For those who don't know me, I love superheroes. I grew up with my nose buried in comic books, I've memorized an unhealthy amount of trivia regarding several of my favorites, and I can talk for hours once someone gets me on "What If" storylines and thematic elements of these books. I've even written some articles like Why Do Superheroes Wear Their Underwear on The Outside? to answer a few questions we've all wondered about at least in passing.
However, one of the major things about comic books is that they're a very unique medium. The costumes the characters wear, the way the action is presented, every element is meant to operate within its own rules. And while the framing, color scheme, action, etc. does translate well to the screen (thanks in part to our movie making magic), it really does not transfer so well to text.
|Seems obvious... but trust me, it's not.|
Imagine your average Spider-Man fight scene, complete with leaps, bounds, acrobatic tumbles, dodges, and more. Now imagine someone writing it out shot-for-shot, blow-for-blow. When you do that the text can quickly get frenetic, and make it hard for you to tell exactly what's supposed to be happening in the scene. Especially if you insist on documenting every snarl, every gunshot, and every brightly-colored detail of the costumes of those involved. While you can sit back and look at a piece of art, following the progression with your eyes, text needs to draw clear lines so that a reader is aware of what's happening so they receive the proper information (and impact) from a scene. If they can't do that, they're missing out on the story you're trying to tell.
This seems obvious. After all, why would you attempt to ram a square peg into a round hole? But it's something that I see often enough that I thought I'd take this week to talk about it.
A Book Is A Book
There are a thousand different ways to tell stories, and experimental writing has a long and varied tradition. However, with that said, it's important to remember that a book is not a movie. It is not a play, a painting, or a comic. Just because something works well in another medium doesn't mean you can copy and paste it onto the page without a little bit of translation to make it function in book form.
|As an example.|
For those of you who haven't read my short story collection The Rejects, I'd turn your attention toward Assault on Olympus, the 5th story in the book. Originally written for an open call for the SNAFU series, its premise is an apocalyptic scenario where a team of metahumans has been sent in as a last-ditch effort to stop a nuclear super man that's crowned himself the despot of D.C.
The story has a definite comic book vibe to it in terms of the characters, their unusual abilities, and the high-stakes nature of their assignment. The style it's told in, though, is more of a traditional pulp action narrative, with clean lines of who is doing what, and what's going on around them. There was no need to detail every fold in the spandex, or talk about precisely how characters ducked, dodged or weaved across a field; that would have been clutter to trip up the reader. They would miss the forest for the trees, in other words.
Books have to tell their stories in text, and text has to communicate clearly with the reader. So pay attention to your flow, your details, and your style. Lastly, remember, it's okay to leave things out if they aren't important to a scene. If we don't need to know the lead is wearing silver pumps, that their black cape hangs to their ankles, or that they specifically blocked a blow with their left arm, it's probably safe to move on with the scene.
Edit: Describing Ballet
Since there seems to be some confusion based on feedback, I felt the need to add this section. I call it "describing ballet" because ballet as an art form is meant to be seen. It's the movement of the dance, the impact of the music, and all these disparate elements coming together.
You cannot recreate that impact by just describing a performance as a list of what movements were taken in what order.
Instead, you need to use creative language to convey to the reader all of the impressions this performance creates. You discuss the grace, the beauty, the strength, and the rhythm. You mention the trembling muscle in the lead dancer's shoulder, the bead of sweat eating through the makeup on her partner, the swell of the music in the background... in other words, you translate the entire experience to text instead of just writing down who moved, who jumped, and who pirouetted while also saying which music was playing.
That is the point of this exercise. Not that you should avoid certain genres, or certain types of scene, but that you need to translate it to the textual format. Because while a TV script has all the set description and dialogue, and it tells you a story, it is not a novel. You can make it into a novel, but you have to translate it from what it is (a bare-bones skeleton meant to work in a visual performance) into something that embraces the vehicle it's actually being used for (a novel).
Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!
That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
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