All Features


  PlayStation 3
  PlayStation 4
  Wii U
  Xbox 360
  Xbox One


NOCC: Golden Rules of Storytelling

Company: Wizard World
Product: New Orleans Comic Con 2013 Coverage

When panelists begin to recognize you in the audience, it is a pretty good indicator that you’ve been attending their panels for way too long. I always look forward to Michael Golden’s Storytelling panel every year. As someone who is interested in the art of storytelling, his insight is always enlightening, particularly when he ventures outside the world of comic books and into how storytelling is a vital component to all visual media – from film to soup cans.

During his panel, Golden shared with attendees his "Rules of Storytelling," which he has pieced together over his 30-plus year career working as both a commercial artist and, as the co-creator of Bucky O’Hare and X-Men’s Rogue, in the entertainment business. As in previous years, Golden emphasized that even though many people will tell your there are certain "guaranteed formulas" for telling a great story, there really are no formulas, just simple rules. As in other crafts – and Golden emphasized comic book art is a craft, not an art – there are standards that need to be followed that have proven to work regardless of the medium or the time period it is produced.

Golden’s first rule is, "People are Stupid." Golden was quick to point out, this has nothing to do with people’s I.Q. (though he did joke it could factor in when dealing with some people). Instead, this guideline simply means that whenever you begin a production, you should always assume your audience is ignorant of what you are doing. They don’t know who your characters are, what your world is like, or what is happening with your plot.

As the storyteller, it is your job to inform audience members and tell them everything. Your audience should never have to guess. Even if you’re trying to develop a mystery (say, for example, Lost), you still need to be as complete as possible. Important points need to be repeated and reinforced whenever possible. Golden also suggested taking a heavy-handed approach. Be specific and don’t tip toe through your story.

When developing plots around a larger mystery – or really any plot – Golden said you should always work towards your climax, but even then you can’t just have the climax be a plot point in the story; it must have meaning. As an example, Golden offered a story about the world blowing up. Even though that event is a major plot element, the actual story involves why it blew up. Climax is, and should always be, why you told the story.

Golden’s second guideline is something that should be familiar to anyone who has ever taken a writing course -- Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why. These are the building blocks of all stories and, when all five are included, you are telling a complete story. While most good writers know to follow these – you could almost call it "Writer’s Instinct" – great writers take every opportunity to repeat things and pound them into an audience’s head. Again, it pays to be heavy-handed.

If Golden’s guidelines sound like "Duh" moments, they should. As Golden pointed out repeatedly (that whole, "heavy-handed, hammer it in as much as possible" thing), these are tried-and-true pieces of advice that have been proven to work in nearly every medium. According to Golden, however, they are easily forgotten. Also, some writers and artists just aren’t good storytellers.

In his career, Golden has had the opportunity to work at "The Big Two" comic publishers. He mentioned – and this was something that came up at every comic book panel I attended -- that Marvel and DC each have their own way of handling scripts. DC works with full scripts, while Marvel uses the "Marvel Method," which involves something closer to a script outline. Golden is an advocate for the DC method. While the Marvel way does offer the artist more freedom, often times the artist ends up doing the writer’s job for them. Great if you’re being paid to do the extra work, but that isn’t the case most times.

Golden emphasized that both aspiring artists and writers need to focus on putting together a portfolio. For writers, they should piece together several short scripts. Because of hectic work schedules, editors usually don’t have a lot of time to read, so if a writer can communicate a story in three pages, they understand the craft.

For artists, Golden offered expanded advice. First, they should approach their work on being commercial, not as an artist. There isn’t money in being an artist; you need to pay bills and in order to do that you need to take a commercial approach. That doesn’t mean you can’t be creative and do artistic things, but the focus should be on getting the work done. As Golden put it, "You don’t have the liberty of not being 'in the mood' – remember your priorities."

When it comes time to judge your work, Golden said your best critics are moms because most won’t have a clue about what you’re doing. This means you’ll get an honest answer. As a writer or artist, you need people to tell you if things don’t make sense. Otherwise, you’re not really telling a successful story.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Related Links:

Generic NOCC: Spotlight on Jesus Saiz Generic NOCC: To Pitch, or Not to Pitch?

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated