Hit the jump for the development of this narrative, as expressed as a narrative on development. Otherwise known as a discussion on my thoughts and process in developing the story, its characters, and how one fed into the other in surprising ways ! –
Lets start with a confession-I’ve never really attempted a storyboard which tells a story with a beginning, middle and end before this project. Every now and then I’ll do a small handful of panels to practise my angles and composition- but they tend to be along the lines of ‘ a little weirdo goes for a walk’- this was the first time I’ve been tasked with something with a little meat- and its been quite the fun journey trying to figure out how to chew it down.
I learned a lot in the process, and by the time I’d finished I kinda wanted to scrap everything and do it over again, but I guess its all good learnings for the next time I try something like this!
So, where do we start? I was approached by a chap through twitter, who had an idea for a project and wanted me to come on board. A lot of these posts start this way, but this project was different- this one wasn’t about making games, this was about partaking in a book in which lots of different people would tell stories- myths to be precise- and I couldn’t resist putting my own into the collection.
The myth I chose came from a book of local myths and grisly goings on which I used to read as a child. The original story always stuck with me because, unlike the usual ‘Knight/dragon/Princess’ type stories, this one had a bit of a twist in that the Princess WAS the dragon. The idea of a young girl being trapped inside the body of a hideous beast, culminating in her attempted suicide by the blade of her own brother struck me even then as pretty powerful stuff, especially as its a story which isn’t that well known. The fact that it’s set in the North East of England added an extra slice of homeland motivation for me to get this story told.
But how to tell it?
My initial version of the story went something like this –
Once upon a time there was a King and Queen, who had a son and daughter.The Queen died, and shortly after the son left to seek adventure at sea.The King was sad, and set off on a journey to find a new queen. The new Queen was hated by the town she lived in, as she was a vile witch. The King returns with his new bride, and she takes an instant dislike to his daughter, transforming her into a hideous worm.
The worm roams the countryside, poisoning crops and devouring livestock, until a Knight arrives to fight it. The knight chases the worm into a cave, where he looks into its eye and sees his sister trapped inside. The Knight kisses the worm 3 times and she transforms into the princess, who is actually the Knights sister. The Knight returns to the castle to face the witch in a final showdown. She begs for mercy, and is transformed into a toad.
This was heavily edited down from the version of the story I was basing this on, which included a section describing the Knights return to his homelands, complete with crazy epic fight with a floating gang of old crones summoned by the evil Queen who are defeated by the Knight’s magical ship mast… I wish I was making that up.
I started by drawing basic thumbnails in a linear manner, covering key points of the original story, such as the arrival of the King with his new bride, and the encounter between the Knight and the Worm in the cave.
At this point I wasn’t sure how I would approach the ‘final image’, whether it would be something rough or more considered, polished panels. Either way, I had way too many of the things, and I wasn’t sure how clear they were if you didn’t already know the story, so I asked a colleague for some tips. The general advice was to cut the story back to its fundamentals, getting rid of anything that wasn’t wholly necessary for the story to make sense.
I went back to the drawing board and decided, as the story was titled ‘The Laidley Worm’, that it would make sense to focus on Princess over everyone else. This, of course, meant drawing more panels- and the chess and ‘beating the crap out of the worm’ scenes were added to fill some gaps in the narrative. It was around this time that I decided that I really wasn’t comfortable with the ‘ Knight saves the damsel in distress’ ending to the story, and pondered changing the ending as I’d rather the Princess stood up for herself in some way.
Character Development as Story Development
I sketched a basic version of half of the characters before I began my storyboards- starting with the King
These were enough to get me started on the storyboard. I didn’t put that much thought into the worm herself, as I didn’t really think I NEEDED to – at this point I still thought of her as a hideous, mindless creature, who wouldn’t need that much development to be recognisable.
Since I was a kid I always pictured the Laidley Worm as being this gigantic, pale earthworm looking thing with limp hair, frighteningly soulless eyes and a slimy mouth full of needle-teeth. This is a creature which I wont say has given me nightmares, but has certainly haunted my imagination over the years.
What started as an exploration of various hideous (in a subdued kinda way) beasts to represent our Worm, turned into me having so much fun making this creature express emotions that it became clear that it would be doing a disservice to not give her a larger role in the story, make her something more than a monster.
This change shook things up a little, especially as I already had all of the worm scenes planned out in my initial board. However, this new approach to the worm gave a little more gravity to the monstrage ( Whoa! Like a montage for monsters! That was a typo, but lets keep that ) where we see the her committing acts of random violence and having a scowly worm face. Now, they could be scenes where she lusts for vengeance, gets used to life as a worm (swallowing sheep whole is rather unpleasant!), maybes even grows to like it after a while.
The bit where she attacks the Knight for no reason, just to get to the cave scene, was now transformed into one where she recognises the Knight and rushes to greet him, only to be met with a punch in the face, because Knights are assholes. Indeed, rather than beg the Knight to end her worm-life when she retreats to the cave, what if she spoke to him, and appealed for him to help her take down the evil witch? What lies had the evil witch spread about the worm? What measures had she went to to prevent the worm from attempting revenge previously? How was the King feeling about all of this, having lost a daughter and gained a hideous beast roaming his kingdom? What, indeed, did brother and sister have to say to each other concerning the fact that brother had left his sister alone with her grieving father for so long?
The ‘Final’ Board
Once I had settled on a version of the story that felt well rounded ( and that I could get excited about!) I set about cutting the board down even further into more manageable chunks. I was doing this to a deadline, so the fewer panels I dealt with, the better.
I still hadnt decided on a final visual style for the board itself, and was unsure as to how much I would have to redraw to get my message across, or indeed, wether I was to make this something more like a ‘comic’ or work of art in its own right.
In the end I decided that , for what this is, the emotions and moments were more important than the visual style – and that my final submission was to be more of a teaser of potential things to come than something you could hang on your wall.
I soon found out that even this rather loose way of dealing with the problem of my limited timescale was potentially far more work than I had anticipated, especially during the trickier scenes – how do you show the moment when a Knight connects to a dragon-like creature who is actually his sister? ( By looking at people connecting with horses, and attempting to hug a door which you pretend is your dragon-sister in order to help imagine how you would stand, obviously.)
It was in trying to figure out how the cave scene would work that I realised that I could have done a lot more with the other panels, and could have perhaps found some more poignant moments within them if I had given myself more time to play with and iterate on how I put across the information. Alas, by this time my deadline really was up, and I hastily wrapped up the rest of the thumbnails, lest I chuck them all out and give myself yet more work.
The Submission/ The Future
I submitted my final bits and bobs as a number of pages of concepts and a written version of the narrative to go alongside my panels- something of a pitch document, as it were. If the collection-of-stories project this was created as a part of manages to get funded, y’all will be able to buy a copy, and check out my puntastic story write up as well as some bonus bits of art which I wont put on this site (yet).
Where do I go after this? Well, I don’t really consider this project as something which is wrapped up and done with completely. I think that while I feel that I’ve solved a lot of problems with the narrative and general tone of the piece, (No doubts I could introduce many more…), I barely touched the visual development beyond what I did for the storyboard, and I think there’s still a lot of material here to play with – What does the castle look like? The area which the worm roams? How would the characters actually look if this was a Videogame or Movie? (Indeed, how would the game actually play if the project went in that direction? Don’t think I haven’t already pondered mechanics!)
I guess I’ll end this with a ‘watch this space’. I have a little study I need to catch up on between now and when I get back onto this, but perhaps this wont be the last you’ll see of The Laidley Worm….