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Write what you know. Write what is close to your heart. From that point of view, storytelling really isn’t rocket science at all. And when you examine closely and simply look at what you’re drawn to, it really is right in front of you. You just have to look and pay attention. I don’t know exactly what brought it on, the idea for this story that ‘suddenly’ just came to me, as I was on the bike to an appointment. We often want to believe or hear that it’s one thing or a magic trick that leads you to something. But I now see and realize it’s not like that. It does not work that way. Even when people say ‘it suddenly dawned on me’ or ‘all of a sudden I saw the light’. I’m sorry, but here is the scientist speaking: just like in a story, there has been a build-up to it. Change and growth does not happen overnight and neither come stories. Or ideas to stories.
At the end of December of last year a new animated series started on Netflix: Troll Hunters (2016) by Guillermo del Toro, drawn up in the animation studios of DreamWorks. And I was glued to the screen right away. The animation, but also and especially the narrative, the storytelling. Now, this studio’s reputation is not all good, especially in the narrative department. Sure, they can animate, but boy, do many of their stories suck. They knew what they were doing with the Shrek movies, but what painful storytelling in a whole bunch of others after that. Until they seemed to do it right again with How To Train Your Dragon (2010), which was based on a book (and I transcribed the screenplay for the Immersion Screenwriting Course, so I know it all too well, and was already in love with the movie before reading the screenplay). I won’t go into an in-depth analysis of DreamWorks’ animated movies right now, perhaps another time, but I was again very pleased with them, when I started watching this latest animated series. It is really good, even for adults, despite aiming at a younger audience. Its genre (according to IMDb): animation (although technically not a real genre), adventure, comedy. And I realized then, that this is secretly my actual favourite genre-combination. And when I think about it, these have been my favourite kind of stories since childhood, and goes back to fairytales.
These kinds of stories I can’t get enough of and are the kinds that put the biggest smile on my face, that go deep to my core and I want to see over and over. Immediately stories that fall into that category come to mind and each and every one of them, I get that inner most joyful feeling in me. Stories of discovery and adventure, overcoming and becoming. As a kid, I was already infatuated with the adventures of Robin Hood, Tarzan and Peter Pan, to name only very few. And any TV show that had some main character going on some kind of adventure and on a road to discovery, almost always having to overcome something big. Some more recent ones include Hook, Cutthroat Island, The Princess Bride, Dances With Wolves and of course the Shrek movies and the How To Train Your Dragon movies & series. But also the Star Wars and the first X-Men movies, for example. These only the tip of this iceberg. You know what I just realized now, that the adaptation story I wrote about and so wanted to do, also fits into these on some level and it explains even more now why I was so drawn to it. And here I was, wondering about what kinds of movies I really like. Hello! I was born curious, always wanting to know everything about everything. The slogan “Never stop exploring” by the brand North Face is pretty much my life motto. Why wouldn’t it then be the life blood of stories I will want to write? But I’m not surprised that it took a while to surface, often these kinds of things can get buried deep down by rubble that is part of life and of which there has been quite some in the past years, and with a few landslides in the recent months. Funny how this searching for an idea has almost been a story in itself, an adventure with a goal and a discovery, with the cannot-be-missed obstacles on its path. Boy, stories really are in everything in life.
Coming back to the story, when the idea came to me, it felt so natural to me. It was no alien. It was part of me already. No doubt in it. Zero. “But of course this is the kind of story you should write. Duh!” And like with the truth, I didn’t even need to write anything down from it when it came to my mind, because it just stuck to me and it was glued in my brain. A story was born. Only after I got home from my appointment, did I then start to write out the overall story. And it wasn’t difficult at all. For the first time it feels really good, it feels right. Hmm, where have I heard that before? Yeah, yeah, I know. But this one really does feel different. Because I don’t feel restricted. I have all the freedom to make everything up. I don’t have to take into account the real world and abide by those rules. Yes, a big reveal about this story: it will fit right in with the titles I just mentioned before. In the universe of legends and fairy tales, but also partly in the real world. You know, like Pixar does too. Yes, I am that cocky. I want it to be on that shelf, when you’re looking in your cupboard or your box with movies in it or your iTunes movie list, I want it to be up there, in there, with your very favourites in this genre. Well, at least my favourites. And it being able to hold its own.
