Last week, I went over the character-related items from Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Today, I want to focus on the rules related to plot.
Rule #4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
This is an extremely high level diagram of how a story builds upon itself. And don’t let the ‘Once upon a time…’ opening fool you. This is an abstract (and simplified) way of setting up something fictional. First, you have a character, object, or event. Then something changes. Because of that, something else changes, and so on and so forth. The events of the story set further changes in motion, and the characters have to deal with these changes. In other words, everything happens for a reason and is absolutely necessary to the story. If there is no reason, it’s not needed.
Rule #7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
Totally! When I sit down to write a first draft, I need to know where I’m going. Otherwise I end up all over the map and end up having to start over. I know you pantsers out there are saying ‘but I want to discover the story as I go!’ Well, you can still do that. Knowing where you want your characters to end up doesn’t take all the mystery of how they get there. It’s like taking a road trip with only a destination in mind. How you get there is up to you—with the exception of Rule #4: everything that happens must be necessary to the story.
Rule #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.
So, so true. Brainstorming tactics like this often trick our brains into giving us exactly what we need, even though we took the long way getting there. I’ve done this many times, with great success.
Rule #19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Yes yes YES!! Coincidences to get a character out of trouble makes it waaay too easy for them. If I’m going to stick with a character through the end of a story, I want to see him work for a resolution. But if the story ends because the bad guy forgot to add the key ingredient to his magic potion, well, I’m going to feel cheated. I would rather see the main character steal the key ingredient and watch the potion blow up in the bad guy’s face.
Next week I’m picking out the ‘rules’ that focus on revision. If that interests you, then be sure to stop by!