On these consecutive pages of the observation journal, I was playing with stories and shapes — how a container not only calls a story into existence (see Narrative Theory #1) but how a story changes to fit the container.
On the first day, I played with an existing story, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of “The Wild Swans“. I treated it more as an idea, subject to change, rather than a rigid existing story. (It would be fun to try this process again as a way of representing/analysing an existing story, though.)
I drew up some three, four, and five panel arrangements. At the time I wasn’t thinking in terms of comics panels — they were just dividing the story up into Big Moments. I dropped the story into them (by sketching it).
All the time I watched what happened, and which bits of the story took over (transformation, the scarcities of kindness), and how the story changed itself.
This was a way of shaping this story, rather than analysing story shapes generally (although I did that later elsewhere, running several stories through the same shape).
The next day I tried the same exercise, but on an idea drawn from elements of an observation journal page (page 198, which you can see in a previous post) — something to do with the ghosts of animals, a much more nebulous concept than the Hans Christian Andersen story above.
And again, the different numbers of panels created a different shape for the story to fill, pulling the ideas away from each other.
- Take a story idea (or a loose concept, or an existing story).
- Draw up a series of boxes in groups of two, three, four, five (or one, for a challenge or a very tiny story).
- For each group of boxes, consider how you could fit that story into just those boxes. Which key scenes or moments could best sum up that story? Sketch or briefly write each scene into the corresponding box. Then try a different arrangement, or a different approach, or think of the worst scenes to sum up the story and find out what happens if you only keep those.
- Make a note of how the story changes. Which visuals take over, which themes seem to survive the winnowing? Which new ideas emerge? Does it change the original concept or your understanding of the story? Which groupings seem too thin, too complex, just right for the story or for the way you think?