up briefly (a moisture farmer ends up in the thick of an intergalactic war when he comes across droids carrying secret plans for the ultimate weapon and finds out who his old hermit friend really was). The longer you make it, the more things you can add in, the more things you can describe. So the reverse is how you make something shorter. As stated with less alacrity by others.


Thank you!


Oh, one last one that is pretty obvious but still bears mentioning - read a lot of stories in short format. There were different Vertigo anthology formats, for example, with some of the best writers in comics doing short form.

Vertigo also published a lot of short stories in their Vertigo Quarterly formats. There’s also 2000 AD, as has been mentioned, but those have their own style, in a way, and are a bit more pulpy. And the very good Dark Horse Presents series had short stories next to the ongoing serialised stories.

I am sure there are more amthology examples that people here can come up with.

Read those stories, and think about what the concept was that he writer first came up with, and how he worked that into a short form story.


Wow, thank you. I will definitely start picking up stuff like that. You’ve committed a lot of time to help me out, man. I hope I can return the favor some time. Thank you!


I ussually use the same aproach that i use for short stories.
I start by thinking in a possible narrative that allow me to put a twist in it.
May it be the identity of the narrator, the uncertatnty of circunstances or just making the reader think one think to compleltey change the rules of what i did in the last page (Withn a reasson, of course), i can honestly say that i start with the ending.
Like Cortazar used to say “In The Short Tale you can´t wear off your reader/Oponent…you have to win by a Knock Out…”

I hope this is of some use.