On Long Form Storytelling (Part 2)
“Write the moment” became my mantra when I was writing a fantasy novel about five years ago. I never finished the novel; a 50,000+ word manuscript taunts me every once in a while, and it’s got a beginning middle and end, but much of it is a mess and needs a heavy-handed edit that I can’t bring myself to do.
So, while the novel hasn’t made it (yet), the mantra survives. Write the moment. The only thing I have to worry about as a creator is the moment I am working on right now; everything else before it is done, and everything after it will arrive when it’s ready. Get this moment right. Right here. Now.
That mantra is exceedingly helpful in developing a daily gag strip. The desire is to get a ‘large chunk’ done at once, or to get on to the ‘good stuff’, means that you can easily lose focus on the individual page, image, or moment.
One thing that has allowed me to find a healthy balance is applying plot structure (that thing your English teacher always harped on and you always felt was useless – yeah. That thing). Viewing a week as a single narrative thread has opened up a world of possibilities for me. Ideally, I’m tending to think of each week of strips as carrying a unified theme, tying it together with a mini-story of sorts that pulls the whole week together. Each day needs to be a complete story in and of itself (back to ‘writing the moment’), but each day is a puzzle piece that fits with the full week.
The other benefit is that this forces me to mine a little deeper. For one concept or scenario, I usually get 2-3 workable ideas right off the bat. However, I find that if I keep at it and keep digging to the heart of that situation, other opportunities arise that I didn’t initially think of. Last week’s Witch Trials strips were a great example. The strips for Tuesday and Wednesday were written several weeks after the other strips, as I was digging back in for enough material to fill two weeks. They ended up being, in my mind, two of the strongest of the series.
Now, not every week is going to work this way, and not every theme lends itself perfectly to division into five strips. More often than not, however, I have found that organizing my thoughts in this way works nicely.
That extended riff on the Salem Witch Trials was my first foray into a longer sequence, where I am trying to push this out to two weeks to see what happens. Most of my ‘riffs’ are things I field test to see if they make it into the regular rotation for the strip. The Salem Teacher trials are not going to re-appear (at least, I assume they won’t), while other elements like watching TV or sitting in the principal’s office are here for the duration, and will likely be the source of recurring gags.