Saving a Story, Again and Again

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I write original stories and plan to turn them into animated feature films one day. Some stories, I’m aiming for the small screen…

There’s this one story I’ve been writing for over a decade. Work began on it in the autumn of 2004 – when I was 12 years old, but its origins lie in some various stories that shared some similarities. Ones I – as a fun-loving and starry-eyed kid – had drawn and written for a few years. They were awful of course, as were countless iterations of this story I’m talking about. That’s because my execution of the content was not on the level of the ideas…

What the story is now… Well, the structure to it was officially determined by the end of 2004. I want to say maybe November? December? Probably December, because I kinda of doubt it was at the beginning of 2005. Or maybe it was. I was in seventh grade at the time, and couldn’t get enough of a particular animated film that was rolling in multiplexes across the country at the moment: The Incredibles.

A Pixar gem and a masterpiece from director-writer Brad Bird, The Incredibles had an enormous amount of influence on my written works. I don’t have a favorite Pixar film, but I call it the one that blew me away the most. I saw it five times in theaters, and if the film gets a theatrical re-release in time for the 2019 debut of The Incredibles 2, I’ll be there. I loved every second of it, still do, it’s one of the all-time great films. It’s also a rare family film that tells you right to your face, animation is not a children’s medium and can be an incredible art form for adults and everyone else.

THE INCREDIBLES

I remember sketch, sketch, sketching away back then. During lunch, on the bus, at home… I was modeling and designing scenes for my various stories based on the staging in The Incredibles, and how action scenes and such were conceived in that picture. I continued to do this with each new Pixar film, and years later each new Walt Disney Animation Studios film, as they were being saved from their Eisner slump.

As I grew up, however, life changed… And so did the story.

The 2006 iteration of the story was where a lot of the weirdness and quirkiness of it began to flourish, but to a point where it became unbearable! It was like a loud and obnoxious chore, written by someone who was so easily amused by the most random things. I look back on that particular version of the story and I get so ashamed… What the hell was I thinking?! Growing up with a disability, I didn’t quite mature the way other people my age did. I was a 14-year-old who acted and thought like an 8-year-old.

A lot of things had happened in 2006, ones that plunged me into a lengthy depression starting in fall 2007 – when I was almost well into sophomore year of high school. The story, by this point, still had the zany randomness and silliness, but it soon began to dial back on humor. At the time, I was escaping depression via The Beatles and their related works. I was indulging on 60s music and other media, I was actually straying from my Disneys and Pixars, and most theatrical animation. My life, consequently, felt empty.

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I was essentially being like pretty much any other 15-year-old. I liked the darker, the bleaker, the edgier. I binged on Adult Swim shows (some of which, I think, still hold up), various anime shows, I was all for dark-for-dark’s-sake, I was so misguided and viewed everything in such a weird, wrongheaded way. The story began to take a tumble… It sort of alternated between a mellow 60s head film (Yellow Submarine seemed to be this project’s only influence at the time) and a murky fantasy adventure. Then I had lost interest in it by late 2007, toiling away at other projects instead… Ones that were unpleasant, too dark for their own good, and mostly… Stupid.

The depression soon began to burn out by spring 2008, though it didn’t go away just yet. By this time the story stayed mostly mellow and quiet, development was slow. It still remained psychedelic though, but with my taste in music ever-expanding at this time, the story began to take on a different shape, a different tone… One that would pave the way to a new “master” version, as I like to call it. If 2004 was when this story began, 2008 was when it began again… Fall 2008 to be exact. Around August of that year, I snapped out of my depression. I entered junior year of high school. My good friends were in all my classes and lunch periods again, I was spending more time with my family, and those lingering bad thoughts were officially kicked down a hill. I no longer collapsed, if something bothers me now, I try to assess the situation and look on the bright side.

Anyways, in late 2008, my stories lost the hyper-gloom. Darkness remained, but it was what I like to call “well-written darkness”. It wasn’t there just to be there, it was there because the stories called for it. Think of the dark moments in Star Wars, Disney films, Pixar films, many classic adventure films, you name it. That’s the kind of darkness I use for my stories, not the “beat you over the head”/grimdark kind… But that very kind wasn’t entirely gone just yet. Levity came back, brightened up these adventures, gave these characters warmth and personalities, and bolstered the settings. I was taking a film study class at the time, also a major influence. I legitimately enjoyed writing these things again…

Things I pushed off in 2007 were also back in my life, in full force.

Senior year of high school. No major depression like late 2007, but stress… Lots of it. Life changing before me, a recent loss, inner-family turmoil, my mind racing, workload everywhere, my future right around the corner. Would I graduate? Or would I stay back and endure another year of it? I had some low points, but I hadn’t collapsed like I had in 2007. I still wrote passionately, tried to balance things, and so on.

