The “adapted shortform” is not a new subgenre – I’d argue movie teasers and trailers are great examples of adapted shortforms…
1. IN THE PROCESS EXTRACTING AND ADAPTING, THE ARTIST CAN’T MAKE UP NEW SENTENCES. For all dialogue and word captions, the artist depends solely on the writer’s original text. When adapting, translating or extracting from the writer’s original text, the writing is re-used in verbatim; the artist can’t paraphrase or make up any new sentences.
2. 3BUTES ARE REMIXES – THE ARTIST MUST, AND WILL, MOVE THE WRITER’S STUFF AROUND
3butes fall under the same storytelling subgenre as movie trailers – I’m calling it the “adapted extreme short form,” for lack of a better term. The artist excerpting a 3-page narrative from a longer piece of writing is a film editor with a butcher’s cleaver; extracting a 3-minute trailer from a 2-hour movie or 3 pages of standalone sequential art from a longform. To sell the original text, both creative processes require moving story elements around, repurposing them and finding layers of meaning buried within those same words when juxtaposed with images.
3. NEW WORDS CAN BE ADDED TO AID THE FLOW /COHERENCY OF A 3BUTE’S VISUAL NARRATIVE. THESE NEW WORDS OR PUNCTUATIONS ARE SET APART WITH SQUARE BRACKETS [ ] SO READERS CAN TELL WHICH WORDS ARE NOT THE WRITER’S.
Moving story elements around and finding these new juxtapositions between words and images is like making a quilt out of pieces of fabric cut from the same cloth. Think of the new words in the square brackets as the extra stitches needed to hide new joints.
4. A 3BUTE IS NOT A LITERAL TRANSLATION –OR ADAPTATION– OF THE ORIGINAL TEXT: The original text is used in verbatim for the dialogue and captions in the 3bute. But the images are left to the artist, who reinterprets the text, then conceives images which double as analysis and critique of ideas or assumptions held in the original text.
While we work out the funding that will enable us commission other artists (i.e photographers, graphic designers etc.) to bring other styles to 3-page adaptations of some of the great examples of African literature and journalism on the web, I have in the meantime kept the trains going (not always on time) on the adaptation and production end of things, by researching, adapting and illustrating 10 stories so far, including a tribute to late Cape Verdean Singer, Cesaria Evora – a collaboration with the BBC Focus on Africa magazine which we will be putting up soon.
I have also been trying to bring in other viewpoints and storytelling styles to this rather unique process of extracting longer works into a space of 3 pages that still manages to tell a story. I think it’s best to think of a 3bute as a one-minute trailer for something much longer and I’m interested in seeing what story choices others would make; story elements they’d thought were important, which I might not have given a hoot about.
Saratu Abiola, who blogs at Method to the Madness and was part of the @zunguzungu organized Caine Prize 2012 blogathon, agreed to guest-adapt on 3bute #9 – Bombay’s Republic. Hence 3bute #9 is the first “3bute” I’ll be collaborating on with someone else, at least in the adaptation process, which also makes it a good place to start putting down some notes for the future on “adapting 3butes.”
After going through our notes on Bombay Republic over the phone, I made the thumbnail sketch (above) of the structure and layout for the three pages. Setting a gruesome tone and starting with the old jailhouse was Saratu’s idea. Which posed a problem at first because it meant starting too early in the story.
Ideally, you want to get to that defining image combining location and action as fast as you can, and then you keep your fingers crossed that you will find ways to add the backstory you need on the fly. However, Saratu stressed the writer’s use of the old jailhouse as some sort of bookend device for the story and that duplicating the effect in the adaptation would be, well, cool. I decided to go with her instincts.
A lot about adapting written stories into extremely short visual narratives boils down to 2 approaches you could take: 1) if you find a scene or image or sequence within the story which thematically captures what the whole story is about, then you might want to extract just that and break that down; or 2) you might want to summarize the story (or one of its arcs), which means picking a few images, condensing time/dialogue and coming up with a new narrative clothesline to peg all your choices on while praying your ass off that you can come up with transitions (like the one below) …
.. to make the time condensation not only work, but work in a way that keeps the clothesline of your plot strong and taut enough to carry all you need it to carry.
Finally, Bombay’s Republic also offered the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do — a version of the “Tarantino trunk shot “ :
– bunmi john oloruntoba (June 2012)
‘Hunter Emmanuel’ sets itself apart from other shortlisted stories by its telling, and the surreal comedy that affronts us when we approach it. For why would anyone who sees a disjointed human part hanging on a tree wish to go home, saying, ‘Fok this shit…’ Reading further we realize that what he says is self-referential, that suddenly his failings as an ex-cop, the monstrousness of being a cop, has been awakened by that untended human leg.
It is this reawakening that even after he returns home, he finds ways to investigate the bizarreness of a leg hanging from a tree. I like the fact that he investigates the leg even though he is not an official investigator. So he declares to the one-legged whore, ‘I’m not police. I’m not anything. I’m just interested. These things interest me.’ I think the story is also about why he is interested in ‘traumatizing shit.’ And this is a story that thrives on ‘why’ because he keeps asking questions, finding answers that only raise new questions.
