During the writing of the Slender Man Musical i’ve spend a good bit of time considering what my story telling approach is. I’ve concluded that it is some kind of philosophy best summed up as Subversion vs. Satisfaction.
Subversion: The thing that keeps stories fresh, original and exciting is taking people’s expectations and subverting them. Maybe you build an expectation up then give an unexpected twist, or maybe you take certain assumptions that come with a trope and pull the rug out from under it.
A trope is a commonly recurring literary and rhetorical device, motif or clichés. One must recognize these and subvert them and in this lays the fun.
Satisfaction: However, above and beyond this, one must satisfy the audience. Which means sometimes you SHOULDN’T subvert tropes. Sometimes the satisfaction lays in delivering exactly what is promised. Sometimes what we love is when a trope plays out exactly as we expect it to.
For instance, a superhero movie. Some shmoe gets a superpower. We all know there’s gonna be a big scene coming up, certainly by the end, where they finally have learned how to use their new powers and they let loose and kick some ass. This trope is so predictable it’s basically its own law of physics. But say what you will, you BETTER deliver this. You should NOT subvert this trope. You can bend it, mess with it, try to find a fresh approach, but we better see the hero kick some damn ass. If you do not deliver this you will have an unsatisfied audience.
So, the art of storytelling for me, is this waltz where satisfaction and subversion twirl around each other.
I’m writing a Slender Man musical that is going to be strange for some folks. If you’re already a fan of my work chances are you will like it. It is very much my style, it very much continues themes and ideas i’ve been developing over the past several albums, and in some cases there are thrills in watching me subvert expectations you have walking in about what i’m going to do in a particular section. Or maybe i’ll satisfy them. (You know at some point Lauren will have a big, loud, high rocking chorus at the end of a song. You know i’m gonna do it, and yes, i AM gonna do it. Because predictable or not, it’s freaking satisfying.)
And of course you know i’ll deliver a bunch of “Wtf did he just do? Did he just DO that? WTF?”
I’ll also likely grab a bunch of new listeners who will find it intriguing and hopefully enjoyable.
But you cannot please everybody and works that attempt to do so often suck or are bland and ball-less.
There are some who will expect something from a Slender Man story and be perplexed and unsatisfied when this goes different directions from that. All my beautiful subversion will not be interesting, just unsatisfying. As will my musical choices for those who would prefer a metal sound or a Silent Hill sound, not the kind of…. Classic rockish meets Americana sort of sound i’m embracing for this.
But getting back to subversion vs. satisfaction, i look not only at my own New Albion work, but every other great story i love to see how the dance of these two played out to make it so enjoyable.
Breaking Bad was a master at satisfaction and subversion. The story went places we’ve never really seen before, told an original and unprecedented story where there is no growth of a hero, but the growth of a villain (subversion) but at the same time it plays out like a video game, where at the end of each new phase of Walter White’s growth towards the dark side he much face a level Boss (satisfaction). By the time we get to, say, Gus, we know Walter has to win. He has to each time. And the show serves best by NOT subverting the satisfaction of Walter besting the level boss, but by coming up with an awesome way to deliver the satisfaction we all crave.
Where the subversion comes in is when they dedicate an entire episode to Gus’ backstory, back when he was young and innocent, and makes us utterly respect him. (Which is not unprecedented. This is by far the best way to handle villains and the best stories do this.)
Thus i write stories with an eye towards whether the plot should twist or deliver. Whether a character should conform to stereotype or subvert it. Should i surprise you or give you what you want? Can i do both at the same time?
Subversion vs. satisfaction, this is what the past few years of writing these pulp operas has led me to.