Shaun Tan, Neil Gaiman, Characters and Planning

So, I read the conversation between Shaun Tan and Neil Gaiman (Renaissance men involved in about a billion projects, look them up if you don’t know them) that was featured in The Guardian and this bit popped out to me because, even though they’re planners, they can understand and explain those of use who are not and cannot be.  I know that I have said before, if you can be a planner, do so.  It will make your life infinitely more easy.  I, however, don’t seem to be able to.  I can polish plan after the fact to fix up “dodgy bits” but I can’t do it beforehand.
ST: I don’t know about you but when someone first mentions an adaptation, I have, probably a little bit inappropriately, a feeling of weariness at revisiting that work after I’d struggled with it for so many months or years. But then the second thought is “Wow, what a great opportunity to fix up all those dodgy bits.”
NG: It’s so nice to hear you say that. Somebody asked me recently if I plot ahead of time. I said yes I do, but there is always so much room for surprise and definitely points where I don’t know what’s going to happen. They quoted somebody who had said: “All writers who say that they do not know what’s going to happen are liars, would you believe someone who started an anecdote without knowing where it was going?” I thought, but I don’t start an anecdote to find out what I think about something, I start an anecdote to say this interesting thing happened to me. Whereas I’ll start any piece of art to find out what I think about something.
ST: Exactly.
NG: I’m going to learn something I didn’t know when I began. I’m going to discover how I feel and what I think about it during the process. I will break off little bits of my head and they will become characters and things will happen and they will talk to each other.
ST: Exactly, creating a character is like impersonating another being, so that you can find out what you think about something. You really find out what your style is when you diversify – setting something in a fictional landscape, the far future or distant past. A lot of people think of style or personality in terms of things you do often, but it’s not really. It’s what you do under duress, or outside of yourself. I don’t feel I know myself really well because – again it’s that emotional thing – sometimes I feel a little embarrassed by the amount of emotion that comes out in a story. I don’t realise that there’s so much of it locked up or in denial and then it comes out in the process of doing this conscious dreaming exercise.
If you want to see the rest of the conversation in The Guardian, go here.

Leave a Reply