“The Right Way”
As you may or may not know, I stopped production on The Ultimate Underfold to produce a graphic novel. In my efforts to craft a great story that everyone will enjoy, I have searched far and wide to find the perfect algorithm that will get me the perfect story. I read Save the Cat! and learned a ton of great story structure tools and information. It’s always good to learn new techniques, but I was very focused on using “the right” technique. The one that was going to make me all the money. So I followed the step-by-step instructions from Save the Cat! and started with a logline, then moved onto an outline, and a treatment and even did a bit of planning with a ton of index cards and a board… then I finally started writing my script. I was into the third act of my script when I realized that I was getting bored. I couldn’t figure it out. All my beats hit their marks, all my characters did the right things, and even my three acts seemed perfect… but something was off. I had a conversation about this with Michael Regina and he sagely pointed out that I was missing a theme… the emotional backbone of any good story. At this point, I’m sorry to say, that I was spiraling a bit. It’d been months since I’d drawn much and I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever finish this book. It’s daunting to continually have big pieces missing from your script… to have to go back and rewrite large swaths of your story… But as any good author will tell another author, what I should have done was “finish the first draft.” I’ve said this myself. I know it is true… but I didn’t do it.
The Problem With Formulas
You see, the problem with formulas is that you need all the variables. When I realized that I was missing a core component of my story, I went off the rails a bit. I couldn’t come up with a theme. I’ve been mulling over this book, this story, for a good chunk of time now. It’s evolved and grown and morphed into something that I really want to make, but I couldn’t come up with what the book was essentially about. When I was a kid, I had a tub full of LEGOs. There were probably thousands of pieces in that container, and invariably, I’d always wind up digging and digging for one piece that eluded my ever-watchful eye. I remember having the very logical thought every time this happened that I needed to look for another piece and I would find the one I really wanted. So here I am, as a kid, pretending to look for another block to trick the Lego into coming out of hiding… and it worked every time. That’s what I did. I did something that any writer would never* tell you to do. I stopped writing. I put a full stop to my writing of the book. Not forever, but… I was thinking too hard about it, and I needed to trick my brain into thinking about something else. I switched gears. I watched Supernatural and My Little Pony and figured out the theme of my story. I picked up Cleopatra in Space and read it all the way through… and came up with a solution to a problem I didn’t even realize I had fully. And while reading a bed time story (the book version of Lady and the Tramp) to my daughter, I realized something I was missing in the end of my story. In other words, I went all over the place and found answers to what I was looking for… without looking. And I was back. I quickly knocked out a new outline complete with new opening, more streamlined plot, and a shiny new theme laced throughout. But I am over script-writing right now. I needed to draw. So I jumped to what I do best… writing on the fly. I’ve got my outline in hand, and I’m just jumping into the thumbnailing stage. I’m laying out panels while I write the dialogue. It’s freeing to say the least.
If there’s no right way, is there a wrong way?
The idea of right and wrong in the case of making art is a bit formless. For me, the only “wrong” way to do art is to not make any. As my friend Sean Ewington put it…
There are 3 ways to do things. “The right way, the wrong way, and how I do it.” Your way is best.
And also, Stephen McCranie offered this advice:
Something that’s really helped me recently is that when you want to create content, you shouldn’t rely on formula or theory– you should make it on the fly with thumbnails and stream of consciousness writing. Formula and theory are good for organizing that content after you’ve created it– so go make some cool stuff! You can always sort it out later.
In a Bible study group I was a part of a few years back, we always had a person designated to ask, “So, what?” at the end to make sure we actually included something usable in our lessons and discussions. It was always a helpful reminder to make things applicable. That’s what I’m going to do here. The takeaway for all of this is just that there isn’t a “right” way or a “wrong” way to make art. I encourage everyone to learn about other people’s processes, tools, music preferences, etc. but take what you like and throw out the stuff that gets in your way. It’s your art. Make it how you want. For me, sometimes I just need to design a logo. I created desktop backgrounds for this story that no longer even have an accurate title, but I needed to do it. I made a folder to house all of my thumbnails in a book layout. Did I have to do that? Nope. But design is an important thing to me, so just having the papers organized and presentable will make me want to work on it more than a stack of chaos would. Find what works for you. Then do that.
What are you waiting for?
*I say “never” here to be hyperbolic. I’ve heard professionals suggest to other writers to stop writing, but not usually in this way.