Captain's Blog #11 - "The Mighty Mini!" Tips for Creating a Great "Short" Story!

Red Sonja comic cover illustrated by Jim Lee!

     ...And here is why. Above is a cover to a full comic but its art is a great example of how even a single image can tell a great story. You can tell the setting, what kind of person is involved in the story ( and how little she is concerned about her surroundings by the way she is dressed ) and the intensity of the events contained in the comic. That is a lot of story for just one full page piece of art but this is what it means to tell great stories visually. In all of this, we as visual storytellers, would do best to create work with just as much clarity, intensity and catch as images like this but there is more to it than just pretty pictures.

     Following in the footsteps of a great recent podcast from one of my favorite communities,, I would like to help strengthen the content of one of our underused and most powerful creative tools, the short story. This is an important topic because as the frontier of our creative industry changes, "projects are becoming the new portfolio" as this podcast's experienced hosts Chris Oatley and Lora Innes remind us. This is because "projects" are real-world applications of the creator's skill sets and that is a big step beyond just showpieces.

     Also, I am contributing member and project lead in another awesome community called I am additionally writing this to help its members and my project's team with a few points to consider as they plan, write, illustrate, color and letter their own short stories that then get collected and published in anthologies! It is a really fun and engaging experience and I would suggest that many more artist take on such a task!

Onward to today's tips!

Note: Though I believe these tips are important to all short stories in many ways, they may not apply to yours. Only use what you feel helps your story communicate to the audience and do not stress the others. I am a creator that loves epic and intense stories and art so a few of these tips may be grander than you need. 

Let us start with two video examples of how powerful a short story can be.

Video Example 1

Kara - Heavy Rain/Quantic Dream Tech Demo
Warning: There is the essence of CG nudity but it doesn't really show any direct parts. Also, there are a few curse words so please do not watch if these things offend you.

Video Example 2

Crayon Dragon

     What makes these examples so special? They were a total of less than 15 minutes and yet you were touched and engaged because the content was powerful/meaningful and the delivery was well done and clear. Read on to see how these goals and more should be what we are striving for with our stories.

Short Story Tip #1:"Carpe Momentum!" -Seize the Moment-
     Create stories that focus on a single moment, event or situation. Like an episode on TV, you can have pieces of a larger story stand on their own in this way. I refer back to the Paper Wings video episode, "How To Lose A Fan In Ten Seconds: The Flaws Of A Comic-Con Pitch" by Chris Oatley, to re-enforce this point. Chris discussed the need to find the "universal human emotion" to discover and communicate the greatest basic theme in a story. This same practice is of the utmost importance when approaching a short story because you need to connect to the audience with that same message in less pages and time. Identify the UHE (universal human emotion) and its theme. This is where the power of a tale rests.  Then speak directly to it and you can be more effective in less space while still making a great impact.

Short Story Tip #2: Clarity!
     Your short stories must have a clear and concise set of information and happenings to be easily consumed in a shorter amount of time. Even if your tale is a story of mystery, the pieces and their presence needs to be clear by the end of the story. This tip affects both the story and art aspects of the final product. In storytelling of almost any kind, there needs to be an efficiency. You will see this in very well directed movies where some random item may get a few seconds of screen time or a shot is filmed from a very specific angle. You may not even realize its being done. Then later, when that information is needed, you realize how it was introduced and now, why. The same goes with a badly told story in that the important information is not focused on enough, at all or even worse when it is a small part of everything being thrown at the audience. Clarity is key and confusion does not equal mystery. Be clear and intentional when providing plot and information to your audience. I believe it helps them enjoy the story that much more.

This leads right into the next tip which is...

Short Story Tip #3: Be VISUAL, Storyteller!
     We are not writing in novels here so this is where things get artsy-fartsy. As a visual storyteller you get to let your art do part of the work for you! Let it encourage or even propel the setting, mood and characters of your story. Look back at the opening of this post. Jim Lee knew the content and goals of the story and used it to communicate a great deal on the cover. No dialog, just a picture. Let every page of your comic or children's book speak in the same visual language. If your setting is a major driving force in your tale, get it right and do it boldly! If that setting changes during the in-story events, ensure that it is enough of a difference that the audience sees and feels it. Below is an example of how this setting information is used in Disney's "Tangled" film with the lighting of Rapunzel's tower. In the beginning the tower is bathed in a place of light and wildly varying colors. Then, as the story takes a darker turn, the colors take a dive toward the grays and flatter tones and that helps the audience feel uneasy and unsure.

