writer geeking out about CP writing
From a writer’s point of view, analysing a quality story like Check Please is a pleasure, because Ngozi is so GOOD at using efficient storytelling tools- may they be in words or in images.
I mean, this is a story that spans four years, with so many levels of humor, romance, angst, shenanigans, main plot and back plots, so many different characters- and it’s only 67 episodes long, if one doesn’t count the twitter or the extras. 67 episodes is NOTHING, and 9 panels per episode is even LESS space to tell such a layered story! Imagine your favorite novel- what do they have time to tell in 67 pages? Can they describe an entire scene in 9 sentences?
Like, let me geek out about about some tricks she used, tricks that I learned by myself through the years, writing a story with a lot of characters.
1- KNOW WHO’S THE STAR
With a lot of characters, it’s tempting to spend time with them all, since they’re all interesting. But if you focus too much on the backstage dancers, you lose track of Beyoncé. So even though it’s so much fun to focus on shenanigans and backstories, you are limited in time, space and effort and all this has to be focused on the protagonist, in this case, Bitty. All the CP characters are interesting, but I admire how she keeps them in check, telling their story through Bitty’s story, and not getting lost in details.
2- HERD YOUR SHEEPS
So, you’ve got an important event, or important information to transfer, in this case, Bitty and Jack coming out. When something like that happens in a text, it’s super tempting to write every single character’s reaction, the calls, the back and forth, etc etc. But it makes for a long and tedious form of storytelling, and makes a repetitive rhythm that just kills the mood. Something helpful I’ve learned through trial and error was that it’s more efficient to treat background characters as groups, and to just move those groups in time and space according to where you need them to be. Hm, okay it applied to action scenes in my case, but in CP’s last year, there was the coming out story that loomed upon them. How would Bitty’s parents react. How would the public. How would Parse. Making an episode about each one of these would be monotonous in the long term (added to Georgia, the Falcs, the SMH…) So instead of making three more coming out episodes, she was like: let’s make them all happen at the same time and be done with it. Et voilà, in a handful of panels and a couple of expressions, she resumed what could have taken months for a less experienced storyteller.
3- CUT THE CRAP
When you’re limited in time, energy, space and even more: reader’s attention, you have to know exactly what story you’re telling, and eliminate everything that doesn’t fit it. I admire Ngozi’s discipline in that aspect, because her universe is so charming, and some characters could steal the show easily- I mean, give me a 10K fic about Jack’s mental illness or the entire story about how Ransom met Holster- but those are traps that can muddy your main storyline. The tweets added wonders to the universe, but in the end, the amount of time a creator can spend on their creation is limited.And sadly, to be an efficient storyteller, you have to kill your darlings.
4- MAKE IT BIGGER. MAKE IT WORSE.
Yeah, things could go smoothly. OR we could have an amazing story to tell. One of the main things I learned writing my own original story is that you have a scene… but is there a way you can make it bigger? Is there a way you can make a situation WORSE for your character? Okay they’re fleeing the bad guy… But what if they broke a leg. More often than not, those options are the most interesting ones to tell. That’s why I adore the ending of year 3. Is it wise? Is it reasonable? No, but it sure as hell will give you things to worry about for year 4, and that’s what a story needs- it needs to keep you hanging till the end. We’re nearing the last act of the story- we should NOT feel at ease. Things HAVE to get worse before they are resolved, the main character HAS to be put in seemingly impossible situations so they can prove their worth. If Ngozi is the amazing storyteller that I know she is, she’s gonna make us, the readers, suffer even more in that last year.
So, I know there’s been talk and unrest lately, because of course, a story can’t please everyone, but I’d like to add something to consider:
There are beats to a story, and one of the beats before the chaos of the final confrontation, is the weird calm that comes right before. Year 4 is the chaos, year 3 was Bitty -unknowingly- assembling his army to face the final beast that is all the shitstorm that will follow. Yeah, he will have to face every single thing he’s been avoiding so far- his parents, the public, Parse- but now he’s backed by a solid relationship, his friends, the Falcs. The episodes or year 3 may have been calmer and nicer than the two previous ones, but I see them as a hero picking his weapons in an armory. If Bitty only has those people to back him up against the world, those relationships NEEDED to be shown. (otherwise, would we really believe when a soldier sacrificed themselves for the king?)
Also, the main thing to remember in all this:
The story is not over.
It’s something that I see in series, in fanfics, and in webcomics- things that are consumed by the public before their ending. When you write a story, you have all the cards in your hands, and you get to pick when you play them, or if you play them at all. Will N talk about what seems to be Bitty’s mental illness issues? Maybe, maybe not. (I mean, as a writer I’d bring it to the most stressful moment, when he tries to captain a hockey team and write his thesis and have a relationship and face the world and make jam jam jam jam jam- I know most of us have mental problems and we want best for our lovelies, but they ARE characters in a FICTIONAL story, they are there to serve a purpose and that purpose is to make us feel emotions. Stress is an emotion.)
So let’s remember- we don’t know everything yet, so we can’t judge an unfinished story like we do a finished one. You see a movie and they dropped the ball- yeah, okay, here are the points they missed. But there’s still a quarter of the CP storyline to come, and it’ll probably be the fullest, so let’s wait and see, and enjoy.
So yeah, she’s has a great grasp on the things she tells -and doesn’t tell. Let’s remember to respect the author even if we don’t like the creation, and most important of all, if you don’t enjoy the creation anymore, it’s okay, there are many others you can enjoy instead. Or better yet, make yours!
I’ll leave you with my general opinion about the internet as a whole:
They’re fictional. Chill.