In the next couple of days, I started doing research, because yes, even and perhaps even more so, these kinds of stories require lots of research. And of course I also wanted to know what else had been done along the same storyline, or types of characters. Remember, no story is new, every story has been told before, as I wrote about in this post. What you want is ‘simply’ something that is not too similar or too familiar or exactly the way it’s been done before. And I was very pleased to find out that I could not find anything exactly like it, but it was also good to write down the stories that do have similarities. This is why I think it is key to know what’s out there, although you won’t possible know all of it, it is important that you know most of what’s been done in the genre or combination of genres you plan to write in. Know your market. Know your competition.
Also, several scenes started to pop up and the story was beginning to take shape in general. And the more it did, the more scene ideas started to play on my retina, and very clear too. I can describe them to you in detail, if I wanted. A cinematographer would only have to turn on the camera and voila. That is a good sign in general. Because I have practiced photography since my early teens, this is not uncommon to me, ‘seeing the pictures’ play right in front of me. When someone tells me a story, about anything really, it always plays like a movie before my eyes.
And then I also started to look into names for the main characters. And keeping in mind what I once read, being careful not to give them names that are too similar or starting with the same first letter. Or vice versa, when they are meant to be ‘seen’ as one. On the same team, not having their own identity or you want the audience to think of the other too when you think of the one. Since this story is situated in the universe of legends and myths, I paid extra attention to what kind of names they would have, to give them even more meaning. And yes, once you name them, you do get attached to them. But it’s very helpful and practical too, because you can now continue to tell the story, in your head, on paper, with their names. This is especially handy, when you’re already in bed and more ideas pop up and you quickly want to scribble something down. And this way you remember the story easier too. Remember my post about naming the characters? It goes for writing about them too. You name your characters, you get attached to them, and the story attaches itself to you. And you’re falling in love with it, with them.
And in love is the best place to be to write it out, to write everything that pops into your head. As much as you have in your mind. Get it out. Now. Quickly! Before Mr. Doubt comes to pay you a visit and makes you hesitate again. And visit he did. Doing research is a good thing, but I also stumbled on a story related to this story content, that made me not want to write about it anymore. It was a very negative story. And mine is not. But then I met up with a friend, who wanted to hear all about this new story idea and as I was sharing the original idea she immediately assured me that since it’s not a ‘real’ story, I can tell whatever I want, take it into any direction I want and should forget about the negative story that is out there, which not many people will have seen or read about, it being a very long time ago and not exactly ‘world news’ or any movies made about. So, there was that out of the way.
And then something beautiful happened. As I was talking and sort of pitching in fact, with the images right in front of me in my mind, I was getting more and more excited about it and even I wanted to know how the story would go on as I was sharing it and so did she. That feeling I got and still get when watching those kinds of movies, was in full bloom when telling this story. That excitement was flowing through my veins. That exact feeling. Confirming that it was right for me to want to write this. But I also had gotten stuck on something else, namely how the story would end. ACT I and ACT II were pretty much thought out, well, not in detail yet, but the overall story, yes. But ACT III was not very clear yet at all. I know, almost a mortal sin, because you’re supposed to know the ending before you start thinking of the rest of the story, otherwise you don’t know where it’s going or what it takes to get there. Brainstorming with my friend really helped, how I could connect things in the story, and although we still had not figured out ACT III by the end of our coffee date, I didn’t worry about that anymore, because somehow it didn’t seem to be about ACT III. It felt like only a ‘minor’ detail how it would end, what the conclusion would be. This story felt more about the story itself, the journey, than about its destination. Like with many stories. I went home with confidence and the story had become even more vivid in my mind, and it felt pretty solid. Even my friend felt that.
Now I need to really start fleshing it out more, while this meetup and what we talked about is still fresh in my mind. Grab the momentum. Take the next step.