A journey around the world, but in your mind. What would your life been like and where are you heading next?
At first glance, this comic looks and feels very whimsical. The first few pages share a very common sentiment that I feel most of us share: that is, the grind between chasing your passions and paying the bills. It has a very weird, cartoonish look and tone to it that—if you’re a fan of that sort of thing—might be worth a read.
It reads more like a diary—or in this case, a dream journal. In fact, it seems so dreamlike in its plot and pacing that it can be a bit difficult to read—think of the stuff Virginia Woolf writes. It’s practically stream of consciousness in its narration wherein the narrator just talks about all sorts of random thoughts about life in general.
In fact, this comic looks and feels so very personal that I’m a cautious about how to put into words the rest of my webcomic review. Nevertheless, here goes…
One thing I’d like to highlight about this comic is that there are so many themes that it touches on about life that can make you think. It talks about loss, regret, pain, passion, dreams, and so much more.
The problem with this is that every theme is stretched so thinly that nothing about life is really explored. What do I mean? I mean that you can’t really relate much to what the author or the character is saying. The narration just goes on and on, but never explores anything too deeply. The entire comic ends up being pretty shallow in the way it talks about life.
Less Telling, More Showing
The narration tends to have a poetic tone to it.
Less telling, more showing. There was a part in the comic where it spoke about losing friends and trying to find more. Talking about it doesn’t necessarily make people feel sorry for the character. You have to literally show the character going through the motions—wallowing in pity, going out and trying to make new friends. To make it even more poignant for a reader, you have to repeat this sequence over and over.
The best stories have characters that have these personal problems (things about them that they need to fix). Mr. Fredricksen of Pixar’s Up had to learn to move on with his life, to go out and make new adventures, to live in the present. He struggles with this all throughout the movie. He’s stuck in the past despite the fact that he’s out on an amazing adventure. He’s there, but he doesn’t even realize it. He doesn’t take the time to look around him.
Woody in Toy Story has to learn to accept the fact that Andy has other toys that he loves. Again, throughout the entire movie, he struggles with the need to accept Buzz as a friend, as an ally, and as a brother.
In Jaws, chief Brody is afraid of the water. It isn’t until he’s placed in a boat and in the middle of the ocean that he gets to really face this fear. What happens in the end? The last line he says goes something like, “You know I used to hate the water?”
In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy is wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He stays there for decades, and has to deal with his life slowly being wasted away. Yet somehow, Andy makes the most of it, and teaches his fellow inmates to look at the beauty of life—despite the fact that they’re all in a terrible prison, trapped with terrible guards.
There is a real, concrete struggle going on, and they don’t just talk about it, they live it. We, as the audience, watch them live it. We’re not merely listening to them rant about how life is so unfair. We see them act and go through life, and we relate to them, we feel for them, we feel like we know them personally.
In the same way, the themes in this webcomic only hold water when they’re expounded upon and SHOWN through living, breathing characters. Don’t talk about feelings. Readers can’t relate to that.
Readers aren’t your personal psychotherapist. Your job as a storyteller is to serve the reader. Your job is to entertain them, to move them to tears, to make them laugh. Most of all, your job as a storyteller is to help them learn how to survive this thing we call life.
I wrote about this in a couple of old blog posts:
But for a reader to be able to relate to your story, you need one very important thing…
Give Readers Someone to Root for
Because the comic reads mostly like a dream journal, or a diary, there isn’t exactly any character that a reader can root for. There isn’t anyone you can directly relate to. Because of this, as a reader, I don’t feel at all invested in what exactly is happening.
I think I get the point of the artist. The comic is supposed to be thought-provoking. It asks questions about life, about our dreams. It has a lot of good ideas.
But ideas are not equal to a story.
A story as defined by Brian McDonald, a lecturer and teacher of storytelling at Pixar, is a telling or retelling of events that leads to an argument. That argument is your theme. Like in my examples earlier, all those stories said one very specific thing about life in general.
- Up — Don’t get stuck in the past. Appreciate the things in front of you.
- Jaws — The best way to overcome your fear is to face your fear.
- The Shawshank Redemption — Get busy living, or get busy dying.
- Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol — It’s the dedication of the team that makes a mission succeed, not the technology.
What made them poignant and emotionally moving was the fact that they had focus. Of course, stories can explore several different themes, but unless you’re an amazing writer, it’s best to always focus on just one.
That said, I’d recommend heading over to our resource page and grabbing one of the recommended books on storytelling. Specifically, I can’t recommend Brian McDonald’s book, Invisible Ink, enough. He makes storytelling look so incredibly simple, yet at the same time incredibly profound.
But, if you don’t have the budget to read a book on storytelling (which I honestly doubt), you can catch some of Brian’s interviews on The Paperwings Podcast. These guys, I absolutely love and admire. They break down a lot of what Brian talks about in his books about storytelling. If you don’t have the time to read his book (which is actually pretty short), at least listen to the following podcast episodes.
- Inteview with Brian McDonald: Storytelling Guru, Author of ‘Invisible Ink’ & ‘The Golden Theme’
- Creating Characters from Your Story’s Theme with Brian McDonald (Part 1 | Part 2)
For the creator of Dreaming a Dream, and every other creator out there, we hope this webcomic review was of some help. As a final reminder, here are some points worth remembering about storytelling:
- Focus on just one theme or aspect of a character’s life.
- Give the reader someone to root for. Give them a character that struggles through life (because the one important thing stories should accomplish is making audiences feel that they’re not alone with their personal struggles, and that others experience them too). When they find someone (even if it’s a fictional character), go through the same problems they’re going through… and survive those problems… Well, they tend to love that.
- Show, don’t tell. Don’t just talk about feelings, show them.
If you have anything else to add (agreements, disagreements) don’t be afraid to post them in the comments. Constructive feedback only, please!
And if you’ve read the comic, and you enjoyed it, show Yvette a little support. I’m sure she’d appreciate it.