A post from my now-defunct Marvel blog concerning what we should be striving for in telling stories.
I read a scene the other day in a script that had come in that really made an impact on me. It was just a little six-page sequence, nothing important-but the emotional truth of the scene, what it said about the origins of the principle character, how he’d gotten to be where he was, the compromises he’d made, and the regrets he felt, rang out with a reverberation of honest truth to them. It wasn’t a bombastic scene, and in the grand scheme of things, most readers might not even have the same reaction. Nevertheless, I felt like this was a writer who was really on his game that day.
This, then, should always be the goal of any story-to connect with the audience on an almost visceral level. To reveal the emotional truths of existence, and through them, to convey a greater understanding of humanity and existence. Those moments are the ones that stay with people, that lend stories their greatest power.
And unfortunately, they’re often few and far between. Everybody working in this field gets so caught up in the pyrotechnics, the continuity, the color and the splash and the action that it’s very easy to lose sight of that key, crucial, tiny element that can make a story memorable. (And that’s nothing against the pyrotechnics and so forth. All of that is part and parcel of the energy and excitement that make comics fun and engaging to read. But I think that, without a true emotional hook, that stuff begins to lose its luster relatively quickly, empty calories that provide a temporary sugar rush, but leave you crashing afterwards.)
I feel like I keep reading the same scenes, the same exchanges and conflicts, the same false drama over and over again. It’s time to set the bar a bit higher for ourselves. Time to rededicate ourselves to illuminating those truths of character, to digging down deeper, probing the characters, turning them over and over and figuring out what makes them tick, why we’re fascinated by them, and then placing them in situations that reveal new facets-and, by extension, new facets of ourselves.
I suspect this is why Brian Bendis’ work is so popular. Despite the fact that he’s not the strongest plotter in the business (as Stephen R. Stahl will relate to you ad nauseum in the comments section below), and isn’t always as interested in the physicality of a conflict or an adventure, his stories inevitably revolve around some core nugget of emotional truth, and typically one that we haven’t seen expressed before in comics (or at least not quite in that way.) Which isn’t to say that Brian gets it right every single time, but his hit-to-miss ration when it comes to striking that chord of emotional truth is really good, and because it’s at the heart of what interests him about doing comics, he’s always swinging the bat.
So that’s my 2010 goal: push back towards the fundamentals of striving to find the emotional truth of the stories and the characters, and place a greater emphasis on that among our writers and editors. Raise the bar. Good thing we’ve got an editorial retreat coming up here.