The world is made up of stories. Or is that stories make up the world? Either way, in our comics, novels, television shows and movies, we are all inundated with narrative. Many folks enjoy their stories with cliffhangers, tantalizing moments of peril in which they are suspended until the next installment. Others enjoy complete done-in-one stories in which all the plots and character moments are resolved in a tidy fashion. Which is more satisfying? Is there some crossover to be had with both approaches?
British author Simon Spurrier recently completed a run on Marvel Comics’ X-Men: Legacy and is now the writer of the newly relaunched X-Force ongoing. In an interview with Comic Book Resources he shares his process approaching serialized narrative whilst working with the three-act structure of storytelling. In the interview he is asked, “Are you building a long-term story in X-Force, or will it be shorter story arcs?” His response:
Both, actually. I’ve waffled-on endlessly elsewhere about my instinctive dislike for Stories Without End. The older I get the more certain I become that “story” (that is: a three-part process involving beginning, middle and end; or thesis/antithesis/synthesis for the more Doc-Nemesis*-minded among you) is a critical and unique but completely abstract concept permitting human beings to digest information. Just as our notion of the visible spectrum of colors would be completely alien to, say, a mantis shrimp, who can see like a billion other colors you can’t see, so do our brains restrict our ability to process data by parceling it up into little bundles of satisfying code we call story. Every act of creation, every human event — painting a picture, singing a song, telling a joke, having a conversation, going for a walk, or, yes, writing a tale — is at its most satisfying, most memorable and most emotionally resonant when it is easily expressed and easily absorbed as an entity with beginning, middle and end…stories achieve maximum value, maximum punch, maximum importance, when they have an ending.
Which, of course, is problematic when you’re embarking on a theoretically unlimited ongoing run on a new series. My personal solution is to regard an ongoing book as a Series of Serials. A modular tale, if you will. Every so often everything draws together, the story gets its ending. And then launches afresh with a new theme, a new controlling idea, a new set of theses to be rattled against their personal antitheses. It doesn’t matter if some or all of the characters are still around, it doesn’t matter if the new controlling idea is an evolved extension of the last one: all that matters is that writer and reader alike are able to say here a story began and here a story ended. What lies in between is a discrete and wholly-satisfying narrative.
*Doctor Nemesis is a member of the X-Club, a group of scientists affiliated with the X-Men, who possesses a “self-evolved intellect.”
Above image by Mike Del Mundo from X-Men: Legacy #4.