The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Some Thoughts, Part One – Story

Posted by BigWords on March 30, 2010

Having abortively started this post three times, it is clear that a good entry point doesn’t exist. Not a problem, as I’ll get around to covering nearly all my thoughts on the narrative / story / package / promotion conundrum which I’ll be picking apart. The question arises from the things in the previous two posts, and will continue until I have worked this out of my system, so I’ll drop in a handy index in the first preface when there are enough points covered to warrant it. Having stumbled through two posts where fragmented pieces of what is to come have been seeded in your mind, I’ll kick off with the earliest point at which a burgeoning novel (or any other work) can be strengthened for a multimedia world – the idea itself.

The notion that a novel exists in and of itself has been bent, twisted and broken by the way other media appropriate concepts for their audience. I am not simply writing a novel when I set myself in front of the computer, I am writing an outline for a film, a walk-through for a computer game, a proposal for a television series, a comic-book or a radio show… The list of things which could potentially be spun off from anything (long form prose or otherwise) has greatly increased in the last decade, and most of the adaptations fall short because there is a gap between what was originally created in the mind of an author and what eventually arrives in another format. It is the most modern of problems, and one I should be addressing. This is where I get the feeling that I am standing alone, mapping out the multiple ways in which any individual scene can play out for the maximum benefit of any media. This has managed to open up scenes which I have been struggling with. But for this kind of departure of traditional thought regarding the creation of story points, I really need to hit you with an example:

In the middle of writing a scene in which nothing really happens, yet the two main characters travel from one location to another, I took the opportunity to give them some dialogue which progressed the story. I could have used this dialogue anywhere, but I really liked the fact than an otherwise unmemorable journey suddenly attains a more important role. The more I thought of this scene, the more I realized something – something elusive and yet right in front of me – was missing, though pinning down exactly what I could add to the mix was frustratingly vague. It soon dawned on me that I was thinking in “novel mode” rather than the “story mode” I have been trying to nurture. A conversation is fine, but what the scene really needed was some kick to it… A bit of life… Something which I had been missing in an attempt to keep from letting the story return to an unwieldy, sprawling mess (again), and which I desperately needed. Turns out that I knew what happened all along, but my brain refused to accept it.

In the scene immediately following the conversation, one of the MC’s is rubbing his jaw. I added in the line (as I do with most things of this nature) to hint at the passing of other, unseen, adventures they have along the way. It became clear to me that there must not have been enough time for much else to have occurred in the interval between the first scene and the next, so it offered a perfect place to slip in an extra bit of business. I’ve been trying to think of “story” as everything that happens in the novel, but there isn’t any reason to suppose I’m telling the whole story in the novel. Spelling everything out is a bad habit, and it is one that I can’t seem to grasp in the works of others. Not a criticism, guys, just my opinion. The missing interval would, if the novel contained everything, have been a fist fight with opposing agents in the train, but I don’t need to use that in the novel. It is irrelevant to the flow, and it topples the fine balance of ambiguity and clarity which appeals to me. It’ll appear in other media if that bridge is to be crossed at some point, but at least I know what happens.

In another, earlier, scene – the “revelation” moment, when Thomas’ eyes are opened to the possibility that larger powers are at work – I fudged most of the details. He enters a museum, walks around a bit, has his vision, then exits a changed man. It was clunky and uninspired, and yet I needed a way for him to do a 180 from his previous position. I won’t bore you with the details, but I realized that this scene could only be played out in film. And there is another scene which cries out to be a cartoon sequence. My work, and the world I am creating, isn’t limited to one media. This has made me look at each and every scene to see where I can expand on the basic notes, the first draft and the sketches I have made, fleshing out the things which will not be in the finished novel, but which will remain at hand to use for any movement into another media. I know how a game would look, and how I would frame a particular scene if I shot it. This level of concentration on details secondary (and even irrelevant) to the novel is opening up so many new and fresh ideas.

Story, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “an account of incidents or events” – that may be fine for a dry, clinical definition, but it doesn’t answer anything for me. I define story as “everything that happens to the characters from a set time to another set time (not necessarily produced for an audience in the right order),” or, simply “stuff.” I can’t, however much I want to, lock events into whatever happens in the novel and nothing else, because that doesn’t answer so many other questions which get raised. There are too many interesting and weird things which I can’t give the full attention they deserve in words alone. So… The point having been raised, and served up at some length, I think I’m safe enough leaving this for now.

Comments are appreciated.

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