As this book is not focused just on background design but rather on background design aimed toward storytelling, I thought it would be best to take this section and, just as we studied our layout grids to better set up our environments, take the time to set up the building blocks of visual storytelling to start understanding how to better connect these layouts with narratives. In doing so, I hope you get a better sense of purpose in terms of the layouts presented previously and have a sense of confidence when applying them within your work.
Before we jump into the subject of storytelling with layouts, however, let’s go over some of the fundamentals of visual (or for that matter, all forms of) storytelling. To do so, I’m going to make some assumptions about you and say that, at some point in your life, you’ve experienced (either through reading, watching on TV/film, or through the evolving narrative of a game) at least one story. There are many different types of stories—some scary, some funny, some tragic—yet all of them have a similar purpose and structure, which makes them understandable and relatable to their audience. Therefore, a lot of the following will definitely be familiar to you, even if you don’t know these concepts by name.
First of all, it is important to know that all storytelling derives from conflict, which is a specific issue or concern that provokes the entire action of a story to take place. Basically, it’s a motivation that causes your main character to react to the world and either set things right within his/her world, or change his surroundings and his/her status quo. In superhero stories, for example, those conflicts are usually expressed physically (bad guy shows up, does something bad, hero hears about said bad thing, hero engages bad guy to stop bad thing). These are called external conflicts. There is also a different type of conflict that is called an internal conflict, which is more of a personal, philosophical concept, and it could motivate your character beyond the physical issue presented in the story (usually it’s traumatic or concerns a situation the character either has trouble overcoming or uses his/her new role in society to try to remedy).
Well, I can hear you chiming in from the back, looking all frustrated, saying “Okay—we were doing well, just learning about layouts and horizon lines and all that crazy stuff and then you got all English Lit on us! What gives?!” Allow me to explain: