Welcome to Secrets of Manga #9.
Today we’re going to try and recreate the process of taking thoughts about a story and organizing them in a storyboard.
How-to books tell us that we need to make characters first, then write out a synopsis in sentences, think up a scenario, and then begin work on a manuscript.
I don’t think this is a very good strategy.
Is creating a story really that difficult of a process? If someone assumes that they have to memorize that long, arduous process before they can make a story, I worry that they’ll just let go of the handle before they even start moving.
“A weak guy becomes strong.” “A guy without a girlfriend finds one.” It can be something simple like that. The situation doesn’t even have to change, just as long as something within the character’s mind does. It doesn’t matter what you write about, all you need to do is put in a change. The answers are always simple.
“A guy without a girlfriend gets one.” With this idea, all we have to do is add a few more elements to make it a deeper story. Like this.
“A guy without a girlfriend works hard to get one.” Here, we’ve added the fact that the “main character works hard.” We’ve enhanced the story.
“A guy without a girlfriend works hard to be popular with girls, but it doesn’t go well, so he tries hard in a different way and gets one.”
Now things are getting complicated. How about we go into a bit more detail?
“A guy without a girlfriend takes advice from a friend and tries to be popular with girls, but it doesn’t go well. He temporarily gives up on the idea of romance, but then, through solving a friend’s problem, he gets a girlfriend.”
Here, we added a friend and a “case-solving” element. But we still have yet to think about the girlfriend character and the problem. Let’s think up a setting.
“As the school festival grows closer, the main character still has yet to find a girl who will accompany him to an end-of-the-year party that only couples can join. He decides to get a girlfriend by the final day, and takes advice from a friend to try and be popular with girls, but it all fails. In the end, he figures he just doesn’t have the ability to charm the opposite sex, and decides to just work as a helper for the party. Then, suddenly the Dean of the school announces that the party will be canceled. The main character negotiates with the Dean and makes it so that the party can still happen. The heroine watches this happen and confesses her feelings for the main character.”
Now this sounds more like a story, doesn’t it? The heroine appears too suddenly, though, so we need to build up their relationship more from the beginning.
“As the school festival grows closer, the main character still has yet to find a girl who will accompany him to an end-of-the-year party that only couples can join. He really wants to invite his childhood friend, but he doesn’t have the courage to do it. His childhood friend, the heroine, is the daughter of the Dean of the school. He decides to get a girlfriend by the final day, but despite his efforts, not only does she not talk to him, she just acts cold and walks past him. He takes advice from one of her friends to try and be more popular with girls, but it all fails. In the end, he figures he just doesn’t have the ability to charm the opposite sex, and decides to just work as a helper for the party. Then one day, the Dean of the school catches the main character’s friend making out with a girl. The Dean decides that putting on this party would corrupt the students’ morals and cancels it. The main character covers for his friend and negotiates with the Dean. The heroine watches this happen and wonders why the main character is working so hard for a party that he isn’t even going to. ‘The Dean must have loved someone in order to give birth to you. Love can’t be suppressed,’ the main character says, awkwardly. Finally, the main character convinces the Dean and he allows the party to happen. On the night of the party, the main character watches his friends dance from behind the stage. Suddenly, the heroine appears and invites the main character to come out and dance. The other students surround the couple and clap as they dance.”
Now, doesn’t that sound like a normal episode from some campy sitcom?
Adding elements to a simple idea will give the story depth. As you do this, you can write out the story in sentences like I did above in order to organize everything, but I don’t see the point in writing out a full outline right at the start. What you should really be thinking about in the beginning is what you want to say.
By showing a loser getting a girlfriend, do you want to say “Hard work pays off in the end?” By showing a weak guy getting strong, do you want to say “It’s important to never give up?” It’s important to know what you want to tell your readers. Once you know what you want to say, you’ll automatically be able to create a story by adding elements on top of it, so you really don’t ever need to think up any genius ideas. The setting and the characters can come later. Thinking that you need to decide all that to go anywhere is a mistake, I think.
Incidentally, I never write out my plot in sentences. I do make notes and write down plot points when I come up with them, but most of the time I just play back the images I see in my head and write out the storyboard when I think I’m ready. If you write it out a bunch of times on paper, you’ll lose any sense of freshness you retain toward the work, and by the time you go to do the storyboard, you’ll no longer be able to tell whether it’s any good or not.
First, just draw the story using your own intuition. You can add things and cut off the excess later. Storyboards can always be changed.
That’s the kind of author I am. I know there are authors out there who do a lot of planning before they draw their storyboards, so I don’t think there’s only one correct approach to this. I think everyone should seek out the strategy that suits them best.
Now that the lengthy intro is out of the way, let’s get into the meat of this discussion. Here’s my storyboard again.
This is Tokko Island #25, the chapter I introduced last time. The entire storyboard is up there, so feel free to flip through it. Last time, I briefly introduced the story, but I’m going to explain it in more detail this time.
First, how about I explain in words what it is I’m trying to say to people with this story?
Tokko Island is a story about soldiers in a special suicide attack unit in World War II. The story aims to depict to readers the irrationality of war and make them think about what it all really means. This chapter in particular depicts a strange scene of a character being shocked at the death of a close friend, whom he knew would die eventually due to the nature of their mission. By connecting this scene with the main character’s sad decision to keep fighting (equaling death) in order to exact vengeance for his friend, it expresses the sadness and irrationality of war and invites the reader to question what purpose there is in continuing the battle.
“War is irrational.” Hearing this simple phrase may make you think “That’s all you want to say?” And no, that’s not it. I can’t say it all in one sentence, and that’s why we have manga! The characters and setting don’t really have anything to do with what I want to say. I want readers to realize that we, as humans, sometimes experience burning, boiling, deep emotions that we can’t put into words. I just keep replaying the images in my own head back to myself as I draw.
Change is necessary in order to make this theme into a story. “This chapter will be a break from the long battle, where the character starts off depressed about his friend, but has a change of heart and decides to go on fighting. I want to depict the main character as a soldier who’s prepared to die in a suicide attack, just like his friend was, as a human, and yet is still shocked by death, highlighting the strangeness of the human condition and the sad decision to choose suicide in order to exact vengeance for a friend’s death.”
Now that all that’s decided, I just need to figure out the flow. Time to repeat the images again.
Since I want this chapter to be a break, I need to make it quiet — the exact opposite of the exciting, violent chapters that came before it. Should I make it happen at morning? At night? What should the weather be like? The locale?
A scene of a damaged battleship quietly slipping into harbor through the morning fog popped into my head. Through the white space, they can hear shouts coming from the port in the distance. Soon, the sub exists the fog. It’s falling apart. Our eyes move to the ship, where the crew members are in the midst of a deep slumber. Silent morning air flows around them. How does the main character look? He’s the only one who can’t sleep — depressed about losing his friend. The bed his friend used to sleep in is empty. All that’s left are his friend’s belongings.
Let’s look at this sequence in the storyboard.
Did I do a good job in putting the images in my mind onto paper? Personally, I always view the images as a movie in my head before and merge them into the world of the story. Once I’ve gotten completely into the world of the manga, all I need to do is choose how the story will flow. I’ve already figured out the big developments, so I draw the beginning and then think up the rest as I go.
If it doesn’t go well, then I start all over again. If I can finish the first five or six pages, I usually don’t have any big problems later down the road.
Looks like this section is getting pretty long. I spent too much time on the intro. I think this is enough for today, so I’ll explain the rest next time.