Some favourite characters save a writer from the block.. A story in two Acts. Act One.
Whether or not you believe writers block really exists this story begins with me having what I believed was a pretty serious case of it.
My biggest challenge has never been coming up with concepts and ideas but in translating that into actual words on a page. It’s all very well taking the standard advice and just writing any old crap for ten minutes and then magically the writing flow part of your brain wakes up and you start turning out pages and pages of golden prose.
Sometimes you. Just…Get…Stuck.
And often that’s just not being able to get started. It’s not the same as laziness though. It’s hard to put my finger on it but there’s just ‘something’ blocking that ability to just get on and do it.
I thought the challenge was in translating that initial idea into a story. That’s tough in itself. And there’s all kinds of good advice out there to support planning story structure and processes to take you from an outline to final draft.
But here’s what I found when I thought I’d discovered my own way to remove that particular barrier….
In introducing my son to the world of comic books we were reading Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s fantastic interpretation of the Wizard of Oz.
Cheshire Cat by Skottie Young
This sparked the idea that you don’t necessarily need to come up with something completely new. In fact, there are masses of potential in reinterpreting existing work.
The more I thought about this the more it appealed as a way to overcome my ‘block’. Specifically, the hurdles faced when translating an original concept into the specifics of plot, story arcs and the like….
So let ’s explore the idea of ‘borrowing’ someone else’s story. Bear with me on this one, it’s not as evil as it first sounds.
In my day job, I work in Product development and a common source of solving a problem is to remove factors to isolate exactly where the issue lies. Basically applying the scientific method of isolating each variable to discover the cause of something.
So applying this logic to the creative process I thought I’d try out the ‘Shanower/Young method’ (I appreciate they weren’t the first people to do this but that was my source of inspiration so I’m sticking with it).
So how would I cope in taking an existing work such as a classic prose novel and converting that to a comic book story? My first thought was ‘I’ve cracked this’. All the pain of Worldbuilding, crafting the story, dialogue, and characterisation was already done for me. So my project would be how to turn such content into a comic book script. In theory, it becomes more of a heavy editing job.
So what to choose? Well, I wanted to pick a well-known story as people would have an instant affinity with it. But one that isn’t too big a project in terms of printed pages. I decided on a story that fits this brief perfectly and one which also has plenty of room for interpretation.
I decided on Alice in Wonderland (Or Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland to give it it’s proper title). Yes it’s been retold many times but the point of the project was specifically to go through the process of translating a conventional story into comic pages. And where there is maybe less opportunity to twist the story itself into something new there are certainly plenty of opportunities for an artist to recreate Wonderland in an entirely new light.
White Rabbit by Skottie Young
(Here is a discussion on Public Domain Characters from our ComixCentral Forum)
So in answer to the all-important question. Did it work?
In many ways yes it did. In others not so much (see Act two). It gave a focus to a writing project and has been a great exercise in translating story, ideas and dialogue to a comic script. Any opportunity to do this is always going to add to a writer’s experience. And in terms of the old adage of the hardest part of writing is in the editing then it certainly ticks all of those boxes.
But the main thing for me was simply the impetus and focus for a project. This one is only realised as far as a script so far but as I don’t illustrate my work that’s as far as I’ll take it. But it has given some fresh momentum to my own original projects so on that score yes it worked and I’d absolutely do it again.
This has really opened my eyes to this process. And when you really look into it this method is used everywhere. Disney have made a whole industry out of it. Beyond their own retelling of Alice’s Adventures (in animation as well as live action) they’ve repeated this formula with countless public domain characters. I guess it keeps the lawyers happy… At times it’s an obvious straight retelling and other times it’s far less so. The Lion King has many parallels to Hamlet for example.
Also check out this page for other examples in the movie world. Home Alone and Die Hard are basically the same movie…
Oh and if any artists out there are looking for a project to illustrate I think I have just the thing for you….