Accepted entry for the “Article” category.
Word Count: 1822
When a Pen and Brick Unite
Good morning/ afternoon/ evening all (time zones, amiright?)! The Manifesto’s resident sufferer of lycanthropy here, glad to finally be able to spin some words for your eye-holes. Now then, I’m sure you’re all simply rapt as to what I’m going to present for you today, and I’ll admit I was unsure of what to talk about myself. I mean, I could waffle for a thousand words about poetry, but I just couldn’t get myself motivated and, to be honest, it would be pretty dull.
So, it came down to the two other things I kind of, sort of, know how to write about.
However, after careful consideration, I realised that the masses may not be able to understand the benefits of breaking down the comedy found in only the best Australian television show ever made (oh, and the fact that I’d have no idea how to link it through to LEGO.)
So, option two it is. Ladies, gentlemen and Rowntrees, I give you today’s piece on… Story Writing.
Now before you vault out of your seats like the qualified gymnasts I’m sure you all are, let me clarify what I mean. Fictional story-telling is one of the biggest parts in my life (besides a severe lack of exercise, Vegemite and the constant nagging by my co-workers to get a real hobby). A good book to me is like a glass of fine wine to many others; it’s what excites me, captivates me, forces me to think and act. And absorbing all of this information eventually led to me taking up writing, to the point where it’s literally almost everything I’ve posted when it comes to Lego.
I, like many others, see Lego building as a form of expression, of passion, of emotion. When I start building a minifig, I start thinking way too hard about it. What is this person’s name, what’s their story? Do they come from earth, or somewhere unheard of? Are they human, monster, something in between? Where do they sit emotionally, and where do they end up? What’s their personality like? Would I like to share a drink with them, or smash said drink over their head? What would be their stance on the world they inhabit?
I’ll admit, that’s quite a long train of thoughts from a few bits of plastic with some horribly inaccurate proportions, but it’s what drew me to the community in the first place. I’ll go to the grave thanking Keith, Ron, Michael and Matt for Decisive Action 2, for providing the opportunity for a young scamp like me, with zero experience, to join the world of online MOCing. However, it wasn’t what kept me invested in the brick during the years beforehand.
No, in actuality it was a Lego story that I stumbled on purely be accident back in 2009. Pretty low-key series actually, not sure if you’ve heard of it…
Besides utilizing some incredible set pieces filled with mind-boggling brick usage, I was captivated by AP’s Rise of the Mage. Never before had I seen someone utilize what was essentially a toy (in my young, foolish mind) to craft such a seamless and brilliant story. Never had I thought that a simple double-sided head could convey so much emotion, never had I seen an amalgamation of pieces become the fiercest threat the world had ever known.
After that, I threw myself into building my ideas, my own stories. The humble brick provided me with the form of expression I’d been searching for, and suddenly my characters where physical beings, my locations could be felt, could be seen, my worlds existed outside of the admittedly bizarre place that is my brain.
And I loved every moment of it.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that story-telling isn’t for every builder. In fact, many believe that a write-up isn’t necessary and that the build should speak for itself. But, regardless of the lengths of paragraphs, I’m sure everyone can enjoy when a Lego story-build is done right! AP’s work is one example, but Ludgonious’ LIU Atlas is another. And it’s this story that I want to use as an example for some of my top tips for crafting a Lego story. Note that this isn’t for writing stories outright, but specifically those that use the Lego media.
Now, without further ado…
TIP 1: Building Supports Your Narrative.
Obviously, the BIG advantage Lego story-telling has over traditional pen and paper (or finger and keyboard) is the visual aspect. Suddenly these characters or places aren’t merely thoughts, they actually exist. Obviously, comics fall into a similar category, but I believe there’s just something more… solid about a Lego image accompanying a paragraph. Immediately, you know the scale and the skill at work, and can see the effort that’s gone into it from the get go.
Therefore, the building should be key when you begin to craft your story. Too often, I see builders publish something with some absolutely fantastic writing, but the accompanying pictures seem to suck the ‘epicness’ out of the scene. They may be of a poor quality, or too dark to make out, or maybe were just shoved aside in favour of the narrative, with next to no thought put into them.
