It’s when we’re young – and sometimes before we can even read – that we create the most stories.
As children we make use of everything in our world to construct stories: the floor is lava, the cardboard box is the villain’s secret lair, the laundry basket is a boat. We enact our own adventures; everyday we use everything to make new stories to keep our growing brains sparking.
And then we lose it. We get bigger and flabbier and the world solidifies around us. The rocking chair that you rode to victory in the Kentucky Imagination Derby isn’t a creaking stallion anymore. It’s just a chair. Boxes become things to pack your childhood away in. Suddenly, stories become serious. The very act of creating them becomes drenched with adult ideas of rules and purpose. You’re so busy trying to get published, or trying to write something that’ll impress people that you forget to have fun.
Which is why so many people love the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time.
Set in the bizarre and wonderful post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, Adventure Time shows Finn, the human, and Jake, the magic stretchy dog, having adventures. All sorts of adventures. A trip to find some apples for an elephant, or a games console solving a Noir crime, or just playing a trading card game. Adventure Time is pure hot fire imagination in 11 minute bites, and its greatest strength lies in a method of storytelling that mirrors your childhood adventures.
No Waiting Around
11 minutes isn’t long to tell a story. Fortunately Adventure Time follows the David Mamet rule of storytelling: “Get into the scene late, get out of the scene early”. No time wasting. In an episode where Finn and Jake are invited to a haunted house, we join them as they’re arriving at the house, invites in hand. No paper through the letterbox, no ’shall we go?’.
Just as with your own childhood stories, we dive headfirst in. The unnecessary is cut. As writers we can all do the same to our stories, trimming down or completely removing the fat of prologues and preambles.
Imagine First, Rationalise Later
How often do we kill an idea in its infancy because we worry that it’s too outlandish? Too weird? You didn’t worry about that as a kid, and nor does Adventure Time. Imagination leads and rationalisation follows.
In the episode Sons Of Mars, Abraham Lincoln is the King of Mars and presides over a court as an alien judge. Why? I don’t know. But it’s so mad that it actually works.
It’s the storytelling equivalent of pouring all your Lego bricks onto the floor, then building, rather than lugging them out one at a time and hoping something good is built.
Adventure Time proves that you can make a character out of anything, so long as you give it a strong and focused personality. One episode, Princess Cookie, sees a cookie (voiced by Donald Glover), holding people hostage in a grocery store until his demand to become a princess is met. It sounds utterly mad, but the character of the cookie is so clear, his motives and personality so quickly defined, that it works. In fact it works so well that, without spoiling anything should you ever wish to see it, the episode becomes quite moving.
It proves that you can be as crazy as you like – so long as your characters are good enough. It’s just like when you were playing with your toys and you knew who the good guys were and the bad guys were, and you made great stories with them. The characters might not have had great depth, but they were clearly defined.
Sticks To The Classics
Good triumphing over evil. Brave heroes. Damsels in distress. Scary monsters. A reward for victory. Childhood stories are built of simple but effective stuff, the classic building blocks of storytelling. Adventure Time is no different, and there’s no reason your work can’t be either.
A simple story told well will always be better than a convoluted web of characters at cross-purposes. It’s why fairytales stand the test of time.
The Power Of Fun
Adventure Time is pure fun. You can tell that everyone who made it was having a great time because of the finished product.
It’s the same with creating a novel. If you’re not enjoying writing it, that dissatisfaction will distillate into your words and the reader won’t enjoy reading it. So have fun with whatever you’re creating. Enjoy your work with that same childish abandon you once had, and if you’re not enjoying it then it may be time to put that story aside and start a new one. You once created stories to have fun. Hopefully you still do.
Writing is an adventure. Time to start.
Please share your thoughts on this article and the wonderful madness that is Adventure Time in the comments below!
Robert Smedley is a TV Reviewer and Writer. When not staring at moving images or being creative with ink, he can be found at any bar that serves a good martini.