Secrets of Manga #9 – How to Write a Story, Part 2

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.
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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.

 

31

30

32

33

34

 

 

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.



Sato’s Road to Manga #9

I probably should have wrote about this sooner, but at the time, I was sharing my apartment with a classmate from my university.

 

I had dropped out during my first year, while he had gone on to his second. I was hardly ever home, and it seemed like the space was going to waste, so I decided to lend it out to a friend. At first the deal was that he would only have to pay 10,000 yen a month for the room, but gradually, he began to fall behind, and when I started coming home more often it seemed to bother him, so things didn’t last long. When we first started living together, we talked a lot and ate together, but soon we didn’t even speak to each other anymore.

 

One day, when I came home in the morning, the door was locked and chained shut. I peeked in through the mail slot and could tell that he was there. I knocked several times, but no one answered. It was 5 AM, so I went to a park nearby and sat down on a bench. I bought coffee from a vending machine and drank it. I sat there for about two hours, then went back and knocked on the door again.

 

When he answered the door in his underwear, still half-asleep and rubbing his eyes, I felt like I was going to explode. In the back room, I could see his girlfriend sleeping in her underwear.

 

I had no time to be free, no money, no girl, and no fun campus life. This was the path I had chosen, so I was fine with it, but seeing all this in front of my eyes so suddenly just made me too sad to bear.

 

I was living like a monk, yet nothing good ever happened to me. He was just a normal university student, not really trying hard at anything, yet he was clearly enjoying himself. It wasn’t fair.

 

When I entered the room, his girlfriend got scared. I was sick of wasting time in the park, though, so I sat down in front of the refrigerator and fell asleep.

 

One day, I said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a while, but — can you leave?”

 

He said okay and left. After he was gone, I found some extra packages of microwave curry in a box, so I ate them. A few days later he came to pick them up and got angry at me for eating them without asking him.

 

I still don’t blame him for what he did. It was my fault for being so inexperienced and haphazard. I thought my capricious nature was somehow cool in a way, which spurned me to say things like “I’ll lend you my room” and “get out” at the drop of a hat. I probably caused him a lot of trouble making him go along with my sudden whims.

 

And so, my friend left after spending half a year in the same room with me, and I continued drawing my manga alone. Work was hard, no one liked my manga, I had no friends, and I felt like I wasn’t enjoying my life at all. But I didn’t want to die either, so I drew manga.

 

If I remember correctly, around the end of summer, I finished a 50-page manuscript and called the girl I liked. I met her at a nearby Mos Burger and had her read my finished manga. She carefully read it and gave me some comments. She didn’t really like it, but it was still enough to satisfy me. Watching her read my work, I thought she looked so beautiful, and I couldn’t stop staring at her. I had never asked a girl out before, and I certainly didn’t possess the status, reputation, or mental stability to do such a thing, so staring at her was all I could do.

 

Showing her my manga was enough to satisfy me. Nothing happened between us, and it actually satisfied me so much that I didn’t even feel like taking it in to a publisher anymore. As soon as I went home, it was time for me to go back to work hell again. I had nothing but bad memories from my first submission, so that was probably contributing to my lack of enthusiasm.

 

After spending several more months in a daze, I thought, I can’t let this happen. So I put my manuscript in an envelope, slapped a stamp on it, and sent it to an amateur manga competition. I’d have to wait six months to find out the results.

 

F-san’s studio was busy as usual, and Grande’s two-year expiration date came in no time. The next thing I knew, I was the oldest art staff member there. Both of my subordinates were quiet people, just like myself, so we never talked.

 

I was the most experienced of the group, and the quickest, so I had no choice but to take on the bulk of the work. By that time, F-san also had me drawing character art as well. He drew the main characters and up-close shots, but as far as other side characters and areas of the main characters other than their faces, he ended up leaving it all to me. Nowadays, I can look back on some of the volumes of manga that were published during that period and think, Wow, I drew most of this book. Even if I had a cold, or a fever, by that point in time my work was necessary to finish the manuscript by the deadline, so I could never take any time off.

 

Life was painful, and I just wanted to go anywhere other than where I currently lived, so I eventually gave in and moved. I only got paid 130,000 yen a month, which I suspected was much lower than minimum wage, but I was too busy to use my money anyway, so I just saved whatever I didn’t use on rent.

 

I managed to move to a 5 sq. meter apartment in Koenji that cost 56,000 per month. I used up a lot of money to do it, put ample distance between me and my friend, and had finally succeeded at isolating myself. I was too poor to afford health insurance, so I never went to the doctor. I was so mentally disturbed at the time that if I had gone, they probably would have diagnosed me with something.

