Dr. Vee, Manga Big Bang! Editor in Chief
If you’ve been there with me on the Skype meeting in 2015 with one of our editor in training and a newly recruited prospective comics creator – let’s call him John, you would have seen us on your computer screen, me with the backdrop of Starbucks, the editor in training with the backdrop of his bedroom and John with the backdrop of his workroom. John is red-faced, nervously shifting around, he is clearly not relaxed “You need to educate your editors, I received emails, the first one said my script lacks in structure, how dare… the second one said my script is not a story!”
“John, the editors are trying to do their job. We approached you because we see your potential, and what they are telling you is to help you bring out the best out of your talent. We won’t take time in writing you those responses if we think you’re hopeless, and we won’t lie to you and give a green light when the most basic of story elements are not present in your script. Your script was discussed buy multiple editors in the team and when all of us recognise the missing elements we have to tell you so you can understand what needs to be modified. And by the way, the second email is written by me.
When your story hasn’t got a clear message, a strong motive or a strong reason in why the character does what she does, I can’t call it a story. It is merely a sequence of events. This is not a problem that cannot be fixed if you’re willing to listen, understand and adapt.”
We let go of John because the outcome of that Skype meeting, as you might have guessed, was that he chose to believe that we are there to offend him rather than be his editorial support.
Now, not to toot my own horn but I am no stranger to story writing having won several comics awards, one of them from Shonen Sunday Japan, if you are familiar with the manga industry you’d know how competitive it is to win an award of such. With the years I have worked closely with novel writers, film script writers and script doctors and I can tell you this much, that story structure is not some kind of rigid rule to bind creative minds and define abstract thinking present in art, but rather to give a form to make what a story pleasant and meaningful to its consumers. Think about what distinguishes music from noise. Poetry from random sequence of words. Art installation from a pile of junk.
Story structure, whether you learn it from the Western or Eastern discipline, have universal elements that are universal to all human being. Yes, there are rules that are broken, such examples in manga would be what is popular in the contemporary world such as BL (Boys Love) or Slice of Life manga, but even in these genre, story structure in its basic is respected and followed, but with the understanding that the focus of the work is not on the message but rather in its visual or atmospheric pleasure. But the point is there is a universal form in what makes a story great. This point is also elaborated beautifully in a book titled Story by Robert McKee.
A creator can never see his/her own work completely objectively. It is a bit like getting dressed. You can see what’s in your wardrobe and put together an outfit using your imagination, but you won’t be able to tell what the outfit look like on you unless you get a mirror to reflect it for you. That is why we need trained editors, acting as the creator’s mirror, who knows and understands what to look out for in terms of story and story telling. Fortunately for us, not all creators are like John and we have found many partner creators who work cooperatively with our editors as their buddy, who help them reflect their work.
There are creators who would debate endlessly in defiance when it comes to the subject of story structure, turning it into a never ending story, a never ending debate. What a shame; if only these creators put 1/10th of that energy in trying to understand and learning to put a structure in their expression, we probably wouldn’t have to put up with heaps of rubbish contents that are plaguing our media.