My story concept’s origin trails back to the end of last summer. My younger sister, at the time attending the same art programme I once did, had to write a painting analysis for class. She asked me if she could have my old one to hand in. Emphasis on old. Emphasis on no. However, this quick conversation and the following days of her begging for my essay, brought me to think back on it quite a lot.
My analysis for that class had been on Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. The essay file drowned alongside my harddrive from those years, but what I found interesting was that I could still recall the essence of the painting. Whether it was the strong colour contrast, the breathing brush strokes, or its contemporary statement that had stuck with me, I simply don’t know. All I know is that it really kick-started my uni year.
At the same time of this essay recollection, probably a week or so before I returned to London, there was talk within our southern Norwegian town that the northern lights might be coming. I’ve only seen these once in my life, but they left the most amazing impression. I kept thinking of the wind in Van Gogh’s painting, and the light from the northern lights, and the concept of light and essence of breathing out sort of stuck in my head.
I woke up one day and my ProMarkers were sad. I’d bought them, but never used them. I sat down with my sketchbook, put on Bambi (1942, dir. James Algar et al.) in the background, and caught a few glimpses of water drops and forest settings that really inspired me. I suppose my monster character’s loneliness is inspired by Bambi alone in the forest after his mother is shot. I had also been watching Dumbo (1941, dir. Samuel Armstrong et al.) earlier that week, and had been longing to draw a sad elephant. It then occurred to me: why not give my monster the appeal and movement of an elephant?
I wanted the monster to be gigantic in contrast to my little protagonist. -That, and I wanted its size to be intimidating to others. This was the first step towards working with the concept of not judging a book by its cover, of seeing beyond the surface, and of not believing what you’re seeing.
Scene from Dumbo that inspired me:
By the time I was finishing my first concept, my brain was on fire. The main question in my head was: what happens once the girl and monster meet? How does it show her that it’s not dangerous? Slowly it began to sink in on me: what if the girl was blind? What if she was the only one not judging the book by its cover, because she couldn’t see the cover? What if her main sense of perception depended on what the monster chose to show her, and not what she chose to see?
From this point I was feeling quite overwhelmed with ideas. I wasn’t sure how to organize them into a context, so I turned to some story writing tutorials at Lynda.com. The first one was called Craft of Story (2013) by Lisa Cron, and focused on anticipation: both building up and breaking down questions.
Citations from my story development process:
- What happens? What events must occur to force Lumi to deal with what she has been avoiding/hiding from?
Lumi is trapped in the dark deep of the island forest, where she realizes she can no longer feel the light. The realization that her senses tell her more than her eyes ever could makes her long to return to the ‘light’ = start living her life again.
- This versus that: what are the main conflicts in my story’s concept?
The monster’s conflict: truth versus belief. It thinks the stars in the sky are coming to kill it, like they killed his family. The truth is that the meteor shower which killed the monster’s family, was created by an evil alchemist.
Lumi’s conflict lays in what she has versus what she wants. She is kind, and has the ability to see the deep down good in anyone, but this ability is neglected by her refusing to deal with her loss of sight.
- How does Lumi’s conflict force her to take action?
When Lumi finds herself alone in the dark forest, she has no one to inform her of the situation. She is forced to get by on her own, which simultaneously teaches her that she is capable of more than she thought.
- What is Lumi’s goal?
Lumi has no specific goals in the beginning of the story. She’s sad, and she’s scared. She wants her vision back, and she doesn’t want to deal with the fact that she can’t.
What can go wrong, must go wrong. This was by far the most helpful advice I got from this tutorial. I realized that I’m far to worried of stressing my audience: to the extent that my story was no longer interesting. Who wants to sit for two hours and watch everything go according to plan?
Next up, I started developing my story alongside the Lynda.com tutorial, Screenwriting Fundamentals (2013), Mark Tapio Kines. This tutorial helps you plot down a three act structure and plot twists into a finished script.