 

I waited and waited, but I never heard back about the manga contest. I so busy that I still had no idea what to do on my days off, so I just started drawing another manga. My 5 sq. meter room felt like a jail. I was on the first floor, right in front of a sidewalk where a lot of people crossed, so I always kept the shutter down.

 

The only way to tell if it was day or not was by looking at the clock. The only real difference from my previous room was that this one had an air conditioner and was located in Koenji. My previous apartment was in Kodaira, which is a comparatively rural area of Tokyo, so moving to Koenji, which was filled with young people, made me feel like I had finally made it to Tokyo for the first time.

 

The entire second floor of the apartment was women only, but since it was a wooden building, I could hear noises from above late at night. I could hear girls bring their boyfriends into their rooms and have sex, and it drove me absolutely insane. I’d go out to walk around the middle of the night, go talk to girls in front of the station who were drunk out of their minds, and do a lot of other stupid stuff.

 

The girl I liked started going out with a mutual friend, which made me very unhappy. But I acted like it didn’t bug me and went to karaoke with them.

 

During all this, I finished another short piece. I never heard anything back about my last one, so this time I called the same editor as before and asked him if he would take a look at my new piece.

 

This would be my second submission.

 

To Be Continued



Secrets of Manga #8 – How to Write a Story, Part 1

Welcome to Secrets of Manga #8.

 

Last time, we described how stories depict a series of changes. For example: A main character training himself in order to defeat an enemy, or someone weak overcoming and prevailing against someone strong. If you read a story about a poor main character who finds out that she’s the missing daughter of a rich man, then obviously, that story’s change is someone poor becoming rich. If a mysterious case is solved in the story, then the change is dispelling the mystery.

 

Showing the process of one situation changing into another situation is what people call a “story.”

 

Now that I think about it, I guess that’s correct. But it’s kind of confusing, isn’t it? Today, we’ll discuss story in more detail.

 

But first, let’s look at an example with my storyboard for Tokkou no Shima #25. I have it the entire thing available for free viewing here, so feel free to take a look.
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The story’s very simple, and nothing especially big happens. In this chapter, I depict what happens “after the battle.” A big submarine battle ended in the last chapter, and as smoke rises from the damaged sub, the crew takes it to an allied base in order to make repairs. The crew gathers around the main character, who’s depressed since he lost a close friend. When they move up to the deck, the captain appears and explains the damage in detail. Worried that they might have to quit the war, the soldiers are surprised to hear the captain announce that they will continue their operations. The main character walks to where his best friend’s suicide torpedo was installed and decides to “follow” in his footsteps. Watching him, the servicemen along with other crew members surround the main character and listen to his words. Here, the captain repeats his proclamation.

 

The external situation doesn’t change at all in this chapter. From start to finish, they’re on a submarine at a dock. The change in this chapter is a mental one, in which the depressed main character regains his will.

 

People often ask me where I get my ideas for stories, but I’ve never once thought up any of my stories as an idea. First I think about changes. Once I’ve figured out what change I want to express in that chapter, I think about how to express the change to the readers.

 

Here, I’ll recreate the process I use to write a story.

 

Before this chapter, I depicted a submarine battle using over one volume’s worth of pages. The battle finally ended, so I thought “I’ll make this a chapter where the readers can enjoy the reverberations of war. A long series of violent scenes just ended, so it’ll be a good chance for them to catch a breather. Good job making it through that, readers, now it’s time to take a little break as you think back to what just happened.” That’s the idea I had in my head for this chapter.

 

To put it in musical terms, I slipped in a quiet bridge right after a fast, melodious part. If it works how I intend it to, it should end up making the story more memorable.

 

But even once you’ve decided on the story you want to tell, you can’t just write it out in sentences and be done with it. You need to figure out the setting in order to depict the change to the reader. After considering several change patterns, I decided to depict the mental change rather than a situational one, and drew a depressed character regaining his will to fight. When the main character remembers his friend, it allows the readers to remember the war and everything that’s happened up to this point. Then, the return to the quiet setting adds an accent into the story that pushes it up again.

 

I couldn’t just start this chapter with the main character burning with the will to fight. He has to begin in a low state of mind. Since a close friend died, it’s natural that he would be depressed. But now I need to figure out a specific reason for him to regain his will to fight. I also want to make the readers think about the fact that the battle ended, so I made the ship get damaged. In the beginning, I make the readers think that since the ship is damaged, it can’t go on fighting. Later, when the captain announces that they will continue fighting, the readers are surprised, and they see the main character recover.

