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Rules of Storytelling

Lesson 87 Chapter 4 Module 8

By now you’ve probably noticed that while there’s lots of great advice and theory out there on how to write well, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.

That’s mostly due to the fact that every writer is different, so when you ask them how to write (which is really a lesson in how they write), you are getting just one perspective.

It’s part of why this course is so effective for helping you to hone your own voice and vision. It isn’t telling you one way to do something, it is learning about the basics of different aspects to writing and storytelling, and letting you decide how you want to apply it to your own practice.

When we last learned about outlining vs. stream-of-consciousness style writing, it was in Week 3 with Ann Handley’s Follow a Writing GPS lesson.

In that excerpt, she explained that for some people, writing by the seat of your pants (called by some “pantsing” which, let’s be real, makes sense but is still a weird term to use) is the way to get through a piece.

But to be honest, for most writers, this is not a viable method. Especially if you are new to professional or regular writing, and don’t yet know how to get all your thoughts out, in the way you want, from start to finish.

There’s lots of advice out there, “If you want to be a writer, just write,” which I think is some of the most terrible advice to give someone trying to improve. That’s all a lot of writers have though, cause they only know what they do, which is sit their butt in a chair and blast out words.

Which is why, if you are in this course and working to become a master writer, I’m guessing you are also interested in improving your writing process and expertise.

So I’d like to help you stop today feeling let-down or overwhelmed if you can’t pontificate on 3000 words a day like Stephen King or write a 2500 word article in 2 hours.

You’ll get there one-day, but for today let’s work on getting you to place where writing is a bit easier, a bit happier, and a bit more fulfilling.

As Chuck Wendig talked about in last week’s Damn Fine Story lesson, there’s a lot that we can learn about storytelling from movies.

Which is why, if we are looking at the themes and lessons to be learned from stories, movies are a great place to look.

Who doesn’t walk away from a great movie with a ton of lessons and thoughts?

That’s exactly what their purpose is. The good ones, at least.

Even documentaries, that are supposed to be totally uninvolved and observational, end up being edited and cut to follow someone’s narrative and story.

So in 2011, when a former Pixar employee named Emma Coats tweeted out a long thread of rules she had learned about storytelling while working there from other colleagues, writers, directors, producers, animators, etc, the writing world took notice.

A colleague of hers, Stephan Vladimir Bugaj took it one step further and adapted her series of tweets into a full self-published book on Pixar's 22 Rules of Story (that aren't really Pixar's) Analyzed he had learned (including some based on Emma’s original concepts) that he shares for free on his site (it’s a quick fun read, so make sure to click through on the links and knock it out when you have a spare 60 minutes.)

In today’s excerpt, he’s talking about the importance of when to consider your theme.

Lots of folks would say that you should know your themes and lessons BEFORE you start writing, so you can direct your plot and characters and setting to support it.

But in this chapter, Bugaj argues that at Pixar they based their story on knowing what the ending was, and formed the themes along the way.

The theme supported the ending and the story, not the other way around.

Give it a copy, and take some time to consider how you plan out your writing, and how you incorporate the fundamentals we’ve been learning in the past few weeks.

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