An epic story deserves an epic foundation.
That foundation comes out of ‘the bones of the plotline,’ among other things (each of which would probably deserve their own article) and this structural backbone can be set up through imagery, through moments of clarity, and points of dramatic tension—a framework for a grander story can be built around smaller, key moments.
Now, if you’re a storyteller reading this, you may think—hearing words like ‘foundation,’ ‘skeleton,’ or ‘spine,’ that I am talking about something that sounds an awful lot like ‘outlining,’ and as you’ve probably heard: There are two kinds of writers in the world. As some have noted before, these are those that discover things in the moment of writing, and those that plan things out in advance. But, what if you’re not an outliner—a pre-planner—but are instead a discovery writer—a ‘by-the-seat-of-the-pants’ writer (or pantser, as it has unfortunately come to be called), and you don’t want to plan… you just want to discover?
(Or, if you’re like me—you feel like you only can discover—i.e. what if the only form of writing is ‘bleed as you go?’)
Of course, every writer has to find what feels right, or, rather, what is a good fit, for them.
An Epic Method for Discovery Writers?
With a story as rich, complex and immense in its scope, it seems hard to imagine such a thing being created ‘off-the-cuff,’ without an equally immeasurable—or, at least, some—planning. But that idea—-that approach—planning—strikes me as challenging for some discovery-writers.
How can we do it so that we can get discovery writers—like me (at least sometimes)—to create a foundation for an epic story? (As I move forward on making Animus, ideas come to me, grow, and I find a place for them: arranging them into a fictional in-world history, and into a sense of a pre-planned publication schedule…)
Is there some way for writers who exist immanently, in the moment of story, to help forge a transcendent, narrative-spanning, story arc? This is something worth discovering, and I had a way come to me. (Whether it will work or not remains to be seen.)
Creating Timeline/Plotline/Storyline Through Images
Well, here it is—one method anyway—one idea, probably something to supplement other approaches too—for carving out an epic narrative-arc: define the final images of each of your episodes, books, chapters, modules, or other plot-based segments.
In my time as a film-student in college, I learned that some Cree writers/filmmakers suggest that—when you are making the story for your movie—that you “start with the images,” namely, begin with key visual scenes/moments that you would want to see on screen. The creators of Star Wars: The Force Awakens did something similar, commissioning an enormous amount of (pre!)-pre-visualization concept art, allowing artists explore and delve into proposed scenes and plot-points in an instantiated graphical way.
Final Scenes: An Architecture of Endings
The writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who adapted George R.R. Martin’s epic-fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire for the small-screen, to make the hit television-show Game of Thrones purport to have done something similarly “image-primary,” although perhaps more moderate way, laying out the structure of the series’ story by choosing first the final story beats of each episode, the big, momentous final shot or image that would close out each individual show.
This is quite a bit less extreme than the idea of starting your entire story-structure with visuals—with key imagery-moments—this latter approach being a method which has been criticized as forming great scenes, but perhaps weaker plot and character through-lines (a critique that was leveled at the recent Justice League and Man of Steel movies). However, the Benioff and Weiss method, points out the emotional impact of final moments—a key dramatic priority—while (presumably) leaving space for other non-imagistic considerations to hold sway while developing the rest of each episode.
I think it would be interesting to try this ‘final scenes’ method, and it might be useful to investigate how Benioff and Weiss did it. Would you like to see a breakdown of all the final scenes from each episode of Game of Thrones, season by season?
It could be fun.