 

I could have shown this restoration heightening the morale of the other crew members, but I felt that would be too redundant. Then I realized that all I needed to do was draw in some of the servicemen who were doing the repairs on the ship. I made the main character declare his will to go on fighting near the servicemen, had them all gather and listen to him, and then cut the page there.

 

If this all happens on the deck where the main character’s friend was shot down, it’d make the change much easier to depict, so I had the captain make his proclamation on the bridge. This way, I could also save time by showing the damage on the ship alongside the captain. The main character makes his decision, everyone gathers together, and the captain proclaims that they will continue fighting, tightening the story.

 

Additionally, the main character’s close friend broke his leg and went out to fight without one of his boots in a previous chapter. I had planned to use this boot as a momento, so I also included that here.

 

That’s how I think up stories.

 

If there’s something I want to draw, first I think up a “change” to make it into a story, then think about all the elements I need in order to depict that change. Then I put them all in order. My idea fountain is actually pretty dry.

 

Just for fun, let’s say I decided to structure this story as a series of flashback scenes where the main character looks back on the war, and then, after pondering to himself, decides to go on fighting. I could have had him declare this decision to the other crew members, raising their morale, then have the captain come out at the end, see them, and decide to go on fighting too. I would probably need around 30 pages for that, though. It isn’t efficient, and not only does repeating scenes and lines bore the reader, it also puts more stress on them.

 

As far as storywriting goes, I always try to cut as much excess information I can and deliver information to the reader in a clear, efficient way. Just like with the art, the one thing I’m always thinking about is how to make it easier for people to understand what I’m trying to depict.

 

Next, I’ll explain each scene in more detail.

 

 



Sato’s Road to Manga #8

The continuation of F-san’s manga was only supposed to last for three chapters, but it ended up going for five.

 

The story just got too complicated for only three chapters. This was for a monthly magazine, so it meant that I had to spend five months on the verge of death. During that period, Thor finished his period of employment and left the studio.

 

I was so jealous of him, I could barely contain myself. He had finished his two years of service in our tiny, cramped prison and was finally going to live as a human being again. And he looked positively thrilled about it. His smile had always looked as if it had just been pasted on, but at that moment, it looked like it was truly brimming up from the bottom of his heart. That must be the same face a freed inmate makes, I thought. Meanwhile, I still had to breathe this oppressive air for another year.

 

Even after he left, he’d come to help us out time to time when deadlines were rough. (Or should I say, whenever F-san had trouble finishing his manuscripts, he’d call up Thor on the phone.)

 

After he left, Thor took up some part-time jobs doing road construction and working as a security guard. Whenever he came to help out, he’d happily tell us of his exploits in the normal world. Whenever he told us about the different people he met at work, and about going to drinking parties where girls were present, it really made me want to run out from the studio. But I felt that if I really did that, and acted ungrateful to F-san, then I wouldn’t be able to go on surviving in the manga industry, so I was never able to do it.

 

Grande still had four months left on his contract, so he probably let Thor’s tales swell up his expectations for his own future. He began to soften a little, and started calling me “Sato-chan” and “Shuho-chan” instead of “Sato-kun,” which was much more formal.

 

Oh, that’s right. Since Thor left, that meant we had to bring on a new staff member. Finally, I wasn’t the newbie anymore!

 

The first new person we brought on quit in less than a day. Let’s just call him M. M for Moron. On his first day of work, we had him practice drawing. Soon it became evening, and he lit up a cigarette and started puffing smoke around the room.

 

Then, all of a sudden, he looked at F-san and said: “You’re all really good at drawing, so why do you even need me?”

 

The atmosphere of the studio instantly froze solid. But M didn’t seem to notice this.

 

“I’ve worked as art staff in other places, so I don’t really want to be treated as a newbie again. And you know, honestly, this studio…”

 

As M went on, I could see dark clouds swarming over F-san’s countenance. Oh no! I thought, but it was already too late.

 

F-san slammed his fist down on the desk. “Cigareeeeeeeeeette!!”

 

M froze and stared at him.

 

“Don’t smoke when you speak to someone,” F-san said.

 

Since M had experience as art staff, he was probably trying to belittle F-san’s work. He most likely believed that he was more experienced than anyone else at the studio, and couldn’t stand the fact that we were making him practice, so he lit up a cigarette and took a pot shot.

 

Of course, there’s no way F-san would show any respect for such a measly attempt. “How other studios work is of no concern to me. You’re here now, and this is your first day, so you’re the newbie. You’re the lowest rung on the ladder. Trash. The newbie. And the truth is, you can’t even draw what I require yet. What’s that supposed to be?”

 

Hearing this, M shriveled right up.

