Well, yesterday, I was feeling kind of burnt out creatively after somehow managing to write and draw the second chapter of my “Stories Comic” in pretty much a single night. However, after spending most of the day with no clue or enthusiasm for what to do for the next chapter, I eventually remembered that the most fun kinds of stories to make are the ones which can go in all sorts of directions and which have lots of interesting parts of other (unwritten) stories in them.
In short, they are stories with room for distraction built into them – both for the writer and for the reader.
I’ve written about this subject briefly at the end of my article about story length under the title ‘Design your story for variation’, where I suggested that if you weren’t that good at writing longer stories or comics, then writing a story/comic which is actually lots of smaller stories combined into one was a good idea if you wanted to write a longer story. However, this is a technique which can work just as well for shorter stories and comics too.
This technique probably works best to different levels and extents in different stories. If your story is a thriller story, then it’s probably best to keep distractions to a minimum (for example: a brief reference to one of your protagonist’s previous missions or cases) but in other genres, you can probably include more distractions.
If you want an old-fashioned example of this technique, then read Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. One example is that there are at least a few times in all of the various “Sherlock Holmes” stories where Watson briefly refers to some other case which Holmes has solved. Some of the time, these are cases which are described in other stories – but others are left mysterious (the most famous example is probably Watson’s reference to a case involving “the giant rat of Sumatra”).
Although I haven’t really read that many of his books, Terry Practchett is a modern writer who uses this technique quite a lot by including lots of random footnotes in many of his comic fantasy novels, some of which are practically very short stories in their own right. I don’t know, this kind of thing seems to be fairly common in sci-fi and fantasy novels which are set within their own invented world and it’s probably a necessary part of world-building in some ways.
So, how can I leave room for distractions in my story ?
The only real “rules” for leaving room for distractions in your story or comic are that your distractions must be either interesting, mysterious, relevant to the story and/or funny and they must fit into the context of your story. For example: you can’t have part of a sci-fi story in a historical fiction story set in the middle ages – unless it’s possibly something like a translation of Lucien’s “True History, which is this completely bizarre Ancient Greek surreal fantasy story that includes space travel. I’ve only read about half of it, but it’s definately worth looking at.
But, a good way to include distractions in your story or comic is either through dialogue, narration or through objects and documents which the protagonist finds. For example, your protagonist could be talking to someone who tells her a brief anecdote or story about the history of someone else in the story or some location in the story. If your prose fiction story is narrated from a first person perspective, then your narrator can occasionally talk to the reader about the history of things in your story (as long is it doesn’t happen too often and it fits into the story). Your protagonist can also find intriguing and mysterious diaries, letters and fragments of other novels which tell their own stories.
If you’re making a comic, then you can also include distractions in background details too – for example, showing a few seconds of a television show which your protagonist is watching or a newspaper headline in the background. Actually, it’s a lot easier to include distractions in comics than it is in prose fiction, since you can use both words and pictures.
Why bother? Shouldn’t my story be focused?
Yes, the main part of your story should be fairly focused, but it’s still a good idea to include the occasional distraction if it fits into your story
As I mentioned earlier, this is useful in sci-fi/fantasy stories in order to give more depth to the world of your story. It also provides a short break from the main story for both the reader and the writer/artist too – this can be good if you have writer’s block, need to add a small amount of filler to your story or if your story is quite action-packed, horrfic and/or fast-moving. In thriller and horror stories, the horrific and thrilling parts of these stories tend to be more effective if there are “breaks” between them.
Plus, a well-written distraction makes your readers use their imaginations and it also makes them feel curious too. They start to wonder about what happens in the rest of the story which you’ve only partially mentioned or hinted at – maybe some of them will even write fan fiction about it (although whether fan fiction is a good or a bad thing is a matter of opinion). In short, if your readers are curious, then this is usually a good thing becase it means that they’re interested in your story and if they’re interested in your story, then they aren’t bored by it.
If, for some reason, you want to create a “spin-off” story/comic/short story from one of your other stories, then including a few distractions in your stories can provide you with a lot of material for this too.
And, as I said earlier, they’re just fun to write too. And storytelling should be fun.
Anyway, I hope that this has all been useful.