A Slave to Format (Part 2)

Cartoon_All-StarsAs I was saying, I’m currently writing a story that takes a lot of cues from the Saturday morning and syndicated cartoons of my youth, if only because it was inspired by a collection of action figures, just like those old shows.  This compelled me to keep to stick to certain tropes in terms of the story I was telling.  Oddly, I do this with no concern for what necessitated such standards to be developed in the first place by way of focus testing or research.  I merely mimic, trusting that these choices were made previously for good reasons.

Those standards necessitated that the story focus on a team of heroes as opposed to a solitary one or that the central protagonist be male, young, and caught up in the adventure rather than choosing to engage in it.   The makeup of the team of heroes required the presence of certain archetypes.

However I also started to think about matters of structure.  How does one write something “like a cartoon” but in a novel format?  Should the whole thing be done as a script?  That seemed unpleasantly dry to me.  Especially considering that, being an adventure series, it would be very dependent on action sequences … and those don’t translate well to such a format.  However I did hit on the fact a general rule for script writing is that a page should equal a minute of screen time, so the average script for a half-minute program should be about 22 pages long (once you factor in commercial breaks and an opening/closing sequence.)  This lead me to wonder how fast the average person reads.  The answer turned out to be about 300 words per minute. So if I wanted someone to be able to “read” this story in line with a cartoon, that would come out to about 6,500 words per … chapter?  Keeping things analogous, each “chapter” should be an “episode”: having a relatively self-contained story or being a clear multi-parter.  Even looking at cartoons I’m given an upper-limit on the number of episodes: 65.

Maybe better people could say “I want to write something that takes its cues from the action cartoons of the 80’s” and be able to operate in relative freedom.  But here I am, a slave to the format.

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2 thoughts on “A Slave to Format (Part 2)

  1. I personally think doing research about the format you’re seeking to evoke is a good step in preparing to right a story, even if you end up not following those rules. You at least have a rough idea of how long a chapter should be or how long a story arc should function so you have a baseline to start from. This sounds pretty effective to me.

    As a side note, you might want to consider shorter chapters- such as the distance between commercial breaks or something. It’s an idea.

    1. Way ahead of you on that one. I remembered that there were two commercial breaks during the program, making an explicit three-act structure relevant, but when I looked into it I found that it wasn’t uncommon to end an act on a cliffhanger, as opposed to merely making it a convenient place for a scene change. It was also important for me keep each “episode,” unless explicitly a multi-parter, fairly self-contained and have at least one action sequence (intense character development doesn’t count.)

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