Early 2010, the second half of senior year. I become more dedicated, I put more effort into my schoolwork and as a result I boosted my confidence and writing. By the time I graduated, optimism, style, and humor ruled these stories – bolstered by my love for Disney and Pixar, and other media. As always, I staged all the scenes in my head, thought them through, acted them out when no one was around. As I learned more, I appreciated more. Context helped me with so many things in my life, without it, I was what I was in 2007.

I’m still in college, and earlier this year… Around late January, I started evaluating the major problems in my story. This very personal story I had been writing since 2004… The problems also affected my other work.

They were… Nostalgia… And over-reliance on darkness…

I am a nostalgic person, I like to remember the good times like anyone else. Sometimes, I am this to a fault. I wanted to use what I felt were the best elements from the 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and so on… I wanted to use the best elements from all the different drafts I wrote of this ever-evolving story and cram them all into one, and during the last few years, I just wasn’t enjoying writing this story… It felt too long, but I didn’t want to get rid of all that cool stuff.

Finally, this past January… I did it.

I pulled a Walt Disney.

I cut blobs of stuff. Voluminous blobs that weighed this story down and made it slowly lurch like a non-strongman human pulling 10-ton weights cuffed to their ankles. There was way too much plot. I don’t like “plot” very much, I prefer characters and the storytelling, storytelling of the “show” variety that is. With all of that gone, the story has such an energetic vibe now, while still being massive in scope. When I reconfigured the story in January and February, it didn’t feel like a chore.

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Walt Disney was known for his sharp sense of pace. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a fine example of this. A fully-animated sequence of the dwarfs eating and singing about the soup Snow White made for them was chopped, all of it. All of the animation done by the wonderful animator Ward Kimball. Walt cut the sequence because it slowed the story down, unbalancing things and making the pace a little wonky. Another scene where the dwarfs make Snow White’s bed, among other small moments, got cut as well. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, running 83 minutes long, is perfectly paced. Very few of Walt Disney’s animated features have a pacing problem.

Deleted scenes can be very compelling stuff, and sometimes I find myself saying “Boy, they should’ve kept that.” With many live-action films and many animated films, I see some deleted scenes or concepts, I want them in the films themselves… With many of Walt’s films and quite a few post-Walt entries (including recent smashes like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia), and many of Pixar’s films, I see those deleted scenes and I think “Well those are cool, but the movies are just fine without them.”

Sometimes I look at the scenes and whole sections that I deleted from my story, and think “I kinda miss those.” But with them back in the story, everything will be anchored again. I’m writing something that I want to turn into a feature film, not a sprawling video game or a thick graphic novel. I want a 2 1/2-hour feature film. Walt Disney on the other hand didn’t fret about cutting stuff, even if it was impressive stuff. He just cut the stuff, just like that. Boom! He made decisions, didn’t second-guess, and that’s why a majority of his animated films are such classics.

Now as for the dark stuff…

The post-2008 drafts of this story had lots of moments that just felt so forced. There is a hint of melancholy in the story right now, but it’s not overdone nor does it overshadow the narrative’s bubbling optimism. There are dark, tough sequences and the characters go through some terrifying things, but it’s all built into the story. They are balanced out with character-building scenes, humor, and the fun of the adventure itself. It’s a bit like a Disney animated classic, or something like Star Wars, in that way.

Prior to this year, I had a lot of this over-emotional muck that was making the story just sag. Where was the sense of fun? Buried under all these complicated subplots and needlessly downer elements. They feel like extensions of my younger self, where I absolutely had to shock, not surprise. I have another big story in the works, one that calls for more downer and darker elements like this. Stuff that would get this story an R rating.

Since entering high school, I was adamant for a long while that this was going to be an R-rated, “adults only” story. Prior to that, it was pretty PG, for 11-year-old me wasn’t quite ready to go into fully dark territory yet and potentially rankle my loved ones. That initial innocence and sense of fun just wasn’t there for many years, and even when it was, the hyper-violent and hyper-dark just didn’t gel. In the other story, it did gel, because that’s a hard sci-fi story akin to The Terminator and Mad Max 2. Films like those have many unpleasant moments and instances of violence (both are rated R), but they are balanced in their own way so that they’re not super-depressing or make you feel empty after you’re done watching.

What I’m trying to say is, this main fantasy adventure that’s been my pet project for 12 years didn’t call for this kind of thing. The sci-fi one does, and the sci-fi one has heart, humor, and a sense of fun. But a different sense, one that stacks up fine next to the harshness.

But the fantasy story? Uh-uh. I got rid of the extreme violence and didn’t want to overdo the dark parts. I want the dark parts to be direct and effective, but not in-your-face to the point where the story is screaming “I’M DARK! TAKE ME SERIOUSLY!” Balance is key. There’s a lot more balance in the story nowadays. Really, I am using the best elements from almost every iteration of it here. Ones dating back to 2004, when it all started.

It’s in such great shape, better than it has been for years. So it started in 2004, began again in 2008, and took off this year…

Writing is quite the journey…

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One thought on “Saving a Story, Again and Again

  1. Pingback: Imitation? Part 2 | Kyle Loves Animation and More…

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