DISCLAIMER - Admittedly the title may be a little misleading at first - this will not be a guide to anything, nor will it be a breakdown of fundamental concepts. Instead, this will be a personal exercise in describing lessons I've come to learn as I've been writing. I hope this helps other people, though!
FLCL is a show that is dedicated to the idea of finding meaning in your own experiences. “Nothing interesting happens here,” says Naota, despite his life being full of robots and girlfriends and massive explosions. To him, this is all normal. The interesting can become mundane with exposure. So it goes for him, until he begins to learn how to take interest in what occurs around him.
The final episode centers on Haruko, the secondary protagonist of the series, coming back after an indeterminate time and offering Naota an escape from it all. She gives him a chance to do something he’s never done before. With tears and hugs he gratefully takes the offer, despite the audience knowing that this is all part of her plan to use him. They run and, in a shocking turn of events, they end up chasing a giant robot dinosaur attempting to merge with a hand to start the end of the world by grabbing a giant iron. Yes, this show is weird. Haruko and Naota barrel toward it on her signature motor-scooter, with Haruko gleefully proclaiming to him as they take flight, “it’s the climax!” With that, the music suddenly kicks in, and the series heads towards its ultimate conclusion.
I have been working to understand how to carry my own voice and values in my writing for a while. Despite my best effort, ultimately every character I write is a part of me that I’ve come to externalize and grant autonomy. Cyborg bikers with swords, Netrunners competing in battle royales, even journalists trying and failing to report on the sudden emergence of a Kaiju. Still, I found that as I worked on these drafts and ideas that they didn’t carry the same idiosyncrasies I found colored so many of my experiences. Why was this, I wondered?
2022 was a weird year. I got a job, and I lost a job. I bought a bike and became intimately aware of the world that I lived in. I started reading more, then I stopped. The summer was unseasonably long, the autumn distinctly short. I became more learned than I’ve ever been by not taking any classes. It’s easy to focus on any of these individual bits of information and try to extrapolate meaning, but what I learned more than anything from this time is that there is no individual point of meaning. My biking and my job and my reading were all intertwined, as was my writing. Taking time away from one came at a detriment to all the others, while taking the time to balance each and feed them individually gave me greater growth than I had ever seen. Now, what does this have to do with FLCL?
The series FLCL is an amalgamation of everything that the creators liked, smashed together in a hodgepodge that, put in the hands of a less skilled team, would have felt discordant and clunky. FLCL pulls it off, though, by making a point of constant juxtaposition. Slipping into a new art style happens almost at the turn of a hat, with some changes being for a few seconds while others lasting for entire episodes. Cuts can be dramatic and sudden and carry information that you can miss if you blink while also being totally meaningless in the direct plot. The music is wild and constantly throbbing throughout the series, punching up into the forefront of scenes almost at will as fights break out and robots sprout from heads (again, this show is weird) with lyrics serving to punctuate the scene with a dramatic flare. Robots become scanned in hands, characters reference other series almost constantly, and the whole thing can feel rather silly. Still, it’s filled with a diehard earnestness to its presentation that you can’t help but cheer with the series instead of browbeating it. When the music kicks in as Canti flies into the air like some sort of black-winged angel, you feel the wonder that the characters do. The finale is full of genuinely amazing moments combined with Haruko pulling silly faces, or characters falling out of the sky like paper cutouts, or cutaways of them comically crying as everything goes terribly, horribly wrong. These always serve to heighten the focus, though, never distracting from the sheer excitement present in the conclusion as everything comes to a head.
Dour stories are easy to write. Now, okay, maybe that needs some clarification.
I find that it is incredibly easy to carry in negative emotions while I’m writing. Sad characters come to me naturally, and their struggles are easy to amplify to the point where it carries the entire plot. Sad, broken worlds inhabited by sad, broken characters work to mirror each other and elevate the inherent sadness of a doomed existence. Yet, I didn’t want to write that. None of my characters are beyond saving, and I didn’t want my worlds to be either.
My largest and most ambitious writing project has probably been my Dungeons and Dragons game that I’ve been running for the past year. It started with a simple concept – what if where was a continent where nothing could live, and all the undead took it upon themselves to live together in the shared desolation. An unaging, undying desert where nothing could ever grow or flourish, and yet that wasn’t the case. I worked to flesh it out – gods, characters, towns, the like – but I found that the real story began to grow as the players took to inhabiting it. What started as a loose world full of pockets of life surrounded by nothing became alive suddenly, with hours and hours spent talking and helping the characters that they came across. I was inspired, as they were, to take to the world and make it a better, more vibrant place. Patches of nothing became full of interesting tidbits and ruins that hinted at more going on. Bits of the real world began to slip in – a car, a cargo ship, even some food – and the players would take to them like mold takes to bread. They would bring new ideas to me and I would run with them, and every new idea I introduced became a new playground for them.
The world was very dour, at some point. Remnants of wars that consumed the lives of millions litter the center of the continent. Sad people continue into their undeath, permanently bitter toward the life that they used to live. War machines without a purpose roam freely, destroying the things they happen to stumble upon with no concern for those who live inside. But, as I continued to work on the larger world and the story that the players would experience, I found it impossible to stew in this misery. A world with no hope is a world with no fun, and I wanted my players to enjoy their time in the game without feeling bad when they were done. So, I had to make some changes, not just to the world but to myself and my motivation.
These changes to the ethos of the game made waves. A world that can have beings of pure hatred coexisting with parishes full of perpetual pancake parties is a world that isn’t entirely serious, but it’s closer to reality than a world of permanently sad people. Even the most depressing life is bound to have moments of brief hilarity, and to have that exemplified in the world and the characters that everyone interacted with illustrated that perfectly. I began to reconsider just where I wanted to take my other stories as well, with the characters of one being far too gritty and grimdark to write seriously past a point. I couldn’t put myself in the mind space of a character that could never smile, because that person didn’t really exist. Everyone laughs, everyone loves, and everyone has favorite foods. I started to put myself into my characters again, but this time I was bringing the sides of myself that I had rediscovered.
Nobody can be sad forever, and no world survives by being on the fatalistic edge of collapse at every second. They and I can have fun, and I’ve had so much fun figuring out how to influence my own writing with the experiences I have every day. Sometimes its grim mimicry of events, sometimes it’s drinks or meals that I happen to enjoy that I feed into the story. Still, every time I do it I’m planting a bit of myself in them, and in that I’m allowing myself to be both vulnerable and impenetrable. It’s the climax, and I’m in no rush to get to the end.