Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Training Myself to Be a Better Storyteller

Success can only go so far, especially if you don't know how you achieved success in the first place. That was my dilemma when the first Zaturnnah book hit it big. While many nice people have told me how "brilliant" the graphic novel was, I was at a loss. Where was the brilliance? Why did a lot of people like it, talk about it, and share it, as opposed to other Filipino comics? I had no clue.

One could argue that the camp humor, the "gayness" and the nostalgia had a lot to do with the success. But were they the only factors? Could someone else have similarly combined all those bits in a narrative and achieve the same enthusiastic audience reception? Was the Zaturnnah book a fluke, something of novelty that no one had thought of making, and something that was in its own league?

Maybe. Possibly. It became a challenge to me when I decided to create a sequel, because I felt I didn't have enough ammunition--camp humor, gayness, nostalgia--to fill another Zaturnnah story.

So I focused on story.

I didn't consciously know how to make a complete story. All I knew was that I needed a beginning, a middle and an end. That was how I created the Zaturnnah book and One Night In Purgatory. I was running on instinct. To many, the natural storytelling instinct is considered the best tool one could use. But I needed more "hard education," the proper skills to be able to articulate story, and not just rely on "it just felt right." Or, at least, the ability to explain myself with the proper terminology. Because if I were to reach a point wherein I wanted to teach comics creation, "it just felt right" would not be helpful at all.

For the past four years, on and off, I've invested in books about storytelling. I've read them and taken notes, and experienced one epiphany after another. Yes, there's Making Comics by Scott McCloud, but his book talks more about the interaction of text and images. The books I have focus more on structure and text, areas in which I felt I sorely lack.

Another part of my education is talking to people who know about story. And I have been lucky enough to have good friends whose careers involve story. These friends are from theater, not comics, but most of the stuff I've learned from them could easily be applied to comics. After all, all good stories--from television to prose, from film to comics--share the same underlying elements of theme, character, structure and plot. They just execute it in different forms, using different methods and devices.

The third part of my education, a part in which I have yet to immerse myself, is research. How did other graphic novels use the stuff that I've learned? This may be the most extensive part of the learning process, because it requires me to make some sort of "survey" of graphic novels. I have Arrowsmith, Maus, Persepolis, Shortcomings, a couple of Courtney Crumrins, and a few more to take apart. That will take a while. Feels like I'm going through a thesis.

The few things I've learned (and will learn) from the above, I've been sharing in this blog and my Facebook page, as well as applying them in the Zaturnnah sequel. By no means am I a master storyteller. Just an eager student, who wants to improve

And there's still a ways to go.

Image by yaba through sxc.hu.

2 comments:

Jos said...

Hi Carlo, chatted with NY gal whos a ZsaZsa fan. Brought back lots o Alamat memories LOL

Carver said...

OMG! It's the one and only Joseph Fouts! :-D Yes, those were the days. So innnocent. LOL

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