Initially, the concept behind the concept above was fairly vague. Lumi would get captured in the dark forest, and somehow stumble her way into the monster’s centre. She’s frightened by the monster and the situation, of being ‘lost in the dark’, until she realizes that the monster is just as scared as she is. The monster shows her that its not dangerous, and they shake hand and branch. Lumi would face her worst fear by embracing the dark, and the monster would face its worst fear by joining Lumi into the light, under the starry sky. Through the screenwriting course, I split this event into two separate scenes, with multiple events leading up to both. Citations from my story development book:
Lumi and Plant meet.
Lumi makes her way through the forest. She stumbles and steadies herself a couple of times, before finally hitting the ground once more. Gripping another branch, she steadies herself back up. She walks, now checking the ground with her feet. She closes her eyes, bends her head backwards.
Lumi: “Don’t hide from me again.” She walks, then branches detract from the ground. She stops, smiles, and reaches her hand out in the open air for Plant to grab. She leaves it hanging for a bit, but eventually puts it back down. Lumi: “(whispers) You don’t need to fear me. (pause) I’ve spend so long being afraid. (tear trails from her eyes) I used to think like they did. I took everything as it appeared. When I lost my sight I thought I’d never see anything again, and so I started seeing things like you do. It was terrifying, and lonely, and there was no way out. (pause, tear drops). But then you showed me one.” Lumi rests on a branch behind her. All of the sudden it starts to twirl around her feet. The branch raises to the sky with her in it, and breaks through the shield of branches blocking out the light. Raising past the clouds that hid the stars, it stops. Lumi feels the air in her face, and the moonlight/starlight on her skin. She shuts her eyes tight, and throws her head back softly. Her hair waves with the wind. Tears trail from her eyes. She raises her hand for the moon, and Plant’s branch sticks out mimicking her.
Developing the lonely monster
Before my Bambi/Dumbo epiphany, I was working with the idea of a grumpy monster. A creature that was so sad, wounded and hurt by loss that it now hated anything around it. I imagined someone breaking this barrier. I thought a lot about the monster’s backstory when I came back to London. One day, while testing out a new sketchbook application, inspiration hit me.
Text: Once upon a time, in a land far far away, hunger was striking the people. The earth was barren, and it was thought nothing could grow there. But the little princess, stubborn as she was, wouldn’t give up hope.
What if the monster, not really a monster, was brought to life by someone good and pure hearted, like a child. What if the monster’s only mission in life was to assist and protect this person, and: what if it failed to do so? What if the lonely monster was hiding alone in shame, in belief that it couldn’t save someone dear to it?
The monster, still a young plant, would witness burning stars streaming down from the sky and setting fire to its home, and: its people.
This imprint in memory would create a fear of light, leading the monster to form a shield of branches around what little remained of the island. At first it would wait in hope that his people would return, but as time went by, this waiting would turn to plain mourning. About a thousand years later, when Lumi and her friends wash up on shore, the lonely monster would simply be hiding in its own guilt and loneliness.
From this point on, I really wanted my audience to empathize with the monster. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (Illusion of life, 1989) wrote that to convince an audience that a character is real, you have to make them identify with it. We identify through emotions, so if we empathize or sympathize with a character, it becomes alive to us. -And we devoted to it. I tried to think of something that always makes me emotionally attached with a fictional character. What I came up with was: if a character is blaming itself for something out of its control, or, if a character is blaming itself for something while someone else secretly caused its misery.
This is where my shadow character comes in. Someone who wanted to inflict pain on the monster, who was jealous of the queen’s success, and who wouldn’t mind letting the monster blame itself for his doings. However, I’m not too fond of stories with good and bad archetypes, so I had to make the shadow character a little good too. This is something I like about long format productions: there are different sides to every story. I don’t want my story to be a typical ‘good versus evil’ fairy tale. I want it to be about sorrow and desire.