A good example would be this old gem of mine (Excuse me while I cringe dramatically.) A decent write up on the backstory (if you take the time to read it) with even a little bit of thought-provoking prose. Overall though, the whole thing is overshadowed by the build. It’s lacklustre, flat and boring, and it’s pretty clear that there was next to no effort put into it at all. And the figs! You can tell I just wacked them on there straight out of the box. Even the supposed ‘shocked’ Duke’s wearing a smile! What’s that about?
Now, for a comparison at what a story-build with some effort can look like. Let’s take a look at this relatively recent entry of LIU Atlas, Haruspex.
Look at that set! Fantastic right? The buildings nicely contrasting with the ground thanks to their wooden panelling, the gradual gradient within the orange river, the white leaved trees, it all just…works. Even the minifigs are great and unique, and instantly you feel absorbed in that world. Already, you want to know more about this strange place, what the blue cones on the trees are, why the water’s orange and why the middle building seems more important than the others.
And that’s the strength of the build, helping to draw the reader in, to see the physical space the characters and the world take up. However, when it comes to building…
TIP 2: It Doesn’t Have To Be Complex.
Look, as much as some of us like to imagine, our Lego box isn’t limitless. We’re always scrounging for that one piece that we’re sure we saw only a minute ago (when we didn’t need it), and we’re always finding that we own far too many tyres to be reasonable (or is that just me?) Needless to say, though we realize the importance of building, we can’t always get our story build to the scale or detail that Ludgonious can.
But we don’t need to! So long as the build is considered and prioritised, the set doesn’t have to be the greatest thing conceived by anyone ever. It’s nice when we have the parts or the time to build something like Lud’ can, but a good story can be told with even the smallest scene. Take a look at another episode of LIU Atlas, specifically this image here (warning, contains scenes of alien torture):
Again, the build has clearly been considered heavily, but this time it’s nowhere near as intricate, or as large. It’s all basic colours and pretty simple techniques, yet it still works remarkably well, and sucks you into the room. Immediately, you’re thinking about what the alien’s feeling, or what Doog’s going through, successfully sucked into the world. Another example would be the following, a teaser from a good buddy of mine, Marley Mac:
This one’s obviously more complex technique wise, but it still uses pretty common pieces and isn’t exactly large. However, it fits the mood of the story perfectly, and carries the same effect of drawing in the reader and representing the character’s ‘presence’, which is the ultimate goal of the build.
However, whilst builds are clearly important…
TIP 3: Remember That This is a STORY.
I’ve prattled on about building so far, but all of that means squat if the story doesn’t match up with the bricks. The reason why Ludgonious and Marley’s builds work so well is because the story is lined up exactly with what’s being shown. The mood and tone are the same in both, and the reader is successfully absorbed.
However, if the story wasn’t there, then what are you left with? A great MOC definitely, something that can be OOHed and AHHed over at a local con. But how much better is it with the story? All of a sudden, these figures are characters, with emotions and thoughts and goals. All of a sudden, a ship is a home, with a thousand personal touches and a hyperdrive that doesn’t work.
Now, this isn’t me saying that EVERY great build deserves a great story, but that when great builds are utilised for a narrative they need to link in with said narrative. I won’t go into the intricacies for writing a good story as it’s wonderfully subjective (and mostly luck, to be honest), but if you are using the Lego medium to express it the two need to be linked like a pair of eagle lovers.
So, there we have it. When it comes to writing story’s through the Lego medium, make sure the builds aren’t merely shoved in to tick a box, but are instead welded to the narrative, regardless of the technical complexity and scale at work. With those tips at your side, you’ll be reading to dive straight into the Lego bin of creative possibility, and who knows what awesome story will come of it?
Well readers, I thank you for making it all the way to the end. Hopefully I’ve been interesting enough to keep you in those seats (though I see you there Keith, ready to unleash your triple standing backflip on us), and hopefully I’ve been able to pass on a little knowledge to those aspiring Lego -writers out there. Well, I’ve run out of things to say, so I suppose I’ll leave you with this:
The humble brick, a simple thing
Placed with guided hand
But when the pen and brick unite
The results are truly grand.
Sorry Matt, I just couldn’t help it. XD