 

Later, he said: “My mother’s sick, and I have to nurse her, so I can’t stay and work overnight.”

 

“Then quit,” F-san replied.

 

M was gone within the day.

 

It was a week before we saw our second new hire. As usual, we were working all night, although the nights were comparatively easier than they had been before. They were still tough for the new guy, though. After a few days of working all night, I woke up to find that the futon next to me was completely empty.

 

I remembered hearing a story from Thor and Grande about the person before me disappearing in the middle of the night. Now I had experienced it for myself. F-san had left early in the morning to work on storyboards, so Grande and I just stared at each other in stupefaction and waited for F-san to return.

 

Once he came back, we learned what had happened. While we had been sleeping, the newbie had gone into F-san’s room and told him that he wanted to quit. After a discussion, the newbie had left. His reasons for quitting were apparently that the work was too hard, and also that it was too hard to work with Grande and I. I had experienced my share of torture with Grande, and I guess the new kid just wasn’t able to handle it.

 

One time, he asked Grande:”I want to go buy some gum. Can I go out for five minutes?”

 

I knew exactly how he felt. We were shut up in that tiny room all day, so he probably just wanted a short taste of freedom, even if it was only for five minutes. Unfortunately, however, even five minutes were too much to allow.

 

Here’s how Grande replied. “The point is, you can go out if you want to, but I have no idea what sensei will say if he finds out about that afterwards. And I can’t take responsibility even if you try to pin it on me. I mean, if you get right down to it, not chewing gum isn’t going to kill you, but if you want to chew it no matter what happens, then go on and chew it, what do I care? As long as you’ll take responsibility for the consequences, then do what you want. But I dunno what sensei’ll say about it. If we were to give you permission to chew gum just because you really want to, then sensei might say something to us as well. None of his assistants ever did anything like that, so the point is…”

 

All he wanted to do was inhale some outside air for five minutes, and he got all of that in return. In the end, he clenched his fists in silence and gave up on the gum. This happened several times after that, so he probably just got sick of working with us.

 

Afterwards, F-san said to Grande: “You should be more careful about how you talk to people.” I think the ennui was just starting to get to him.

 

Finally, S, our third new hire decided to stay with us. He was older than me, and used to work as an animator. I didn’t name him S because he’s a sadist. He’s S because he’s serious. S was a really good guy. He was silent, and it was hard to tell what he was thinking, but he was as calm as a schoolteacher, and since he was older than me, I respected what he had to say.

 

And now that we had a solid new hire, it meant that I didn’t have to go buy food or do busy work, so I felt really free. I told him, “Buying equipment and food is your responsibility now, so please do your best.” Now that I think back, I feel bad for throwing all the responsibility onto S. It probably made him more stressed out in the end.

 

He was my first co-worker who actually had common sense, so on the contrary, he didn’t really leave a strong impression on me. Just writing this now marks the first time I’ve thought about him in several years. He was a really good person, though.

 

After getting our new staff member, I became the center of the art staff. “I’m leaving soon anyway,” Grande said, and stopped really caring about his work. As a result, I had to handle all of the deadlines and training for M-san. This happened right after the end-of-the-year hell, and I never experienced anything that grueling ever again.

 

During this period, I can remember biking home, stopping at a 24-hour batting center, and hitting a thousand yen’s worth of balls before going to home to sleep every morning.

 

I hadn’t been able to draw my own manga for the past five months, but now, I was finally able to start again.

 

I need to draw manga if I want to become a mangaka!

 

The business had kept me from facing the truth, but now I was able to put my pen back to the paper. I also hadn’t been able to call the girl I liked, since I told her “I’ll draw my next manga in three months” but still had yet to come up with anything.

 

I’m going to win a contest and get out of the studio. I’m going to snatch success and my girl in a single grab!

 

Somehow, I still had the ability to think up these stupid ideas.

 

My second summer as an art staff member came, and on my days off, I did nothing but draw in my air conditioning-less apartment. Sweat dripped down my naked torso as I worked. In the evening, I could hear crows cawing in the distance, and late at night, I could hear my art student friends downstairs playing mah jong. I can still picture those days in my head right now.

 

I was still a virgin. It was something I thought about a lot then.

 

Where do girls live, anyway?

 

I had nothing to do on my days off but draw manga, and because of that, I couldn’t figure out any way to escape from it.

 

I was drowning in manga.

 

To Be Continued



Secrets of Manga #7 – Story

It’s time for the seventh installment of Secrets to Manga.

 

Last time, we finished our discussion on art composition, so now we’re moving over to story.

 

According to Wikipedia, a story (or narrative) is “any account that presents connected events.” That means it isn’t just limited to fiction, but includes historical stories and newspaper articles as well.

