Toy Box Tales – Behind the Scenes

Last year, I began a project called Toy Box Tales.

Friends had gotten me very curious and interested in posable figures, like action figures or dolls, called BJD’s, ball jointed dolls. Fans often create photo stories on their blogs, show off their artwork and craftsmanship on YouTube or Vimeo, and generally have a fun time with this hobby. Some artists make money creating for these BJD characters, the dolls themselves, their costuming and props, all sorts of things. I was surprised that there are guys in the hobby / fandom too. Oh good, I wasn’t the only one who thought it looked cool.

I began thinking about telling stories using these guys and girls and critters. How far could I stretch that? Would it work, beyond what I was seeing in brief photo stories?

So I got a BJD. Hmm. These guys don’t arrive all dressed up. The idea is, you customize them yourself. I started and discovered it takes skill and hobby money to make this look good. I didn’t know a darned thing, and I can’t really sew because of my eyesight, and I’m a guy who’s never really done theatrical or science fiction and fantasy makeup, so…wow, I was tackling a lot. But it was really interesting and it takes time and skill and money.

As I began to get into it, I realized I’d need to get better at a lot. Taking photos of small things close up and with good lighting. Getting the figures posed just so, to show what was going on. Puppetry, theater, sets, costuming, in some ways.

There were also frustrations: I quickly found I really wanted to show more emotion and movement. There were a few limitations I saw. But I thought that I could get either an illustration for each chapter in a story, or I could get something like a manga or comic book design or photo novel.

Writing photo story scripts or audio dramas is not at all like writing regular fiction. How it works is a different angle.

There was also the Attack of the Budget, when I overspent, and had other expenses on top of that. Ouch. Then it looked like I wasn’t getting much response to early efforts. I got very discouraged.

However, friends continued to show interest and support, and one friend offered to do doll clothes for the smaller characters. Oh, wow, she outdid herself.

I began to get enthusiastic again and I’ve restarted. There’s still a lot to do to get things ready.

In the meantime, I had been getting ideas on how the backstory might work, and that has kept growing. I’m still a beginning fiction writer. But I think this is shaping up, both for the Toy Box Tales, and how it could be a fun hook into my other writing.

Early on, I had the idea of including characters who were very different from usual. In some ways, they don’t quite fit in. In others, they do, but it takes extra work. I wanted to include a character in a wheelchair, for instance. I wanted to include a gay character. I wanted to include minority characters. But these needed to be realistic, not stereotypes, and these aspects of their characters, such as being physically challenged, needed to be things they couldn’t fix or undo with the touch of a Reset button. (Though they might wish or dream or run into an alternate reality now and then.) In other words, they had to change and grow and live with things, like real people do.

The original concept had been something rather different, involving imagination of being inside the stories of favorite books, TV shows, movies, and so on. I still really like that.

But then as I began planning and writing, I saw I needed to tell stories about the characters themselves, and I saw what I thought was a neat way to get them into each story. That kept growing, and soon I saw a hook to connect several things I had in mind and….

It was starting to become the Blob, the story idea that ate the planet. Because the ideas kept getting bigger, morphing, and getting into other things. Ack! It needed to be manageable.

I’m not sure where I am with that. – I like both approaches. It might split into two things.

There was also the issue of the name itself, the Toy Box Tales. Would that sound too childish, too silly, for teens and adults, the audience I was aiming for? I wanted to tell stories that teens and adults could relate to, with sometimes teen-level and adult-level content suitable for that audience. So how was I going to handle that? Also, how was I going to handle that, because my name goes on it; would I be embarrassed somehow for others to read or watch or listen, if I put anything out there? Would it be good enough, would the stories be suitable, would anybody…like it?

So, here I am, still working toward the Toy Box Tales and how they may grow into their eventually public form.