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22 Rules to Write By

When in doubt steal. I stole this from a blog by Jen Yamato that was posted back on June 13. The post consists of 22 tweets from Emma Coats, storyboard artist for Pixar Animation that Jen had assembled all in one place (actually, Yamato stole it from Pixar who stole it from Coats first and put it on their blog The Pixar Touch back in May).  Emma seems to know a thing or two about telling stories and these tips can be applied to really any form of storytelling: short story, novella, full length novel, multi-volumed series, or a screenplay.  Print these suggestions out. Post them on your wall. Hang them from your rear view mirror. Tattoo them on the inside of your left arm. This is good advice. Some of the best I’ve seen.  Good enough to steal…

Here are her tweets:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Coats wrote and directed her own short entitled Horizon and participated as a storyboard artist on Pixar’s latest film Brave.

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7 comments on “22 Rules to Write By

  1. Reblogged! Love this! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Interesting. I’ll have to ponder these. Endings are hard, I agree wholeheartedly on that. Your graphic made me chuckle.

  3. Great list, quite enjoyed that – #2 actuallly was a bluntly brilliant one right at the start!
    Cheers and thanks for sharing.

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