Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling Reading Svetlana Chmakova's Nightschool

Nightschool is an American-published manga by Russian-Canadian mangaka Svetlana Chmakova, most famous for Dramacon. 

A normal school by day, The Nightschool teaches vampires, weirns, mermaids, etc. The coarse, homeschooled Alex Treveney tries to track down her sister, Sarah, a teacher at the Nightschool. She also has a slight tendency to black out and leave slow, brutal death in her wake. 

Across the four books, I had fun picking apart some of Chmakova's storytelling tricks.

6. Delving into different types of pessimism and optimism is a fun way to develop characters/contrasts. The cheerful Sarah Treveney is pessimistic about the ball-busting Mrs. Hatcher, who in turn offers her optimistic support. Instant synchronized character dynamism!

5. The storytelling emphasizes slow moments. On pages 154-155 of volume 1, for example, back-to-back panels are almost identical, showing very gradual change. A door, a portal, slowly closes. If the door were "the clock" of the story and we had a protagonist racing through it like Indiana Jones, it would build suspense. But this slow-motion-ization serves a different purpose. It creates a sense of finality. It clues you in and braces you: The person who has gone through the door will not come back.

4. I like how to book handles cursing. It's @#*%ing good at it. I wish this kind of censorship were acceptable in YA formats. It's not an entirely distracting compromise. It allows for the maintenance of a little realism.

3. Magic always has a recognizable relationship to technology. A street gang fights with a combination of pistols, crossbows, and poison. The process of tracking spells is tantamount to hacking computer systems. Magical pills stabilize psychological dysfunction in Seers. Astrals are like iPhones combined with pets. They provide passcoded hiding places for files, remind you of the time, sound security alerts, and beg for treats.

2. The story asks, and sometimes even answers, good questions about death. What is the difference between death and existence? Nightschool answers, Memory and evidence of life. What is memory's relationship to death? Without memory, death achieves something greater than itself. The dead becomes nonexistent. And finally, how is a slow death both crueler and kinder to loved ones? At the story's turning point, most characters have braced themselves for the death of their friends - but one cannot stand for it and seeks revenge. Unanswerable questions always seem to be the strongest, don't they.

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