One of the nerd channels I follow on YouTube did a video last week talking about the Crimes of Grindelwald and how it fails according to Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Writing a script for a movie, writing a book, and writing a graphic novel are all different mediums and require different storytelling styles, but some things are universal and can apply across the board. The 22 Rules of Storytelling are one of those universal things and can be a fun and quick way to discover your own storytelling weaknesses and figure out why an otherwise good movie or book left a weird metaphorical taste on your brain palate. Follow the links if you want to watch the video or read all of the rules, but I specifically want to talk about #4 today.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
The goal, of course, is to fit your story into those blanks. You get to the heart of your story and see how each event influences the next, because each event SHOULD influence the next. You shouldn’t have things happening that have no effect on characterization or the plot.
For fun, of course, I ran my own stories through the model. This is what I came up with for House of Falling Embers.
Once upon a time there was a girl who lost her friend after he went inside a creepy house in the woods. Every day, she tried to move on from the horror and enjoy her damn life. One day she thinks she sees him in the woods. Because of that, she spends a lot of time in the woods talking to a possible apparition. Because of that, she finally goes back to the house where he disappeared and goes inside. Until finally she confronts the horror inside and puts an end to the curse once and for all!
It’s fun. Try it. ^_^
I think it’s a fun way to practice the law of cause and effect. It’s very similar to the gun law, or whatever that thing is called, for plays: don’t show a gun unless it’s going to go off. Otherwise, you’re wasting the audience’s time. Twist endings are only fun because they’re possible and logical based on the order of events. When an ending is twisty and surprising – see Gone Girl and Secret Window (the movies AND the books) – you should be able to go back and see the clues that lead directly to that ending, even if you missed most of them, or ALL of them, before. If you have a “surprise he’s the new king” moment when the entire story had been about a guy training to be a train conductor, that twist isn’t fun or logical. Ergo, the ending is unsatisfying, even if the ending is cinematically entertaining. See any nerd video about Game of Thrones season 8 for a perfect example of an entertaining but highly unsatisfying finale. It’s hard to make an epic dragon scene unsatisfying, you guys. You almost have to try.
I think you can apply all of the Pixar rules to novels, so I definitely recommend reading the article. It’s short and fun and helpful, and there’s a lot of awesome there. Plus, who doesn’t want to have more fun with their writing? 😛