 

“As with many words in the English language, narration has more than one meaning. In its broadest context narration encompasses all written fiction, or simply “story-telling.” As one of the four rhetorical modes of discourse, the purpose of narration is to tell a story or to narrate an event or series of events. Narrative may exist in a variety of forms, including biographies, anecdotes, short stories and novels. In this context, all written fiction may be viewed as narration.”

 

Um… alright. This is getting kind of confusing.

 

Manga is a combination of sequential art and words, so there is a second panel that follows the first, and a second page that follows the first. There is a set reading order to the images and words. If you lined up 100 separate images in a random order, that wouldn’t create a manga. If you have a 20-page piece, and there’s a set order that connects all 20 pages, then you’ve got yourself a manga.

 

In that case, all we need to connect words and art together into a single piece is a “story.” If we create words and art based on a story, that connects them and makes them a single work.

 

Personally, there really isn’t any particular manga I want to draw. I try my hardest to squeeze out some kind of story, but honestly, I don’t really understand what the point is in trying to make someone read some made-up “story.” What purpose in there in entertaining someone with a bunch of lies? I’m not trying to say there isn’t any point. It’s just a simple question.

 

Any manga needs an author and a reader. When the world that the author creates is expressed to the reader, that’s when a manga really becomes complete. “Expression” means doing something or saying something to send some information to someone. If there’s no one there to receive it, I can’t send it, and if I can’t send it, then it isn’t an expression.

 

Manga that’s just sitting on a desk and hasn’t been read by anyone isn’t manga.

 

In other words — if I don’t have something I want to say to someone, then it means that nothing reaches the readers. So as an author, I need to think about what I want to say.

 

“I wanna draw manga!” -> “But just drawing pictures alone won’t make a manga.” -> “Alright, I need a ‘story,’ right?!” -> “Fine, I’ll just think one up.”

 

I think that represents how my thought process goes.

 

“I want to sing!” -> “But I need music to sing to, don’t I?” -> “Alright, I need a song.” -> “I guess I’ll have to make some music then!” It’s kinda like that, I think.

 

With that in mind, we can think of a manga’s story being somewhat like a song.

 

If someone was to ask me “What is a story,” I’d answer, “something that depicts change.”

 

I’ve experienced a lot of stories, and the ones I feel are most interesting show some sort of change between the beginning and the end. Using my own manga as examples, Umizaru is the story about the growth of an amateur coast guard officer. Give My Regards to Black is a story about the growth of an amateur medical intern.  Tokkou Island is the story about an amateur solider who takes part in a suicide attack. In other words, all my manga are about amateurs who become professionals. Incidentally, I think that all my manga are very entertaining.

 

The manga One Piece is about a boy who isn’t the Pirate King becoming the Pirate King. The manga Slam Dunk is about a boy who’s bad at basketball becoming good at it. Shima Kousaku is about a section chief becoming a CEO. Take this moment to think about some of your favorite manga in this way.

 

There’s manga about “a loser who suddenly becomes popular with the ladies,” “someone who solves a series of murder cases,” “a weak person who trains and then defeats a strong enemy,” and so on and so forth. In the beginning, there’s always a problem, or some kind of hindrance, and in the end, the main character conquers it. Or, perhaps there isn’t any large difference in the situation at the end, except the character’s changed the way he looks at things, or has decided not to change himself. Stories with these sort of internal changes also exist.

 

But if I read a manga without any sort of changes… for example, a story about someone who’s poor. Their poor life is drawn very matter-of-factly, and before anything really big happens, all of a sudden, I realize I’m on the last page. The manga ends, and he’s still poor. It just leaves me cocking my head, thinking: What exactly was this author trying to say?

 

He could have expressed what he did using a single image.

 

With that particular piece, I didn’t see any need for it to be a “story.” Of course, I bet there are many people out there who would argue both for and against the existence of “story” within a single image. But something like that may be no different from someone singing the note “Do” for three minutes straight and proclaiming: “That’s my new song!”

 

I’d say “it’s just a sound, man.”

 

With melodies, musicians create waves using sounds, which allows them to not only create a song, but also to express the waves and changes in the stories and characters they wish to depict. And if those changes grab someone’s attention, then you’ve got yourself a good story.

 

Now I think we’ve gotten closer to understanding the purpose to having a story. When you listen to music, you’re listening to the waves of the music. You might not know why they’re there, but as you listen to them, they summon up certain emotions, and it’s fun, isn’t it?

 

Now, that’s enough of this difficult stuff. Next time we’ll use some concrete examples.

 

That’s all for today.