Monday, April 4, 2011

On Reading Multimedia

"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." – Stephen King.

We all know this, right? “When not writing or rewriting, read” and “Writers must read” and all the different variations of the advice quoted throughout the internet. It’s all true, of course. You can’t be a writer without being a voracious reader, and anyone who thinks otherwise deserves to be thoroughly bludgeoned.

But you know, I’m of the opinion that you don’t have to read just books. For that matter, I don’t think you have to read just text. I think a writer can gain story-telling skills from all sorts of mediums, even the ones we view as purely escapist. It’s all a matter of ‘reading’ them like a writer.

Now what do I mean by that? Well, let’s start with books as an example. When non-writers read a book, it’s usually with the intent of pure enjoyment, and they allow themselves to be sucked into the magic, lost to the world of the story.

When a writer read a book, it’s usually with the intent of pure enjoyment…but when we come out of being sucked into the magic, we say to ourselves, “Wow! How did they do that?” And then we go back in and figure out how they did that, so we can learn to do it ourselves.

It’s kind of like being a magician in the audience of another magician’s show. Half the experience is learning how other people do their tricks.

Now let’s apply this to another medium – cartoons, for example. Because I love cartoons. Say I turn on one of my favorite cartoon shows – Young Justice, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the 2003 series), or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I watch an episode, or several episodes in a shot. I laugh. I cry. I get into the story.

And then I go back and figure out why.

Each story has something different to teach, and that differs from person to person. For example, in my case, TMNT is all about making the implausible plausible, at taking the most out-there storylines imaginable and forming them into a working universe. The new My Little Pony series is a study in female character development. And Young Justice is essentially YA genre fiction, with all of its teenage angst and coming-of-age themes intact.

Similar bits can be drawn from all media. I’ve learned more about suspense and plot twists from my visual novel addiction – particularly 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors and the Phoenix Wright series – than from any suspense novel I can think of.

Video games are all about developing an overall experience and drawing the user into that experience. (I’d go into detail, but really, you’d be better off watching the Extra Credits series over here at the Escapist.)

Meanwhile, comics books are excellent tutorials in episodic writing, especially in creating a beginning, middle, and end for each chapter while still lending itself to an overarching storyline; while movies can teach you how to develop that three-act structure in the first place.

What I’m saying here is that reading is important; but in this age of multimedia and the internet, it’s not and it shouldn’t be your only venue for bettering your skills. There’s a whole world of stories out there, and they all have something to teach. The trick is finding the ones that speak to you.


  1. Interesting perspective. I was just thinking about this, sort of subconciously. I watched the documentary "The Cove" this weekend about activists fighting against the slaughter of dolphins in small coastal town in Japan. One of the main activists was the trainer of Flipper, from the 1960s TV show, and as a result, he is the man who is essentially responsible for the movement to bring dolphins into captivity. Point: I thought, what a great STORY. His personal conflict is what drew me in. He has spent the last 30 years of his life undoing the first 30. It made me think of how each story needs a good conflict, and a heart behind it (my personal preference)

  2. Freaky! I just wrote a post like this, but I talked about how I use all these various mediums for inspiration. Each has a lesson to tell about story telling especially because of the way each medium requires different ways of telling the story. When I play a game, I'm analyzing it and trying to learn something from it.

    Really good anything is like a magic trick, and I aim to figure them out and see what I can take away.