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Monday, September 1, 2008

What Graphic Novelists Can Learn From Stephenie Meyer.

You would know the success story of Stephenie Meyer, who penned the insanely popular vampire novels Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. Now I've never read her work, but what I do know is that, according to the fans of the book, Meyer isn't even the best writer in the world. And yet she, along with Nicholas Sparks, possess that distinct quality that separates her as a hitmaker in the fiction world, something that comics creators can pick up and attempt to apply to their own comics works.

The ability to move. The ability to provide a visceral experience. The ability to explore and unearth a world of emotion.

Stories are, by nature, emotional. That's why they're stories--they have the ability to hit chords within us and make us react on a gut level. While the high-concept stories are good for the brain, their residual value is worthless if the don't shake up the core of a reader.

Just by experience, you would know that the most affecting stories you've heard from friends are those that have made you laugh, made you sad or fuming mad. These stories resonate within you even after they've been told. Emotional memory sticks harder and faster than anything you try to remember in your brain.

When you remember something cerebrally, it's more for functional purposes, and eventually you'll forget that quadratic formula you learned from high school. But that first love, or that first bloody fist fight--those moments definitely last longer.

That was the magic, I've been told, that Meyer's stories had. While we can argue that Twilight et al. had the benefits of being published by a major company and packaged in a way that attracted attention, those benefits were only means to an end. Because if Meyer's story had been told differently, there might not have been debates over Team Edwards and Team Jacobs, or the thousands of rabid discussion threads about the series.

It's always great to have a high concept for your graphic novel. Unique concepts inspire curiousity and intrigue, which are very important in the whole marketing process. But, like book covers and great art, a story that has no emotional backbone, that doesn't push buttons, is like that gorgeous wallflower--all form, no depth.

Adding emotional depth to your graphic novel is a two-step:

1) The situations you present have to, first and foremost, affect you in a profound way. To get to the bottom of that emotional well, you have to first be at the bottom. (Unless you've had a wealth of experience to be able to execute your work based on technique alone.)

2) Once you've identified the intensity of the emotion, you must be able to translate it effectively through words and images, or even through images alone. Intensity can work both ways, from the outburst of a guy in rage, or the silent tension of a woman holding back her tears.

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