I’m going to start this post with a confession, and I hope that you don’t gasp in horror or faint or hiss at me like a feral cat. Because the latter is my typical reaction to things I dislike. ; )
Anyway, confession: My greatest source of inspiration these days is a webcomic.
I can just see the hordes of book-lovers who read this blog (all 20-or-so of them) knee-jerking so hard they tip their chairs backward. Though, maybe not all of you. Maybe some of you are like, “oh, yeah. I love webcomics, too.” (To which I say, let’s totally nerd out in the comments section!)
Here’s the background: I happen to be two things, mainly — a teacher, and very slow when it comes to lesson planning. This means that though I technically work part-time right now, I put in a lot more hours of work than I get paid for. And it’s mostly mental. Which, at the end of the day, leaves me not wanting to pick up a real book with hundreds of tiny words per page.
Instead, I go online, open a webcomic, and read less than 30 words against a background of pure artistic crack. After which I can stare at said background with sparkles around my eyes until my synapses stop firing. And it’s glorious.
How does that inspire me?
Admittedly, most don’t. There are a number of comics I really enjoy, with good storytelling and fun characters and nice artwork. And those are the ones I’d happily reread in their entirety, when I have enough free time.
And then there’s Stand Still. Stay Silent.
This is the webcomic that I found after waking up, insomniac, at 4 in the morning, then read straight through for five hours, then went back and started reading again that same day. Within a week I had combed through the archives three times, and read the artist’s previous completed webcomic.
I was completely captivated, and not just by the gorgeous artwork. The characters resonated with me in a way that book characters had failed to do for a long time. They got into my head. I started wondering about the parts of their lives not shown in the comic pages, about why they were on this crazy journey and how they had come to be who they were. I analyzed every trait and quirk. I thought, “This is what my characters are lacking — this appeal that goes beyond ‘likable’ to ‘needed as a real-life friend.'”
And the storytelling! I dove into the story like a cold spring, eyes open. Each little detail on the page, each little sideways glance of a character, the purpose behind the choice of each word — I wanted to understand it. I was, and am, obsessed with trying to understand.
When I first read The Hunger Games, and long ago Good Omens, I had one distinct thought: If I can manage to write something half this good, I’ll be happy.
SSSS has made me feel that way again. Right now I’m sitting at my desk, a hand-drawn map to one side, notebook to another, and a dozen slips of paper with major plot points on them spread out in front of me. My characters are slowly coming to life in my mind again — for now, still merely “likable,” but evolving quickly. Inspired by, but radically different from, the characters in SSSS.
Yes, writers need to read. And we need to be widely read. I for one will never say that just because the medium is different, you can’t take inspiration from a webcomic, or a movie, or an anime. You can learn characterization and storytelling from all three, sometimes even more-so than from a book. All that’s left to do after that is translate it all into words. And that’s the hard part.
But that’s what inspiration is for.