That’s pretty much my credo in this life. Rules? Lemme at ‘em. Toothpicks come in handy, and broken rules leave enough splinters to do the job.
I dislike rules intensely.
I challenge each and every rule that’s thrown at me.
I bow to rules proven true.
Yeah, that’s the unfortunate truth, and to all those rebels out there without a cause, guess you’ll want me to hand over my membership card.
It’s been months and months since I’ve made a post here, and there’s a bunch to catch up on. I’ll get to those things eventually, if and when they flow naturally. Right now, I’m itching to get at the thing that needs scratching the most.
As I’ve traveled down the rabbit hole of screenwriting, I’ve gotten snagged on more thorny rules than I ever imagined existed. Holy geez, but there’s one heck of a donnybrook happening out there and gurus galore.
I’ve been choking on rules.
I won’t share any rules but the ones I’ve taken for a spin and have found hold the road, which is what I’m about to do. But first let me say that the way I drive is not your way of driving, and what holds the road for me, won’t hold the road for you. I get a bit enthusiastic at times, but don’t mistake anything I say as the dictates of a fool, and fool I am.
It’s hard arguing with success, and when talking success, Pixar’s pretty much got it nailed. Their 22 Rules Of Storytelling are floating around the web like feathers at a poultry farm, but you can find them at the L.A. Screenwriter blog, which is one I’m particularly fond of. Take a good look at them, keeping in mind whether we’re novelist, poets, scriptwriters, or gossip over lunch, we are storytellers. Writing isn’t the objective, it’s the means of delivery.
STORYTELLING IS EVERYTHING
What I want to share right now is my own experience with Pixar’s Rule #3.
A small group of screenwriters got together and undertook the insane task of writing 10 pages of scrip for 10 days straight. If you haven’t attempted scriptwriting, I’ll tell you that 10 pages of script a day = crazy. You’ve got a lot of deep storytelling to do with a minimum of words, and every word damned well better count. Very little typing is involved but a maximum amount of storytelling muscle ends up begging for Ben Gay.
When the limits are so tight, there’s no time to edit, no time to think, no time to kill any cats, and no time to pin the little index cards in pretty little rows on the corkboard.
You tell a story. Fast.
And you’re held accountable because you’re in a group so insane they post a PDF of the day’s work.
We did it. In less than two weeks, all of us wrote a complete screenplay, and all of them were exceptionally good.
Honest. I’m not lying. They were entertaining and worth the time spent reading, and better than most of the spectacle that passes for movies these days. We amazed ourselves and each other. And I don’t think any of us could see the theme or the why or the what or the purpose of the story we were trying to tell until it was done.
What I got out of this insane challenge was a trust of the innate storytelling that’s in all of us. It’s there for the taking if we just get out of the way. Remember when you were a little kid and got caught doing something you weren’t supposed to do, and how fast you came up with a story to cover your butt? Take a minute and remember back to one of those times. Remember as many of those times as possible. If you’ve got enough memory storage and can go back far enough, I bet you’ll see a pattern of more convincing and stronger storytelling skills as you regress in age.
It’s there. Set it loose. It might not be pretty, but get it out.
I’ve discovered that this “writing” business is backwards. We write to tell stories. Storytelling is a process of discovering the hidden trail of our imagination. My imagination is deeply connected to your imagination, and my job as a storyteller is going deep enough to find that chord of resonance. That chord snaps with the weight of rules.
So this is the most important thing I’ve learned during the entire time I’ve been away from this blog:
STORY COMES FIRST, RULES COME SECOND
Find the story you’ve got rumbling around inside and set it free, then tame it with the rules. Better yet, forget the rules and start thinking in terms of tools, as Scott Meyers does on the fabulous GITS blog/website.
Another precious thing that came out of this experience was friendship and trust. When you’ve committed to a daily goal with others, and part of that commitment is exposing your raw story to others, it makes going to church naked sound like a sane idea.
I’ve also learned if at any point in our journey as storytellers we think we’ve got it all figured out and it starts coming easy, we’re failing ourselves. We aspire, we reach, we fail, we claw our way back to square one, then we finally reach our destination. That’s a plateau, a point of accomplishment that feels righteous to the bone, but not for long. Once up to that higher point, we have a clear view of yet another level that’s shinier and prettier and more compelling than the one we currently stand on. We want it, and the struggle starts all over again with a different game plan. It helps to be limber.
Whatever it takes to find the story. That’s the only thing that matters.
I will be taking many more tools for breakneck test drives along the path, but the bond formed in that little group of crazy writers will last forever, and that is one story I’ll never forget.