Steps 1, 2 and 3

In his book “Understanding Comics”, Scott McCloud talks about six “steps” that make up any piece of art, be it a painting, a sculpture, a film, a novel or, indeed, his own medium: comics. The steps can be assembled in any order, and they are:

  • Idea
  • Form
  • Genre/Idiom
  • Structure
  • Craft
  • Surface

 There is a lot to discuss about each one of these steps, and I have set a limit on these posts of 500 words apiece; so I’ll be talking about ideas, form and genre/idiom this week, and structure, craft and surface next week.

Sometimes they come thick and fast, at other times it can be like getting blood from a stone. The idea can be a character, a place, a situation or even a principle. This is often where my own stories start, but too many of them never get beyond this point!  An idea without a story will not reach outside the author’s mind, and a story without an idea will not reach the listener’s heart.    Turning an idea into a story is the whole craft of storytelling.

So, I’ve had an idea for a story. How am I going to tell it? As a piece of prose? As a poem? A script, a radio play, a comic? There are many possible choices for me, as a writer.  And, if I had the appropriate skills, I might choose to tell my story as a painting, a piece of music, a sculpture, or even a building!

A story can start from here; deciding that I want to write poetry, I could start planning poems and let the ideas come later. Or perhaps I decide I’m going to write for the radio, I could start with the form (a radio play or sketch) and find an idea to suit.

I now have the story I want to tell, and the form I’m going to use. But in what genre will my story be told? The possibilities are endless, but without a clear picture of whom I am telling the story to, without a “target audience” as it were, the whole thing will be a bit of a shot in the dark. I need to be telling this story for someone – even if it’s only myself!

I could choose to start the creative process from this step, by deciding, for example, that I want to write children’s books, or crime stories, or comedy; and then finding forms and ideas to fit my chosen genre.  I could also choose to mix two or more existing genres and create an idiom of my own.  For an artist or composer, it might be about choosing which “school” to follow, or founding an entirely new school.

That’s all for this week.  Next week, I’ll be talking about how structure, craft and surface help turn an idea into a finished story.

Link of the week:
It’s another webcomic!  Earthsong


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