Tangled's Tower durring the day

Tangled's tower at night
You see, the setting within the story allows for beautiful imagery in one situation and then later, at night and in dark & brooding scenes, the tower itself feels like it is trapped in its location. It almost acts as a mirror to Rapunzel's character. All are illustrative factors that deepen the story experience for the characters and audience alike. 

     I know we artists and creators acknowledge this in our work, but not usually until the end for me so this tip is to help remind me too. If you plan for these kinds of effects and information in the beginning, then you can apply the thought process more smoothly during the creation stage and it will be more streamlined in the end ( and seem less like an afterthought ). You can apply this information to every aspect of your tale and the characters that experience it.

Short Story Tip #4: Leave them Satisfied
     A small meal can still be filling. My goal with a short story is for it to be hearty. Chalked full of the ingredients that make it fast, great and good for you without all of the unneeded volume. Trim the fat and give your reader a entree. Even if it is not a 7 course meal it can still be satisfying and it's ok to leave them wanting more. It just means you're a good chef!

     Food commentary aside ( cuz its making me hungry! ), this is probably one of the most important parts of telling short stories. Leave them satisfied. I have been learning a great deal as I am currently facing this lesson early on with my story, Kodi the Starfish. His tale debuted in the first space-themed anthology from The Illopond and I am currently working on Kodi's second short tale for their second space anthology, "8 in Spaaace #2: The Gemini Project", of which I am the lead. I was recently faced with awesome, thought-provoking questions from a fellow illopond member, Sam Kirkman that I just didn't know how to answer. I really had a to buckle down and learn from him and my circle of trust about what it means to create great short stories and what I was missing was proper ending.
     You character's story will not end with your short story ( unless he dies of course ), but your audience must be comfortable with walking away from it where you left them. That is what I had to learn and what ties into tip #1; whatever situation, event or moment you introduced is what your audience will look for a solution to. Even if it ends with them hanging on a cliff ( see what I did there, HA! ) and you lead the audience to where they can find out what happen, did you engage them enough to care? If you can answer that you may have a great short story on your hands!

     The reality with a short story is that we may never see nor hear of these characters again. They may never do anything else important with their lives or we just may not have time to tell of it. Make what what time does happen in the story and its events important and meaningful and then its time on the page may last..ever after.

In Closing,
     I hope that these suggestions will better help you to structure and create your Mighty stories in a Mini fashion. I am still new at this myself and I will be using these lessons often too, but I really felt the need to share them. My goal is to help you all get to the next level in your creative growth as a storyteller and also as a member of an audience. Please feel free to comment or ask questions and lets work on improving these tips together!

     This post is one of the first in a series on creating better content. The posts will build up to tips, both visual and storytelling, following me as I learn to create content that is EPIC. Soon we will discuss visual methods like framing a scene or panel and how its perspective, angle and negative space can speak volumes into what is happening to the the characters. I will pass on the knowledge I gain as I study and learn from the amazing and mighty epic art and stories around us. Until then...

Best be to yee' me mateys!
May the winds be at your backs and friends be at your sides. Blessed be your journeys.

Captain Dutz


  1. O Captain my Captain, Chris was right on the money when he said "You are so awesome it should be illegal!" You probably are in a few southern states!
    How dare you make it sound like I know anything! We are discovering and learning all this together. The only thing missing is the ability to shoot spitballs across the room at each other. Just watch, someone will come up with an app for that too! Heaven help the people outside cause what's going on in here outrageous!

    This is what Blogging is all about right here!

    Those vids are INCREDIBLE! Where do you find these things!?
    My the wind be always too your back, The sun on your face, and my the rum of friendship never run out.

    you are a blessing mate!

    1. Thank you Sam!!!

      I value you and your help and input greatly because you are so awesome! I am glad to be of service to you and I really do look forward to learning all of this storytelling stuff and how shoot spitballs across the country with you.

      And yes! The outside world has no idea whats coming with all of this amazing creating we are doing!!!

      Thanks for chiming in and I look forward to more!!!

      Oh, and the KARA vid was shown to me by another creative friend of mine and the Crayon Dragon was actually from a Facebook post from Paper Wings and another from Lee Wiley! I love networking!!!!

      MMM..Rum of Friendship, yeah, I'ld drink that!!!

      Best to ya!!!

  2. This was an incredible post! It's funny, but when I was just a fan of comics as a kid, my decision of whether or not to buy a comic issue would be based solely on whether or not the cover was interesting enough. Great stuff!