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Aesthetic, that artistic and thematic sense of creative work, is vital to things like writing, art, and video games. Sadly we forget this fact as we’re deep into code or plot outlines or arguments about Pantone. To help bring us home to this importance, I’d like to talk about musical jokes and psychic powers.
Specifically, I want to discuss Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure, often referred to as “JJBA.” JJBA is a continuing manga and anime series that helped me understand the importance of aesthetics. If you’re familiar with Jojo, you’re nodding, if not, read on.
Summing up JJBA is difficult, but it starts with fighting vampires, then becomes a generation adventure with psychic powers. Most characters are musical references, the art looks like Tom of Finland saw Cirque Du Solei, and elaborate outfits abound. It is in every way “its own thing.”
To say it has continuity or worldbuilding would be off – the author clearly and joyfully incorporates whatever works. What it has, however, is a theme, a feel – an aesthetic. The series in all its forms is about theme and feeling first.
When I saw a discussion about the aesthetics-first approach of JJBA, it got me thinking of other places aesthetics were important.
Games require aesthetics. Two of the foundational “Forged in the Dark” RPGs, “Blades in the Dark” and “Scum and Villainy,” contain information on “example media” to understand the settings. My friend Ewen, an indie game developer, also focuses heavily on aesthetics and outright gives thematic ideas in some of his works like a D&D parody and High School weirdness. Getting the feel of a game is necessary to play it – and make it.
After looking at the idea that JJBA is “aesthetic first,” after thinking over these games, I realized any creative work needs an aesthetic. Including yours.
After this realization, I asked myself what my aesthetic is for my current fictional work, A School of Many Futures. Set in a world where a fantasy planet evolved into the space age, it’s a place of technology, sorcery, and internet-using gods. Thinking of it aesthetically helped me understand it better and made my writing better. When you know what something should “feel” like, you can create it easier.
For instance, I realized that the setting was one where the normal contained the weird (in a world of magic anti-counterfeiting is challenging), and the strange contained the normal (gods send email). Just this small realization helped the world come to life further in my latest edits.
So I want to challenge you to find the aesthetic of your current works – fiction or not. Here are a few ideas I’ve gotten from various sources:
- Are there any books, comics, or films that have a similar aesthetic?
- What music fits your setting? Can you assemble a playlist?
- Are there any significant artistic rules? In JJBA, most characters dress strangely, and in my setting colorful robes are commonplace.
- Are there any emotional or intellectual elements that are prominent?
- List five outstanding aesthetic rules of your current work to see if you can quantify the “feel” of what you’re doing.
- If your work was adapted into other formats, what would not change, and what would be essential to avoid changing?
So I challenge you to find your aesthetic. Go on, explore it, write it down, share it. It’s a new way to look at your work. It certainly helped me with my own, helping me find a kind of intellectual-emotional guide.
Besides, who knows, finding your aesthetic might inspire you to further greatness. After all, if I told you a major international comic and anime sensation was about musical jokes and buff guys fighting with psychic doubles, would you believe me?