[PROCESS] ROCK AT VALLAR
There can be only one.
All right. This is a piece about the three-part Rock at Vallar series I just did. So if you haven’t checked those out, you might want to do that before you read this. I’m not sure I’d call a process post about a bunch of process posts a spoiler, but it might help make a little sense of all the nonsense. Here are those:
Okay, so there are a few reasons why I did these. Two of the more technical reasons I wanted to talk about in depth (that’s below), but I also didn’t want to gloss over what’s probably the most important reason to do anything, which is: I thought it would be fun.
There’s too much joyless work being done right now. Which I understand, and you probably do too, but it doesn’t mean that’s what you want to eat for dinner. Especially, if you’re paying.
Also, I wanted to draw a little bit, because that’s the most fun. Anyway...
All of the Rock at Vallar stuff came after Huddleston did the initial house painting. At that point, we only knew a few specific things:
There was a family.
They were going to be caught between two eternal conflicting forces.
The catalyst for the family being exploded across the universe of 3W3M was the disappearance of the father.
The catalyst for the family staying a ‘family’ would be the commitment of the mother.
That was it (I mean, obviously, we had more than that -- the ideas for stories and set pieces and some structure of how we wanted to work -- but this was it for the ‘family’). I suppose I should add here that this was by design because we wanted to make all this stuff while you guys were watching, as ‘process’ is a big part of what makes this project interesting.
Moving on. Mike and I had talked about the house design and he had casually mentioned that the rock was from somewhere else, but when he was drawing it, it didn’t really hit me as being too otherworldly or anything like that, so it didn’t set in. But when I read Mike’s process post about the house and the giant rock being a meteor, I immediately started to ask myself some questions: where it came from, what it was made of, etc.
So, let’s say you’re the one telling this story, and at this point, you’re messing around with the idea that the rock has a history, and wherever you land, that history needs to have some gravity for it to matter to the story, right? Right. Then the question is, how do you do that?
I get plenty of rope now because I’ve done the trick quite a few times, but when I was starting out at Marvel (and was very inexperienced -- and very new to ‘just writing’) I didn’t have any way to explain what I was doing story-wise, and while my act was amusing to the bosses, only my editor, Tom Brevoort, really got it and had to go to bat for me numerous times early on (probably more times than I know -- thanks, Tom!). And for a while there, I really couldn’t even explain what I was doing...
Then I saw Vince Gilligan (uh, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, X-Files) give an interview where he explained this process -- which I’ve looked for on youtube and cannot, for the life of me, find anywhere. So I suppose the possibility exists that he didn’t say what I’m about to say, and I misheard it, and have completely made all this up as a way of me figuring things out, but, you know, I WANT TO BELIEVE.
(Oh, so google told me that Vince Gilligan’s real name is George Vincent Gilligan, Jr. And his parents names are George Gilligan, Sr. and Gail Gilligan, so it’s like they’re from Smallville or something. Which, hilariously, is the same double-initials, naming convention that we’re using for all the royal families on Fayrii.)
Anyway, the process was basically him talking about how, instead of introducing new concepts and characters to your stories with new backstories and unrelated, or parallel, motivations, the thing you should do is ‘mine your own continuity.’
By that, he meant that when you introduce a giant meteor to your story -- that meteor’s history doesn’t begin with it crashing into the planet. It’s not just an inciting incident, and it’s not just a rock (it’s not just a gun, it’s not just a new bad guy, it’s not just a new love interest, it’s not just a cool car, etc, etc) -- it has to have a purpose. And its history should reflect the history of the story you’re telling. This has two-fold effect: One, you get a shiny ‘new’ toy to play with (new is good, but it often doesn’t matter in dense continuity [like, say, the X-Men] unless...), Two, you get a kiss of nostalgia when that new thing connects to an ‘existing story’ in a delightful way you didn’t see coming. This creates a feedback loop that resonates through your storyline making everything matter ‘more.’
You’re essentially folding the story back onto itself, over and over, creating a much stronger narrative (which is how they make Samurai swords -- I learned that from Highlander, which is also how I know who the Fabulous Freebirds are. It’s also probably a ‘why not both’ of that Mad Men episode, ’The Wheel’).
It’s also worth noting that, done correctly, it does a lot of the hard work necessary to eliminate coincidence in your stories. Which is priceless all by itself.
So what’s the point?
Very soon, I’m going to post the first of the essays from Al, Tini and Ram.
I’m not sure which one is going to be first (it depends on which comic pages come in first), but I’m going to do what we did with the Rock at Vallar posts except at a macro level and kind of on steroids.
The essay will be posted, I’ll then take that essay and do what I talked about here (using the system they created and folding it into the world), then show you how that can lead to stories moving in multiple directions (linearly and narratively), and then show you what that looks like as a comic, and show you process-wise how all of that stuff feeds into each other -- building a mythology.
Which should be a shitload of fun.
Okay, I’ll be in the comments on this one if you guys have questions.
Do you ever worry about things folding together too neatly? A friend once described a piece of writing I loved as “too clever” - that is, for him, everything fit together too perfectly. Like a clockwork. I disagreed, but ever since I try to leave some space for accidents and messes in my stories. The nature of this particular process will inevitably create messes, I think, but what about the rest of your work? Can it be too clever?
I haven't had a chance to relisten to them just yet, but I'm pretty sure the brick by brick Vince Gilligan thing is from one of these two podcast interviews. https://archive.nerdist.com/nerdist-writers-panel-30-vince-gilligan/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0fKP2-BTEA