Advice · geekery · Writing

Growing Stories, Salvaging Ideas

I adore creative project documentaries. You know the ones. They’re the “making of” documentaries. Games, movies, comics, the works. I love seeing the process, and hearing the anecdotes from these talented powerhouses as they walk us through the landscape that separates their initial concept and the finished product. Over the years, just taking the time to devour these little extras and behind-the-scenes bits have had a marked impact on me as a creator.

I’ve reaped a lot of benefits from this pastime of mine. I’ve picked up new tricks from production artists in Photoshop that I’ve used on several pieces, I’ve gleaned knowledge of camera movement from DOP’s that I’ve used in animations and comic storyboarding, and I’ve even dabbled in 3d stuff from little things that I saw other CG animation producers implementing.

hqdefaultThere are exceptions, of course. *shudders*

But, if there was anything I learned from consuming so much behind the scenes goodness, the most vital information came from how to salvage what appears to be a failure, or how something can start as one thing and end up something else that’s far greater. These two things have been like discovering a new Law of Physics to me when it comes to my stories or larger projects. I’ll give you two popular gaming examples, and then some of my own so you can see the application.

For the idea of salvaging something that seems like a failure, one need look no further than the story of Blizzard Entertainment’s path from Titan to Overwatch. I followed the story as if unfolded with great interest, but then there was a brilliant documentary about it on YouTube that brought the entire fiasco into focus.

From what was such a stunning defeat on the part of an otherwise unbruised company, they were able to seize onto the things that really spoke to them, rally the troops, shift gears, and keep going on something new. That’s inspiring to someone like me who has had a slew of ideas die on the operating table, as it were. I’m thinking you might have a few of those yourself. It’s an object lesson in perseverance, sure, but it’s also a great mindset to adopt when it comes to fostering the good hooks that got you excited about a project in the first place.

For my own part, such a failure-turned-victory would be my Archetype series. It started as a philosophical question packaged into a potential webcomic series, and that foundered so damn fast that I wondered at the time if I was just fooling myself. But I took the ideas and plot elements that gripped me, gave it some time and distance, and eventually it became the first book I ever published, with two more on the way.

instant-happiness-booksSo many books on the way. Prepare thy shelves, mortals.

But what about something that grows unexpectedly into something else? Something so, so much better than what it could have been? I present to you, Bioshock. I recently watched a making of doc about 2k Boston’s efforts with developing this spiritual successor to system Shock, and it was a fantastic look into conceptual process.

Bioshock is a damned Master Class in taking the time and having the patience to develop concepts. The initial thoughts on the part of the development team are so far removed from the underwater exploration of Objectivism we finally got that they may as well have been pitching an entirely different game. Throughout it all, the guiding principle seemed to hinge on a willingness to never settle at the initial design, and to be willing to let certain things go for the possibility of something more refined.

With my own work, that’s pretty much the cycle I went through with my fantasy world of Swordwaltzer. A lot of folks know that it had its humble beginnings in tabletop RPG’s, but what they don’t know is that the world I had created then was radically different to the one I launched as a webcomic back in 2003, and then slated for novelization over a decade later. It was given time and room to grow, to mutate in some case, and otherwise have more of an open-ended creation process than I normally use when it comes to creating worlds. What I have now has some of the echoes of that old universe’s Big Bang (one that occurred in my late teens. Ye Gods, I’m getting old), but it has grown into something so much more, for good or ill.

So what’s your take away from all this? Time, patience, perseverance, and dedication. The old saying would have you accept that no art is ever truly finished, and while that’s apt I would go further and tell you that no good idea is ever truly dead. Just mostly dead. And the best part is that you and Miracle Max can both work wonders on the mostly dead if you’re willing.

1443217724-0I make no guarantees that you will look as good while doing it, though.

So, badass, push on. Develop. Grow. If it has got its hooks in you, there’s a good reason for it. Be willing to give yourself the space you need to see that before you just chuck it all in the wastebin.

Have fun storming the castle!

Until next time, Horns Up.


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