Form versus substance



(Originally posted on the Ink Jerkers blog on 14 August 2018.)

Why is it so much easier to think about form than substance when planning a work of fiction?

I was never an especially prolific writer, so my already low output declining year after recent year has been worrying. (I blame life. Doesn't matter.) After something like 10K words in 2016, and lots of nonfiction on top of that, it was down to maybe 3500 words in 2017. This year? At most 1K, if you count the various bits of microfiction needed to bring my recent games to life. Been doing other things too, of course. Art is art. It's just my ability to tell stories that seems to have taken a hit. And stories are important.

There's something curious going on, however. Every time I think about a new thing to write, it's always about the form. Been pondering a light novel for instance: 100 pages, at 250 words each, would make 25K words. Well within my abilities, easy to organize, and not too daunting a proposition for readers. It would be an awkward length by today's publishing standards, but who gives a damn about publishers anymore.

What I can't figure out for the life of me is what to make it about.

It's not the first time that happens, either. Three times I tried and failed to write a fairy tale of sorts in computerized gamebook form. Even had a perfectly good protagonist, and a vague outline. Which is more than I can say about my usual fare. Still didn't help.

The same thing seems to happen with other creators as well. Often enough, I see someone going, "I'd like to make a (web)comic". To which they usually add, "but I can't draw". So? Either start practicing, team up with an artist... or consider a medium you can master more easily.

Except they specifically want to make a comic book. And they might consider an alternative... if they had any idea of what the subject matter should be. And just like me with my potential light novel, they don't.

Why in the world not?

I recently completed a short technical manual started last year. It went exactly according to plan, which doesn't happen to me often. Also just came up with a structure idea for another similar work I've been meaning to write for a long time now. All while continuing to write on my second book about game development, that I hope to have ready in a couple more years. Clearly my ability to string words together is as good as ever. Likewise my ability to spin a narrative, because nonfiction still needs narratives, and I can deliver just fine.

Then again, computers and the internet are just about the only life I have left. Even dreams have been hard to come by lately, never mind stories. So that side of it isn't much of a mystery.

Form on the other hand remains all too easy to think about. In prose. In games. It tempts me. What to do?


Tags: writing, philosophy