Editor's Musings: Which Storytelling Medium is Right for You?
Updated: Mar 6
"How am I going to tell my story?"
Whenever this question comes up, many creators jump straight to ideas such as character building, showing versus telling, and plot. However, an oft-overlooked aspect of the "how" regards a particular story's presentation as well. By this I mean, is the story meant to be presented as a:
television or web series?
These are of course only a few of the myriad options available to a creator in today's ever-expanding landscape of both traditional and modern options, each offering its own benefits and drawbacks.
In my dealings with creators, it's not uncommon for individuals to go with their first intuition: comic lovers will want to write a comic, movie lovers will want to write a script, and book lovers will want to write a novel. However, each of these has its own barriers to entry which can sometimes get in the way of an individual feeling like their dream is within their grasp. To name a few:
Graphic novels and webcomics generally have low wordcounts and don't require particularly long scripts, so they can be "written" relatively quickly. However, artwork takes time and funding costs add up between art, lettering, and more, with finished comics clocking in in the $1,000s by the time a volume of work is completed.
Made-for-screen stories and live action plays require knowledge of the screen production process, and most of all, that a writer know how exactly they plan to format their story so that it translates well to film. While practically everyone can say they've seen a movie or television show, not everyone has seen a script, and a visually messy or unusual script may be a difficult sell when an aspiring creator tries to send their work off. Like graphic novels and webcomics, there are certain skills and types of equipment necessary for even the do-it-yourselfer filmmaker or playright that can add up in costs to obtain, in addition to things like sourcing actors, and securing locations suitable to filming or acting before an audience.
Videogames, as one of the most interactive mediums of storytelling, have their own unique challenges. Writing the script to a story is only a fraction of the process, with the creation of things like original art, music, arranging of voice actors, and even the designing of entire gaming experiences based on either ready-made or novel code. Once nearly unfathomable for a game to be made by a single person, modern gaming engines like Ren'Py and Unity make this more possible to achieve than ever before.
On the other side of the spectrum, novels are one of the lowest-barrier and most ubiquitous storytelling mediums, given that all it takes to start writing is a keyboard and screen or a piece of paper and a pencil (or even a napkin and crayon nub, for the truly desperate). What you see is what you get with a novel, and mimicking the general format and style of other writers will almost assuredly get a writer through the door, particularly as regards genre-specific writing when pitched to publishers specializing in stories of a certain type.
All this said, someone with a story in their heart but not so much experience or funds might think that the best way to get a movie or comic book deal is to write a book that becomes a big hit, or, in the words of many a writer who's asked me to review their work:
"Can't I just write a novel with the goal of a movie/comic/tv deal after it becomes a huge hit?"
Almost invariably these kinds of statements are bedfellows with statements such as "I want to be the next J. K. Rowling/George R. R. Martin/etc." but the fact of the matter is: J. K. Rowling didn't write with the goal of getting a movie deal, she wrote Harry Potter because she was an unemployed single mother who wanted to take care of her family and tell a fun story to her kids. George R. R. Martin didn't start writing with the goal of making a television series, but to make a bit of money and entertain the neighborhood kids (as well as potentially explain the mysterious, frequent deaths of his pet turtles he suspected were killing each other off).
When you get right down to it, fame was the furthest thing from these individuals' minds when they first set out to write their books. They had a passion for the written word—and entirely mundane goals of making a bit of money as novelists and short story writers—and their stories won the metaphorical lottery by being in the right time and place for them to take off. Their stories are a highly visible exception that might lead creators to believe that a novel being ported to other mediums is inevitable, but this is not the norm.
For any writer who comes to me with a novel that they would rather have made a comic or a movie, I always brace myself for the fallout—the most outstanding of which was a novel whose climactic scene was a multi-page MTV-esque description of a music video timestamped and set to the lyrics of a certain song by Pink Floyd—which almost always happens because a writer is not writing with their mind focused on the medium their story is best suited to.
When sitting down to put a story to page, don't cheat yourself by choosing anything other than the medium your story is begging to be told in: if it's your goal to write a film, don't make a comic. If your goal is to write a book, don't write a live-action play. If your goal is to choreograph music videos, please, don't write a novel.
Create your story so that it reflects the way it's meant to be experienced, nothing more, nothing less.
Thanks so much for reading, and as always,