PILOT Manga Presents: Writer's Logic Part 2: BackStory by Frederick L. Jones
WRITERS LOGIC Part II.
I have already discussed Part I: CONCEPT (please look for here).
CONCEPT, PLOT and BACK-STORY
These three things are all very important factors towards a successful series but they also represent challenges that particularly affect first time writers (i.e. artists who write and individual writers). In my career, I've seen this afflict many creators across industries from comics to video games. The fact of the matter is that it is easy to create any of these three story requirements nowadays. Inspiration from video games, movies and more are providing people around the world with unique ideas that they can alter, massage and re-imagine within their own fresh perspectives.
On the other hand...these three things are very difficult to get right as they can expose a writer’s inexperience and fan tendencies. David Yoon of our SPOON manga web comic talks eloquently about his struggles getting the narrative RIGHT for his comic (took 3 tries!)
We’ll explore each of those in this series.
PART 2: BACK-STORY
So I’m sure you are asking--what exactly is back-story? Back-story is NOT a concept nor is a plot...but it’s often confused by creators as being one or the other.
In our original made-up analogy (which many of you seemed to like---thanks btw!), Milk Mustache Tye, we explained the CONCEPT: people getting powers from drinking different types of milk. Our hero, Tye, however is lactose intolerant and so, powering up is a struggle.
Essentially, this was a very simple concept with a novel twist.
This is important because it doesn't take long to explain the concept to friends/ family, publishers or potential fans/ customers. It helps with the PITCH which should be a 4-6 worded statement that explains your concept in exciting yet minimal fashion.
Our pitch for Milk Mustache Tye: “Ghetto version of POPEYE meets Dragonball Z.”
This is ALSO important because it is the PITCH itself that all amateur creators struggle with whether they know it or not. At the core, when you create something new you WANT to explain it to your friends. Many of you want to actually be published within MyFutprint’s various labels (i.e. Saturday AM, Afternoon Web-X, PLUS and WEL/RED) and as a result, you will try to sell us on the idea (the same way you would Marvel, Viz, etc).
Whether or not you've ever thought about it---you are PITCHING your idea to others. Trying to sell it (either for someone to read it or to actually buy it).
Where BACK-STORY tends to come into the picture is when you get that lukewarm response from your original pitch. When the body language is languid and you've given them the pitch about Milk Mustache Tye--it’s human nature that you begin looking for something, ANYTHING ELSE that you can tell them that will make the idea sound more awesome.
What happens is usually the reverse though for people who do not understand back-story. It doesn't come across as awesome just self-congratulatory and desperate. It’s usually a lot of hand movement followed by excited gestures where the people you are telling it to have no idea what you are saying but you yourself appear like you are having your own personal party.
Here’s what it sounds like when you confuse BACK-STORY with a CONCEPT or a PITCH:
“Okay...okay, yeah but see...here’s the thing--(here’s where it gets REALLY cool!) the milk...see (oh god--you’re going to LOVE THIS!!) see it...actually comes from a magical sets of cows...y’know---like Dragonball! And the people who drink the milk have to actually find these magical cows because there are only a handful of them in the world...see because they come from outer space...and…(oh my god..this is it...this is the best part!!)---YOU HAVE TO FIGHT THE COWS TO MILK THEM!! Isn't that AWESOME!! Oh gawd---I gotta catch my breath---I shouldn't have told you that...I shouldn't have because I want to surprise you--but isn't that AMAZING??”
That’s how the conversation goes and folks, honest to God--I’ve often witnessed these moments and thought the person telling them to me had literally just experienced an orgasm! The level of crazy, built up energy and excitement for an imaginary idea is insane but hey--to each his/ her own.
SIDE-NOTE: I also find myself a bit amused whenever someone tells me that they don’t want to tell me something because they “don’t want to ruin it for me???” If you want me to publish your story, please understand--I’m NOT your fan.
I’m (potentially, at best) your PUBLISHER. YOUR EDITOR. YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER. Either way, telling me something long-winded and rambling isn't going to make me excited nor is it going to make me feel special because I know a secret to an imaginary story that I think is poor to begin with.
Bottom line--the example I just gave to you is BACK STORY!
At no point, did I lay out of a story with a beginning, middle nor end. There is no dialogue and no character names...just some information that provides a bit (and I mean BIT) of back-story to the world that I described in the PITCH. The more information would just get overwhelming.
But if you spent a lot of time thinking of that...it will seem like an entire world to you. You are proud and so you should be--but you've literally done nothing when you share that but excited yourself.
TO BE CLEAR --IT’S NOT A PLOT!
Simple test ---
Do you know the cows names?
Are they male? female?
Do you know when/ how Tye discovered the cows?
How he first came to drink the milk?
When did Tye learn he was lactose intolerant?
How did he defeat his first villain?
Is there even a Villain?
You have NONE of those answers and that’s how you know the plot doesn’t exist.
LIKEWISE, BACKSTORY AS A CONCEPT IS IMPOSSIBLE!
Simple test-- The concept is not about cows that produce special milk--or is it?
Can you imagine a pitch where I describe cows who must be milked to power up people? More importantly--would you READ/ FOLLOW a story about cows who provide magical milk to people?
Now, I don’t want to deceive you--backstory is CRITICAL.
BACKSTORY IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE THREE STORY REQUIREMENTS.
If CONCEPT allows you to establish a cool idea for a comicbook/ manga then backstory is what allows that concept to live beyond it’s 1st story.
Naruto is a fantastic example...let’s examine it:
PITCH: Harry Potter meets Ninjas!
PLOT: Naruto has to take on missions as part of his ninja cell to advance up the ranks and one-day become HOKAGE.
BACKSTORY: Naruto has a demon fox within him that gives him power but also threatens to destroy those around him. His family actually buried the demon fox within him as a baby and died in the process which has caused Naruto to be rejected by most of the villagers. He is consumed with emotions to want to both lash out at those who mistrust him as well as to save villagers in the hopes that he’ll be taken seriously.
Notice how the backstory is all bold, interesting information that outlines a great deal about the history of Naruto BUT it does not tell any one story?
BACKSTORY HINTS AT STORY POSSIBILITIES ONLY.
As a creator, a good backstory will help you establish additional story ideas. It will allow you to flesh out the world in amazing areas that you will never have imagined at the start.
Bottom line though is that it (BACKSTORY) cannot be a concept nor can it be a plot.
The plot is literally the story for a given arc or issue.
PLOT IS THE HARDEST STORY REQUIREMENT TO UNDERSTAND AND MASTER.
The last thing to be said here about backstory is that it is a seductive device that requires one to be very careful as it is easy to be caught up in expanding your concept in very interesting ways without ever telling or even advancing an actual story.
Does this information create a new story arc?
Can I make a PITCH just off of this new information?
We will discuss PLOT in PART III in the next update.
Frederick L. Jones
Publisher, Saturday AM
(yes, the thumbnail image is 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon dancing around by herself in front of Jack Donaghy--she’s incredibly happy but you’ll notice he’s just looking at her. Don’t Liz Lemon yourself with your PITCH that’s just a Back-story in disguise.)