When I was 18 or 19, I read a Syd Field book and instantly fell in love with the concept of the 3-act structure and properly plotting out your story. Since then, this ideal has dominated all my creative endeavors.
My writing always follows a structured plan, be it a screenplay, press release or magazine article. Recently, my blog posts are now plotted out using headers as chapter guides*.
When I was young and copying out drawings from comics, I’d draw a character’s eyes first and then draw outwards from there. I’d frequently draw myself into a corner or edge of the page.
Now I’d use ovals and cylinders to form the body shape and pose before filling in the details. It’s a far more effective method!
This was probably most evident during my few years in animation. There are two basic methods in animation: Pose-to-pose and Straight Ahead.
Pose-to-pose is all about blocking out your key poses at the beginning, end and major moments before filling in the inbetween poses later. In layman’s terms, it’s like those kids coloring books where the dots go down first, and then you just connect the dots later.
Straight ahead is more about going with the flow. You start from pose A, and then progressively add new frames and poses as you move along. Using this method, you have the freedom to change your mind and freestyle where your imagination takes you.
I was 100 percent a pose-to-pose guy. This isn’t the best example my blocking, but check it out:
I felt safer within the frameworks of this method, knowing that I can’t screw up too badly if I nail the major poses (it’s like in music when you screw up the guitar solo but salvage the song by hitting the last power chord right).
This structured approach would later influence the way I plan my social media marketing strategies.
Enter Stephen King
I recently read Stephen King’s memoirs/guide On Writing, and it challenged the way I look at the writing process.
In Stephen King’s opinion, plot is the nemesis of story.
“Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.” – Stephen King
King’s suggested approach is to take an inspired concept or situation and then just run with it. Write Ahead, so to speak.
This is scary for me. I always plan my stories, and I’ve even taken to planning them as scene cards on my dining table.
Look in my study and you’ll find tons of books filled with character notes. Hell, look in my work computer and you’ll find tons of notes for target audience personas.
And yet here’s King telling me to ditch all that backstory because it’s mostly boring and unhelpful.
Compound this with the fact that it’s a sentiment shared by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (arguably my favorite writer), who firmly believes that characters should be born the moment they appear in your screenplay, and not before. Write only the back story that appears or is spoken about in the movie, he says.
So I’d like to step up to this challenge. I have this story idea that I’ve been keeping in the back of my head since 2002. It was originally planned as a videogame but I’m going to turn it into a novel or short story and I’ll write it without my usual months and months of planning.
It will probably flunk, but I’m going to try it anyway. Can’t possibly hurt, right?
*The lack of headers in this post is because I really just wrote it all out in one shot.