Article length: 3100 words (preview 700/wds)
Computer says Spectacle is “a visually striking performance or display”.
In comic writing (story) terms, it is a narrative that while may contain all the elements of genuine story, does not fully develop them, relying on superficial/surface elements (action, visual eye-candy, gratuitous genre convention, obligatory scenes and tropes) to engage the audience.
Often spectacle fiction is particularly weak in thematic expression (Master Theme), character development and plot. And often serves as the vehicle to showcase unchanging (non-arcing) protagonists, like James Bond, Indiana Jones, Mad Max and the like…
I’m not really a fan of pure spectacle fiction, as I feel there’s always room to add substance to a story.
That said, I am a big fan of genre fiction, Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror being three of the primary genres I work in. Because many elements and practices of writing good spectacle overlap into genuine story, understanding some of the mechanics of spectacle will serve to improve your writing whether or not you embark on a spectacle heavy script.
Ok, grab your mocha and let’s get into it…
The spectacle hurdle.
Without the real substance of genuine story, all the superficial elements are pushed front and center. Instead of taking the time to assemble a fine wardrobe, offer an intellectual greeting and discuss what makes you tick, you’re stripping off your story’s clothes in the middle of gym class and screaming as loud as you can “Yo, check me out!” (gratutious 80’s movie reference)
Only above average content survives this level of scrutiny.
Plainly put, if your material isn’t above average, you’re sunk.
So if you’re about to set sail into spectacle comic writing waters, you better put down the rum, and look to the horizon with every ounce of objectivity and honesty.
The waters of genuine story telling are forgiving, the seas of spectacle take no prisoners.
Art and Concept
First and foremost, above average content must convey in the art.
You can’t put forth spectacle, if the art isn’t—as the definition says—visually striking.
The art has to dazzle and I mean, literally dazzle. It needs to be at the level where it impresses and engages the reader on its own. Pulling off a spectacle comic with subpar art is like watching a bad B movie with a $5 special effects budget—few brave souls can stand such entertainment, fewer yet actively seek it out.
Similarly, your concept must also be above average. Spectacle comics are about showing the reader only a portion of a complete story, but wowing them so much, they don’t care that they’re only getting half their money’s worth.
Some concepts (and characters) are just so damn engaging, interesting and entertaining, the reader accepts the shallow story for what it is—sheer spectacle. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Star Trek (remakes), Star Wars, to name a few.
If your concepts are average, or run-of-the-mill, you’re going to have a particularly hard time trying to impress the audience when showcasing them in spectacle.
I have other articles on the site and talk about discovering your best concepts in Storycraft for Comics. Suffice to say, if you’re setting out to write a spectacle heavy comic, only work with something that feels above average, or elicits an above average response when you pitch it to others.
If you’re too close to the material and have lost your objectivity, hire a story consultant or developmental editor to let you know if you’re holding lead or gold.
Personal goals (and personal finances) play a tremendous role in writing. While there’s nothing wrong in pursuing a project for personal reasons, this website (and my books) assume your goal as a writer is to have some measure of commercial success. (All advice is presented from this mindset.)
- Only proceed with a spectacle script if the concept and artist attached will be above average.
For the Love of It
This one is a bit abstract and people may be turned off that I’m taking the time to list it here. But the reality is, I can’t stress how important this is… When it comes to executing spectacle successfully, passion and love for the material shows in a big way.
Clearly, if you’re hired to produce a spectacle script for say a heist comic and cops’n’robbers isn’t your thing, I’m not suggesting you turn down a paying gig, BUT if you’re working on your own material, and trying to choose between a handful of IPs… I absolutely recommend stepping away from the spectacle project IF you’re not fully passionate and enamored by the material.
Do not misinterpret me here and think that love and passion will compensate for: bad art, a bad concept, or just overall bad execution… it won’t. But love and passion for the source material have big impact in spectacle scripts.
You hear me say it often, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Of course, for spectacle script we can change that up to something like:
“When you don’t write on the edge of your seat, your readers won’t read on the edge of theirs.”
- Only proceed with a spectacle script if the source material truly resonates with you.
I've touched on Art/Concept and Passion. That leaves 10 more to go: Character Arcs, Visual Writing, Setting, Turns, Plot, Dialogue, Pacing and Stakes, The Super Trifecta, Genre Conventions and Clarity. We're not reinventing the wheel here, but if your working on a spectacle script keeping these insights handy will help you deliver spectacle in spades!