Or, why I like comic books and cartoons.
To put it quite simply, I like the way these two art-forms condense and compress plot. Think about it for a minute. A comic book, or graphic novel, has considerably less room to develop a deep, complex plot than, say, a literary work because a lot of space that could be used to develop plot via text is taken up with art. Also, there are generally fewer pages in a comic book than a novel, of any significant length, at any rate. The writer, therefore, has less space, or literary “time”, if you will, to develop a lengthy plot, so it usually is condensed down to its tightest form, its most simple aspect. It makes comics the perfect medium for examining plot to see how it works, really.
The same is true of cartoons. Now, I’ll admit that other regular shows can condense plot fairly well, too, but nothing seems to do it as well as kid’s cartoons. Take anything from Bugs Bunny to Sponge Bob Square Pants to G. I. Joe to Batman and you’ll find plot in its simplest form. Two, or more, characters in conflict struggling toward a resolution and, of course, finding one, all in 30 minutes or less. Now, one might argue that the sitcoms do the same thing, and they do, to an extent, but not with the same simplicity that cartoons manage. There’s rarely call for complicated subplots in a child’s mind. Oh, sure, the more adult “cartoons”, or animation, might have this, but how many Cowboy Bebops or Full Metal Alchemists or Ghost in the Shells are there running around out there? Right. (And, two of those three were manga, Japanese comic books, first.)
So, if you’re a writer who struggles with plot the way I do, check out a comic book. Find the plot. Identify the elements of it. Find the starting state, the conflict and trace it through to the resolution. Don’t be put off by the threads they leave open for the next book in the series. Just remember, each little plot is like a chapter in a larger book. Besides, there are worse ways to look at plotting a longer piece of work than to treat each chapter as a short story.
Oh, and I read them for the pictures, too.