Category Archives: Work

Form and Content

Animé and comic books are vast industries, but they are also niches. Watching animé (Japanese animation, for those wondering) is something for anime fans. Reading comics is a thing for comic book fans.

But it would be absurd to say the same thing about watching movies. When someone goes to the movies, we don’t take him as a person who has a special appreciation for movies. And we do not even have a word for “book fan” – we recognize that some people have a reading habit to a greater or lesser degree, or read occasionally, or do not read at all.

Why this difference in perception between film and anime? Between book and comic book? My thesis is that most people are not sure what they are looking for, and so they confuse form with content.

I am agnostic about form. What I seek are stories. It doesn’t matter to me if this story is transmitted through the magic of cinema, the melody of a rock opera, or the mechanics of a video game.

What interests me – though it’s not always what’s the most important to me – is how the content matches the form. If the story benefits from the medium used to tell it.

The world of video games is rife with stories that would be best told in a book, film or comic book, and that do not benefit by being told in a video game; on the contrary, the story, its rhythm, its cadence, are impaired.

A videogame is a unique medium because it does not necessarily have to tell a story, at least not in the traditional sense of the term. Tetris is an excellent video game, but if it tells a story, it’s one completely generated in the player’s head – narratively, Tetris is nothing more than a vehicle for the imagination.

But when a game focuses on telling a story, when that is its central premise, or one of its central premises, then either it takes advantage of the unique characteristics of the medium to do so, or it is a digital mule, a hybrid and defective being.

It is very easy to identify this dichotomy in video games because they are so different from the usual artistic mediums – and because the majority of those who create them still fail so spectacularly in using the tool for narrative purposes, or even in determining what their artistic purpose is.

It takes much more attention and cultural education in other art forms to realize, for example, when a movie would have been a better comic book, or an opera would have been a better animé.

But it is something to consider when we want to talk about the quality of a piece of work.

Tools of the Trade

When you need to get the job done, when you can’t live without doing the work, then the tools don’t matter nearly as much. I’ve written several chapters of my first book on a notepad app on my mobile phone. Good tools put a spring to your step, but they won’t push you out of the door.

But some of you asked me what I use when I write, so here are the main things:

Scrivener ( OSX / iOS / Windows) – This is what I use to write my novels. It’s excellent software for writing books, so long as the books don’t depend on visual gimmicks like expertly formatted illustrations or text boxes. It’s infinitely customizable and has tools to facilitate any writing, from science textbooks to fantasy fiction, but at the press of a button, it can be just you, a word count, and a blank page. They have a generous free trial – I have written a full novel on trial alone.

Pages (OSX, iOS, Web) – I use this for longer essays or any book that necessitates the use of colourful and precise visual elements (think marketing e-books). It’s got two significant advantages over the competition (Google Docs and Microsoft Word). First, it’s much more responsive, especially when it comes to image manipulation and formatting.  Second, it uses tags to categorize documents. I won’t go into the benefits of tagging as it has nothing to do with writing, only organization. But when you want your writing to look beautiful AND not bust open your head against the keyboard in frustration? You want responsive software with intuitive styling menus. Pages delivers. The web version is much worse but passable.

Bear App (OSX, iOS) – For short-form writing. 99% of my blog essays are written in Bear. It has a beautiful, minimal interface; robust, hash-tag based organization and formatting, and painless export to a variety of formats. It’s Evernote without all the bloat, fine-tuned for writers. I use the pro version for sync, but if you don’t care about using it across multiple devices, free is great. They’ve promised that a web version is in the works, but are a small team and don’t want to commit to a release date.

Photo by Leah Kelley (Pexels)