An attempt to connect the dots is what makes this story a thriller, but perhaps it is a psychological thriller because Hunter Emmanuel is not simply the good cop out to resolve how a leg is hanging on a tree, or how and why it was severed in the first place. We find that he cannot extricate himself from the needs of himself; for although he knows that ‘it is in a man’s soul to investigate’, in attempting to save others, his inability to save himself hindered him. He thinks at the end, ‘If it wasn’t for the fact that I can’t even solve my own fokkin life, I could make a best-ever, real-life private investigator.’ I think this inability is manifest in the fact that the crime to which the one-leg whore suffered, and which he eventually suffers, is inscrutable and unwarranted. So, he says, ‘something is happening…but I don’t know what it is.’ If we look carefully, that statement summarizes the form of crimes in suburban African towns – there seems to be a flurry of mishaps that one cannot point a finger to, or explain.
He responds to ‘WE BUY GOLD.’ I cannot tell if he knows that ‘gold’ is not what is sold but a leg. The only clue to discern this is when he says ‘I hear you sell…the other thing.’ Does the ‘other thing’ mean a leg? Does it mean that he has connected the dots and found that when a greedy poor victim calls to sell gold, it is a leg that is sold?
Whether or not we are certain about this, Emmanuel’s story resolves itself in two statements: ‘Sell your leg…I don’t know who buys it, or why, but this world is fucked up, I know that, it is so fucked up we can’t even understand it…’ And, ‘A man must investigate. Without investigate he is nothing.’ – Emmanuel Iduma
The interesting thing about ‘La Salle de Depart’ is that it can be read in deeply touching ways. May I suggest that, for the purpose of this ‘view’, we read this short story as a meditation on departure, on staying, and all the frictions in-between? This is important because I feel Myambo’s goal is to have each character blamelessly worthy of their actions, for the decision to stay or to leave is often a choice without an alternative. For Ibou and Fatima, the two characters whose lives we are led into, are said to be “locked in the circle of their own impasse.”
Ibou leaves for America because his family wants him to – the opportunity presents itself. An understanding of that word, ‘opportunity’, and the complex ways it can be expressed – as a transition from grace to grass, as the blessing of leaving the suffering shores of Senegal – is important if we would come to terms with the man Ibou becomes years after he leaves. No one would deny his family the blessedness of greener pastures; it is doubtful that anyone would claim to be wiser than collective intelligence. A family is a ‘whole’ and a person, obviously, is a ‘single’. So each time I come across the phrase ‘the whole family’ I read choiceless alternatives into it; Ibou being a ‘good boy’ so that he’s given an opportunity that he cannot refuse.
And, the story thins down to a moment of reciprocity, a moment when Ibou is to confer the opportunity that was conferred on him. This request is made by his sister, Fatima, who we understand is the “one who always remains behind” so that he could go, and who does not come to terms with who he has become, the woman in his life, his new outlook and sense of being. Because of this request Fatima gets him to the point when he admits his fears (“I can’t feed half the world”), admits that the new life he has defined for himself is edgy and will not accommodate any outsider, even if this outsider is his nephew, his ‘family.’
Myambo, in this story, reminds us of what we often forget – that he who leaves home never returns the same, and that returnees must accept their changed selves. I think we are advised to welcome hybridization as an unchangeable element of our ‘globalized’ personas. – Emmanuel Iduma
Love on Trial struggles on the edge of reality, attempting to capture the frenzy of the African homosexual discourse and yet tell a passionate story about failure, and collective doom. I think it bothers too much on the debate – but on another level it is this debate that is the story. And I am increasingly coming to terms with the uninhibited latitude fiction possesses.
We see that Mr Kachingwe is already a failed man, and that it is in his failure that others must fail, too. Given to strong drink, and the insobriety that accompanies his habit, we find that he has exaggerated his significance – a failing that, unfortunately, bedevils people in the public glare. And even more unfortunately, his exaggerated significance is sold to a hypersensitive audience, who fall atop each other making weighty an otherwise private affair.
But it is difficult to assert this ‘privacy’. Public sexuality is excitingly banal, as is proved at the end, when the truth has its own consequence. Mr Kachingwe declares that he is reporting the truth as he saw it, that the consequence of the truth was none of his business. This truth is the fact of what he has seen, not the love of Charles that is on trial. For what is Charles’ truth? What is the truth of collective morality – what is the truth of a nation of God-fearers?
Has Kenani reduced his conviction about the rights of a sexual minority into a story? Perhaps ‘reduced’ is a wrong word – perhaps it is ‘over-arched.’ Has he overarched fiction with desperation? Desperation for justice? If this was his intention, he succeeds because his endgame is not triumph. For as is clear, from the moment Mr Kachingwe does not recognize the fallacy of ‘truth without consequence’, such careless and heedless standpoint could only result in unfathomed dilemmas.
Particularly, I delight in Kenani’s ability to extend the debate, placing it within contexts that are as political as they are socio-cultural. It is the kind of story that happens in our lives – because we realize that our African identity is rooted in being conjoined to several selves. And that once we begin to exist, especially outside preconceived notions of normalcy, we attract multifarious explanations of our essentially private selves.
Even if Charles had realized this, would it have changed anything? Or put in another context, would Mr Kachingwe have found ways to stop himself from engineering collective failure? Would he have kept the incident at the toilet to himself, rising above the garrulousness of alcohol? Would Charles have denounced his homosexuality for the sake of possible results of obstinacy? Did his right to sexuality include an obligation to retain donor aid and investor confidence in Malawi, in ensuring ARVs are always in stock?
But when this complexity is difficult to navigate, when Kenani is content at presenting the complexity as it is, we might be content with the words of Mr Kachingwe as the story ends: “Nice story. A very nice story.” – Emmanuel Iduma