"Corcoran’s fantasy debut is equal parts thrilling and ridiculous. [...] Readers will look forward to the sequel."

August 22, 2019

Comics as Visual, Spatial Storytelling

Comics are worth your while, and are a unique form of storytelling. We've already discussed books as verbal storytelling and movies as audiovisual temporal storytelling, so what of comics? Comics—which includes comic books, graphic novels, webcomics, manga, and even comic strips—employ semi-verbal, visual, and spatial storytelling. 

A Way with Words

Like movies and plays, comics don't rely on words to tell their story. In fact, there are graphic novels out there that use no language at all. They are still semi-verbal, however, because the vast majority of them include words in the form of dialogue—usually in white balloons—narration, sound effects, and other uses of text.

One of the coolest comics I have ever read was the final entry as part of a tournament on Deviant Art (back in the day, different artists would create characters who would compete against those of other artists in comic entries drawn by each contestant). The artist's characters were fighting against the villain of the pieceanother artist's character, who had taken on that role—who was a violin-playing robot. Interspersed with drawn action were stanzas of a poem about Nero fiddling while Rome burned. The text was used to enhance the drawings, and gave the entire scenewhich included no dialogue—an eerie, tense feeling, similar to what one might feel if a particular song played over an otherwise silent action scene. 

Panels and Space

A four-panel gag manga from Nichijou
Aside from words, comics of course rely on visuals in the form of drawings or paintings, usually contained in boxes—called panels—so that a number of pictures, like shots in a film, cover a single page. These panels are what truly make comics unique, in that they are not only visual but spatial, too. Like a movie creator, artists must decide what's in any given panel and where the characters are standing in a scene, but while movie makers use time to pace their stories, artists use space.

For example, the artist might slow a scene down by drawing one panel of a character's hand hung limp at their side, then repeat that panel again, but this time with the fist clenched in resolve. Artists can also use page breaks to build tension, perhaps having the last panel on the page be a reaction shot and leaving whatever horror the character is seeing for the next page.

The size and position of panels is key to spatial storytelling. Important moments get larger panels, or even a two-page spread. Skinnier or smaller panels are used for supporting details and ongoing action. Sometimes, an artist draws a character outside of, over, or above multiple panels to either link what's in the panels or emphasize the character's action. Additionally, certain types of comics have a uniform layout, such as four-panel gag manga, which are similar to American comic strips, which have a setup of four panels in a column, the last being the punchline. 

The slanted panels represent the anxiety of the character

While the edges of most panels are basic perpendicular or slightly tilted lines, some artists play with this. Heavily tilted panels might symbolize a character going crazy, while black backgrounds behind the panels are often used for flashbacks or interior monologues. Many manga will spend a page or two having characters thinking, with their words floating in space and minimal pictures as a backdrop.

I've seen creativity in webcomics too. Though some webcomic artists stick to the tried and true four-panel set-up or normal page sizes, the internet allows people to go beyond these limits. Many artists use long vertical pages to tell their stories, while others play around even more. Ashley Cope, the author/artist of Unsounded, will occasionally add animations to her comic or will have pictures flowing off the standard book-sized page. In one chapter, a character falls into another dimension. In this case, the reader, instead of "turning the page" by hitting the right arrow key, must scroll down and down to see a sequence of drawings of the character falling. The next several pages are totally black except for the character looking around—even the usual background of the website is gone—and the URLs, typically ending in something like "ch04/p26.html" were replaced with "what.html", "huh.html", and "where_am_I.html". It was so inventive, driving home the fact that everything we had read so far was going to be totally different now; we were in a new place with new rules.

Humans and Art

Now, I could talk about how comics are the modern version of an ancient art form, relating them to the paintings we see on the walls of Egyptian tombs, Asian woodblock prints adorned with captions, Christian triptychs which tell stories of biblical figures and saints, and the very, very, very long comic known as the Bayeux Tapestry, but I think you get the idea. Humans are verbal, emotional, and we love visual imagery. Comics have employed some new standards—white balloons for talking, onomatopoeia sound effects, specific symbols to signify certain movements or emotions (especially in manga)—but overall, they're just the newest version of humans using art to tell stories.  

If you still pooh-pooh comics as somehow inferior to books or movies, do yourself a favor and read the following: Rosalie Lightning: A GraphicMemoir by Tom Hart and Erased by Kei Sanbe. These are by no means the only great comics out there, but they are shorter than a lot and are prime examples of what a comic can be. Rosalie Lightning, in particular, is a crash course in non-linear, cyclical narrative and the use of recurring imagery. Erased is, well... Erased is one of the four perfect stories in existence. It, too, makes amazing use of motifs and symbolism, many of which make call backs in the final chapters. It also has a mind-blowing premise (a cat-and-mouse time travel story), excellent characters, and heart.

Anyway, that is why comics are unique and worthwhile, and these, dear readersand comic fansare my thoughts on comics.

