*NOTE: For those of you who are interested in writing, but not necessarily interested in comic books, thanks for sticking with me for the last few posts. (I know you're out there, I can hear you texting.) The comics stuff is finished for now on Fighting Words, but will continue for a few more entries on my companion blog, Moving Pictures, where I will post interviews with some interesting web-comic creators. Which you can find here:
For the rest of you, we now return to our regularly scheduled whining about the trials and tribulations of the writing life.
I have long been a proponent of the idea that battling against creative limitations fosters artistic growth.
Some of the funniest short cartoons ever realized by the Warner Brothers animation wing during the 30’s and 40’s occurred under the heavy limitations imposed by humor-challenged producers and overzealous censors. Walt Disney was a renowned control freak, and imposed extreme expectations and limitations on his artists.
In both examples the work came out great.
So, from time to time, I challenge myself with difficult creative restrictions. By doing this, I hope to hone specific skills or attempt a forward leap in my abilities. This is often very useful when you find yourself stranded on a developmental plateau. A good, tough, hardass exercise can sometimes ignite a big jump in skill, or at least a sideways step in perception.
I’m about to leap into just such an exercise.
A recent conversation with a new cyber-acquaintance of mine led me to consider the idea of writing something long, but intended to be consumed in serial form. Bite-sized literary hors d’oeuvres that can be doled out on a daily or weekly schedule. These tasty little chunks would have to function as complete units unto themselves, and work as part of a larger whole. Now let’s say those chunks were between 800 and 1000 words each. Not much to work with there, but I am intrigued…
I accept the challenge!
I’m going to write a novella-sized story of about 16,000 to 20,000 words in installments of 800 to 1000 words per episode.
Damn, I think I just had a flash of “writer’s remorse”.
To begin with, let’s consider what each episode has to do. Each one should be a functioning scene-let, with a beginning middle and end. Each should start with a recap, and end with something intriguing, a cliff-hanger of sorts, that will entice the reader to tune in for the next episode. Now, on a basic level, that’s something that’s been done on radio and TV for years. Those commercial interruptions represent a natural structure of ‘acts’ breaking up the simple structure of 'beginning, middle and end'. And comics do it too, 20 pages of story, and a cliffhanger to bring you back for the next issue. Or so it used to be, anyway.
So, I know this is do-able, but the real challenge is the word count. 800 words is not much to get going with. Even though the average comic book probably has only about 1000 words, it also has all those pictures. And, as we all know, every one of those pictures is worth 1000 words each. That makes a big difference, my friends, a very big difference.
So, for a real serious use of the short form, let’s look at the comic book’s dowdier cousin, the newspaper strip. A classic adventure strip had between 1 and 4 panels, and probably averaged only about 40-80 words per episode, plus a slightly longer Sunday installment. That is pretty damn tight, even considering all those mouthy pictures adding in their large word equivalencies. I have words and only words to achieve my goals.
But, the comics will act as my textbook.
After reading some strips and breaking down the basics of the super-short technique, I will move forward to my own story. I’m going to write something pulpy in nature, (because that's my wheelhouse) and it'll be in the speculative fiction genre. I’m going to give myself a loose deadline of six months.
Fear for me, brother writers, as I enter the crucible.
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