Fisk (fiskblack) wrote,

Theater of the Mind

I finally completed Rachel's Confessions and put it up on the catalog. It's already bringing in record sales over all the other projects I've released, so I'm very happy. It's a good way to start off my last week at Fedex Kinkos.

This post is about making stories, though. Someone asked me in comments how I form stories and I thought I've finally got the time and means by which to form my ideas about it into something I can put here. There are no images, so it's worksafe.

I can start by going through a quick run-down of the process I use to concoct story ideas, and not so much the nitty gritty of dialog creation and other tiny details. Writing, for me, is a lot easier when I already have a core of developed characters ready to go. I remember dropping the ball with Hell for Humanity and realizing, finally, why the comic and story held far less inspiration for me than the other ideas I had cooking in my head. The universe of Hell for Humanity was created originally for a wargame you played on a table with miniatures and dice. Therefor, the intention was to create a huge, big-picture situation where players can spin off their own interesting ideas and fight neat battles. Having tremendously deep characters was secondary to creating a fun game. When I decided to transfer much of it (with a lot of modification) into comic form, I simply tried to apply the same formula. I created a huge geopolitical situation and aimed to depict the plight of a certain mercenary organization. I gave only cursory attention to the characters, who were plugged into a bigger plot where necessary. It left the characters a little hollow for me. They were archetypes, faces, and otherwise not very interesting people to me. I realized it's because I created a plot from the "top down" (big picture, then little details), instead of building it from the character level first.

I've come to the conclusion that character driven plots are more inspiring and entertaining than plot driven characters. People who take control of a situation and forge ahead to make an impact on the happenings of the world around them, are the ones that captivate a reader's attention and focus the story around them. This is whether they're good people or bad people. Better Days tends to have character driven plots. Even when things happen that are beyond the control of the main characters, they respond in ways tailored to their own personalities, and their responses shape the course of the story. There's another little world I'm creating that's inspired me far more than Hell for Humanity and would make a good project for when Better Days concludes in several years. It's a big world and it has a big geopolitical plot, but it's extremely character driven, and the characters are, I feel, interesting, rich personalities that shape their course in the world. Those who have seen the sketch blog might recall some of the tall sail and pirate themed pictures I'd been scribbling last week. It's related to that.

I think the mistake that most people make when they first start to "try to write" is that they do just that. They try to create a story from whole cloth, or out of thin air, as if your mind can simply concoct fabulous creations from sheer nothingness. I don't really know anyone who's mind works that way. One usually creates stories by taking bits and pieces of life that they know, people they encounter, and ideas they form, and extrapolate them into events and motives for their characters. Often chapters are written and re-written several times in my head while I've got any bit of free time. The mind can never be idle if you always want to come up with material. While doing tasks that are repetative and dull, your mind can always be thinking of plots, characters, backgrounds, twists, and various "what if" occurances. If you have a cast of detailed and interesting characters, their personalities can almost write the story by itself from the point of "what if". Writing is like any other excercise. Some people can do mathematics in their head very well. I cannot. But I have friends who program for a living that can. Writing is the same way. Coming up with a basic premise and a skeletal plotline will come along more easily as one allows their mind to become consumed with their own creation.

Technique isn't something I'm terribly good at getting into because I've had no creative writing classes and I've gotten to the point where stories just sort of sprout from my head with little effort. When I look at an image, a story will pop out at me as obvious and clear as the image itself. One technique that's worked with me is looking at either my images or images created by others, and finding enthralling stories and character depth that can be derived from them. These imaginary observations aren't overtly present in the image itself, but things in the image trigger thoughts in the mind that lead to bigger events and character personalities. Think about a movie poster, and the fact that an artist is tasked with encapsulating the "essence" of a movie plot that's already written, into that image. Work backwards from that. Draw or find an image, and let a story unfold in your mind that fits the image and the mood it's trying to convey. If you see an image of a clunky, large, futuristic machine lumbering across sand dunes, you can derive that there's a crew for it, and they are there for a reason. They are servicing wind farms and fighting off bandits trying to steal power from their fuel cells, or water from moisture collectors, and from there you can expound upon the decay of established authority and societal structure in desert frontier areas, and then you can further indulge yourself by imagining the crew and their piccadillos, including the cute and obligatory mechanic girl with the belly shirt and the adorable grease smear on her cheek and... you get the idea. It's never "just" a picture of a big truck in the desert. This is sort of an "active" way of looking at media. Most people just passively look at media and their creative minds are never excercised as a result.

I don't know much about writing novels and other things. I tend to be a very visual thinker and I enjoy conveying my stories with comics. I find myself nitpicking with my own sentence structure and descriptive muse whenever I toil trying to write "finished" stories in a word processor. But when it comes to plotting storylines for either comics or text stories, some techniques can be the same. Harry Harrison (a decent writer, but a blithering idiot IMHO) did a bit on writing technique that I read when I was a teenager. I thought he had a few good points. He told amateur writers to focus on developing decent, encapsulated short stories, before tackling huge projects. It makes sense, just like the way you learn anything else. You start small, and get more complicated as you go. It also teaches you to know how your stories will end, so you can formulate the beginnings and middle of your story, and elude to things that will pique the reader's curiosities. This is simply expanded when you make larger stories. I'm sure Ayn Rand knew the ending to Atlas Shrugged before she started writing it, and it's over 1,000 pages long. Harrison also told of a technique which is the writing equivalent to the imaging technique I described above. He sometimes writes a snippit. A snippit is a few pages long, depicting an engrossing moment in a bigger story, except that you're not writing the bigger story. You don't do character introduction, or setting introduction, or conclude the story. You simply show archetypal character behavior and personalities as they are in the midst of a thrilling moment. An example would be a three page scene where a cast of characters are steeling themselves and reflecting on their thoughts before "going over the top" in a big battle, and then comitting themselves to the battle. Later on, you build in both directions from those three pages. If you liked writing about one character or another, explore his background, think back, make him a central focus. Think about who they are fighting and why, and think about whether a conclusion to the bigger story would be the conclusion of the war or just the character's specific adventure. You can think of yourself writing the thrilling and pivotal moments that would be depicted on a preview trailer if your story was a movie. Then you can fill in the gaps.

Components and Structure
As far as this goes, I can't really say anything is set in stone. Someone may have the skills to put together a story without the traditional elements, and yet others may have the ability to make great stories without the usual structure. But to be traditional, stories generally have main characters, supporting characters, and conflict. Conflict is important. I doubt people really want to read about charaters effortlessly swimming through one great moment after another without any resistance or obsticals between them and their goals. Conflict can be external, in the form of resistance from others. This can take the form of physical force, or persuasive argument. It can also be internalized in the form of a person struggling with their own sense of morals, and making tough decisions. The classic depiction of this in a cartoon setting is the devil and the angel each sitting on a shoulder and arguing their case.

Keep exploring your ideas. Sometimes they'll lead to dead ends and you'll abandon them and sometimes you'll hit on things that really inspire you. If you're still in school, or another highly distracting setting, then you'll probably find your mental energy preoccupied with other things. I'd recommend you wait until your life eases up. And just keep working at your ideas if you find they won't leave you alone. Your first endeavors probably won't be your best and most inspiring. I could show to you stacks of aborted comic stories that I started when I was in my late teens and early twenties, things that look silly to me now, whole worlds I made and abandoned later, characters that are totally different now than they were then.

Good luck.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic