Story Triplets: Summary, Genre & Theme
Continuing with our theme from last monthâ€™s column, weâ€™re delving into the core of telling stories and making sure that the foundation weâ€™re building is strong, instead of trying to create a comic from thin air. Making a good story means doing a lot of thinking up front, but don’t be intimidated, because once the ideas start flowing, you won’t be able to stop!
In the last column, I talked about the 3 major stages of a typical story: Introduction, Conflict and Resolution. Beyond that, we can look at another set of elements that build into the story: Summary, Genre and Theme. These new 3 are the set dressing that will focus your ideas into something more specific.
The more you have built up front before you start drawing your story, the more cohesive it will be. Many of the hurdles youâ€™ll have to face in crafting a good tale can be taken care of before you draw page one panel one. With that in mind, think about these following elements:
Summary: Whatâ€™s the story about? This shouldnâ€™t be a 2-page essay. Ideally, itâ€™s one sentence and it doesnâ€™t have to be very complex. Trust me, youâ€™ll have time to tell us multi-layered subtle stories after youâ€™ve learned how to tell us a simple story 1-2-3.
Look at the most popular movies and youâ€™ll be surprised at how easily they can be summed up. Star Wars (yes, the original one) could be â€œA young farm boy matures and becomes a galactic hero.â€ All the events and cool scenes that lead us through that are important, but they all reinforce that primary story objective or give us obstacles to that goal. There are more characters than just Luke Skywalker and there are other plotlines running, but the main thrust of the story and the focal point of it centers around Lukeâ€™s growth and maturation.
Genre: Notice that if we took out â€œfarmâ€ and â€œgalacticâ€ from our summary of Star Wars, it becomes completely generic: â€œA young boy matures and becomes a heroâ€. The basic idea behind Star Wars has been used countless times in countless genres. Any story about growth or change can be attached to a character who learns alongside our readers. Itâ€™s one of the best ways to â€œeducateâ€ the reader about a new time or place without feeling like youâ€™re just lecturing them. Itâ€™s a staple of classic fiction.
Any genre can hold storytelling potential: medieval fantasy, science fiction, modern day horror, romance. Choose one that inspires you instead of trying to find a hot trend or following in someoneâ€™s footsteps. Keep in mind that your story doesnâ€™t always have to fall perfectly into one set genre or idea, either. Lots of wonderful comics straddle a variety of genres and ideas, surprising the reader and keeping them on their toes (some good examples of genre jumping comics include Sandman, Framed!!!, Bone, Everything Jake, and Planetary). Donâ€™t try to please everyone by throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, though; make sure itâ€™s something you enjoy instead of trying to second guess what the reader wants.
Theme: What is the message youâ€™re trying to convey? Not every story has to preach something per se, but having a theme is a simple way of making sure that the story has a consistent point of view. It can be as straight forward as â€œGood will eventually triumph over evil.â€ and â€œlove conquers allâ€. Or, it may be something less defined such as â€œDo people even if know if reality exists?â€ or â€œDo we have a soul?â€ It doesnâ€™t have to be serious either… â€œPie is the answer.â€ is just as valid a theme as any other.
Itâ€™s a point of view and it doesnâ€™t have to be something that you back up with hard facts and science. Your story can have a set way of dealing with huge far-reaching questions about life, death, or reality in ways that we in real life canâ€™t control. It can show us your personal opinion on something, or just exist to amuse the reader.
Although there are always exceptions when it comes to any type of art form, storytelling conventions exist as a framework that people can recognize, and from which they can springboard ideas. Although thereâ€™re always going to be artistic pieces that donâ€™t conform to typical ideas, when youâ€™re starting out, itâ€™s a good idea to stick to the basics and build from them. Itâ€™ll make your stories strong while still giving you a lot of freedom to go your own way with it.
Once you have an idea of Summary, Genre and Theme set up, you can start to work with events and characters, bringing all the pieces together. Once the places and events are brainstormed, then characters start to come to life and you have the tools needed to create strong stories.