August 7, 2019

Movies and Plays as Audiovisual, Temporal Storytelling

Movies and plays are worth your while, and are a unique form of storytelling (Yes, that is almost exactly how I opened my last post; this is a series, after all!). Now, theoretically, I should talk about these two mediums separately, as they have some major differences. I could even do another post about TV shows as a sequential form of movies, but I think "serial storytelling" will have to be a topic for the far future. I believe, however, that these two mediums have much more in common than they have different.

Movies and playsincluding musicals and TV shows as welluse semi-verbal, visual, temporal, and auditory storytelling.

July 24, 2019

Books as Verbal Storytelling

Drink tea, read books, be happy.
Books are worth your while, and are a unique form of storytelling. I probably don't have to convince most of you of that, since you're probably following this blog as someone familiar with The Styx Trilogy or my short stories. Also, I'd wager that most people think that books are important. But what makes them unique? Why read—or write—a book instead of watching a movie or playing a video game?

Lets begin with the basics. Books—and I'm going to include novels, book series, and even short stories under this umbrella—use verbal storytelling. They are the only medium to be completely without a visual component. This means that the author must choose his words carefully in order to convey what the characters, scenes, or actions look like to the audience. At the same time, there is a natural disconnect between what the author sees in his mind's eye and what the reader will imagine. This is a good thing. Each reader will have a somewhat unique experience of the book, while still getting most of what the author intended.

July 10, 2019

Reader Viewer Gamer Spy

Ok, maybe not that last one, but anyway...

If you've hung around this blog long enough, you've likely noticed that I tend to talk about "stories" more often than books, and that I use games, manga, and movies as well as written works to discuss writing concepts. This is because I think all those stories, in whatever medium, have something interesting to say, or something worth examining. Yet there exists no decent word for a person such as myself, a lover of stories, if you will.

June 25, 2019

The Obligatory Strong Female Character Post

What constitutes a "strong female character" (or SFC for short). As a person on the internet, I’m obligated to weigh in on this. Everybody’s doing it! But what do we mean by “strong”? Is a strong person the same as a strong character? And do we need more SFCs in fiction?

June 10, 2019

Libraries Are a Writer's Best Friend

There are a lot of resources out there for writers, from helpful websites to books to workshops, but the oddly overlooked one, in this day and age, is libraries. I'll chock this up to people assuming they can find everything they need on the internet (which, to be fair, is mostly true) or to thinking that libraries and physical books are passé (which is blatantly false). Sadly, many writers—who, if they do well, will have their books in libraries someday—don't understand how much libraries can offer them, for free.

May 28, 2019

MacGuffins Matter

If you know what a MacGuffin is, you're probably thinking that they actually don't matter in the slightest and that I'm full of nonsense. If you don't know what a MacGuffin is, here's a definition from Merriam-Websteran object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance. The most famous example is the Maltese Falcon, in the film of the same name. It sets the plot in motion, in that every character wants the statue for himself, but lacks intrinsic value in that "the Maltese Falcon" could be swapped out for the treasure of your choice: the Abyssinian Monkey, the Peruvian Chinchilla, the MacGuffian Beast.

May 15, 2019

Writing Q & A #3

For this Q & A, I combined two short "Asks" from my Tumblr. Feel free to use these questions, as well as those from the first two Q & As, in your own blogging, fellow writers!

Poetry Questions

Q: Do you tend to focus more on word play or imagery in your poems?
A: I do a little of both. Although I like stark, clear images, I tend to write about abstract concepts, which don't always lend themselves to imagery. I'm actually not that into metaphors, but I love using wordplay to create connections between unlike concepts instead.

May 8, 2019

One-Third Year's Resolution

As of last week, one third of 2019 has past! As far as New Year's Resolutions go, I'm doing... okay. My goal, if you recall, was that every week I would write something, outline something, research or edit something, and take or make one picture for social media. I also decided on doing two of any one of those four things, so that I would, in total, do five writing-related activities every week. Pretty quickly, however, I began missing goals. I didn't outline one week and bumped it to the next, or I only wrote half a blog post, or just... didn't write or outline anything! Technically speaking, I pretty much failed at my resolution by February at the earliest or mid-March at the latest.

May 1, 2019

Editing Advice Part 4: Copyediting

Now that you have checked your WIP for continuity, addressed every plot hole, and finished all rewrites, it's time to put on the final touches by copyediting!

Now, just to be clear, the term "copyediting" usually refers to when an editor, not the writer, reads the manuscript looking for errors, and it actually does include a lot of continuity editing and fact checking. But this series is for writers editing their own work before another soul reads it (regardless of if the work will then be self-published or sent out to agents and editors). It is my belief that, for a writer, continuity editing should come long before the final stage of the editing process. Thus, for our purposes, I'm going to use "copyediting" to refer to correcting errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other such things.

Obviously, this involves going through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, on the lookout for misspellings and typos. However, there are a few items to especially  watch for, roughly broken down into the categories of spelling; grammar, usage, and style; and punctuation, spacing, and everything else.