THE EMPTY SPACES #4: Why are you telling me this?
A Psychodrama Spacefiller
By Bradly E. Peterson
In the last column, we spoke about keeping it simple, stupid. Uh... Not that you're like uh, stupid or anything... Oh hell with it. Yes! We are stupid! It's true! I see it everyday, and I'm sure you folks do as well. But ya know what the worst of it is? The worst part is when we see the stupidity come from OURSELVES and it's the same damn thing we do over and over and swear that we're not going to do but to anyway. Like that last sentence. It's a run-on. I love those damnable things, but they don't always work well for writing. Sure, it's great when you want to show someone who is, shall we say, a bit mental. But it's not something I want to lean on. It's not simple at all, is it? Goes completely against that whole K.I.S.S. principle, doesn't it? Yep, it sure does. Why am I telling you this? Simple...
The rules are made to be bent, my friend. Truth be told, it's not even a rule. I call it a rule, so that you'll hammer it into your noggin and use it to a certain degree. It isn't, however the only way to go.
Economy is a wonderful thing, when it gets the job done. But it doesn't always do that. "The cat sat on the mat." doesn't quite have the ring of, "Plume, her sleek Russian Blue sat watching and waiting for the bits of cake that were sure to fall from Dana's plate onto the mat so she could snatch them up... They always have. Surely tonight would be no exception.". That's fairly smooth, but what you've seen there was the result of seven different versions of the initial sentence. Now, that might sound like a lot, but the time involved wasn't all that much really. Fact is, it took exactly two minutes and twenty eight seconds. This is only because I type quite quickly. This is a good skill, to have. I got this fast from repetition, and excercised this skill by chatting on the net. IRC. Webchat. what-have-you. I've practiced being two different people at the same time, and had arguments with myself, and had one persona kicked out of the room and banned, while the other persona was lauded and accepted as "one of the bunch". This is what gets it... Trying something different. But that's not what I came to tell you about.*** Heh...
I came to tell you about the next deal... "Show, Don't Tell." Tattoo that one on your brain also. There's no other way to say it than this... If you've got something that the artist drew, why on earth would you also have the character always SAY the same thing that the artist is clearly showing? I've already said that we're stupid, but we're not THAT stupid! heh... We can SEE it! Why point it out? What's the point? It's there already, right? Well, not always...
See, one thing I've seen in fairytales is EXACTLY what I'm talking about. The illustration will show something happening, and the story tells us that exact thing. Well, that's ok, because this is how illustrated fairytales can be. This isn't breaking the rule or throwing away the principle necessarily... It's simply following it's own set of rules. Sometimes... Repetition... Makes... MIRACLES!
Themes that repeat through a story, lines that come up later to show a contrast or similarity. To show a comparison. This isn't like you're beating folks over the head with it, or anything. Often, repetition of a line or theme helps to hold a story together. "Out Of Whack" does this quite a lot in showing similarities and differences between the fairytale that is the first act and the other two which tell the street stories of our "lost children" Timm & Cricket. There are comparisons / contrasts drawn between fairytales and heroin, sweet old songs and rape, love and what passes for it these days, etc. David Lynch is quite good at this. In "Blue Velvet", he begins the film like a fifties postcard of a world that seems like it would be right at home in a Norman Rockewll painting, only to zoom in on the perfectly manicured lawn to show a dark vicious world just under the surface. David didn't have a narrator just blurt it out like that... He showed it to us, and let us see it. Let us experience it. He knows we're not THAT stupid. heh...
There's a movie that starred George Peppard called "The Third Day". I forget who wrote or directed it, but it starts out showing us a placid view of the countryside, and a peaceful river. The camera pans slowly to the left along the road, and we realize that the camera has led us to a a fairly sharp corner, and we see the guardrail broken and tire tracks leading toward it. OH! Someone ran their car off the road! Yep. Surprise. And they didn't tell us, they let us figure it out for ourselves. They show George Peppard crawl up to the road and walk into town. We soon find that he doesn't know exactly who he is, from what we see, and what the characters say to him, and his reactions to them. The fact that he doesn't know who he is, or what has happened to him isn't said outright until later in the film. They also let us find this out ourselves. Here's another example. If you haven't seen John Carpenter's "They Live", go rent it now, but don't ask anyone what it's about, and don't read the description on the box or even look at the art on the box. Just rent the movie. Your best bet is to ask the video store people if they've got it, tell them that you couldn't find it, and could they find it for you, while you look through the dollar bin or something. Trust me on this. Just do it. Watch the way John let's the story unfold. The audience pretty much has the same amount of info as the protagonist John Nada does, and we find it all out together. Study. Remember. Learn.
Frank Miller's "Sin City: Silent Night" is a great example of showing and not telling. In fact, only one sentence is said in the whole book. He let's us experience the story as we go.
Joe Zabel's "Oracle" has several wordless sequences in it, allowing the reader to experience these things. No dialogue to try and interpret. Just things seen from a distance. He's letting us see them, and not knocking us over the head with the things he's showing us by telling us in captions or in character dialogue. Wordless scenes and silent sequences are great things when done well, but aren't the only way to show it and not tell it.
There are many ways to avoid overstating the obvious. Something I like to do in some stories, is to have the captions do things that may or may not have anything directly to do with what is going on in the panels themselves, and may only meet up in the last panel to emphasise that particular panel. Song Lyrics, nursery rhymes, television commercials, people talking off-panel... All things that can be used to great effect, and can even be used to further a separate plot point than what is shown in the panels themselves. The point is to do something other than what everyone else does, especially being the same old, same old. Do something else. More on that next column.
Bradly E. Peterson - 10/18/1998
NEXT WEEK: I wanna be a rebel, just like everyone else!
*** Thanks to Arlo Guthrie, who wrote that wonderful line. If you haven't heard "Alices' Restaurant", then you must find and hear this thing. It's effing brilliant. Trust me on this. Don't rent the damned movie first. find the album, tape, or cd and listen to it. It will blow your mind, no lie. Oh, and if you've heard it, go dig out the damned eight track and listen to it again, dammit. heh...
(The contents of "The Empty Spaces" do not neccessarily reflect those of COMICON.com, it's managers, members, friends or relatives, and are solely those of Bradly E. Peterson, who is, quite frankly, a bit off. All contents are © 1998 Bradly E. Peterson, and should not be used without permission, but ask and ye shall recieve. He's easy, that guy. "The Empty Spaces" is a Psychodrama Press production, and let's just leave it at that.)
(NOTE: There were some replies to this...
Re: The Empty Spaces 4.1 Justin Savage 10.18.98
Re: The Empty Spaces 4.1 marshall 10.18.98
Re: The Empty Spaces 4.1 marshall 10.18.98
Re: The Empty Spaces 4 - Joe Zabel 10.19.98
They’re on the old “Creating Comics” board.)
Bradly E. Peterson
"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds"
(Albert Einstein) http://www.fastlane.net/homepages/drama/
[This message has been edited by Bradly E Peterson (edited 11-23-98).]