Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling: Rule #9--Using a List of Ten to Solve Everything


#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.

I can see the sense here. This rule requires you to think through the situation, what’s plausible and what’s not, and sometimes by exploring the opposite of what you want, you’ll trigger a thought that will bring you full-circle. I’ve never tried this particular tactic, but it seems like it could help. The nuts and bolts of it, though, is getting figured out what has to happen in a scene when you’re stuck.

When I’m stuck, or brainstorming, or just want to boost the originality of an element, I use what I call “the rule of ten.” List ten things that could happen on a piece of scratch paper. Don’t think through them- just list. Don’t get bogged down trying to figure out if you’d actually want that thing to happen- just list ten things. So let’s try that. Pick an issue you have with your story right now- a character who needs a stronger motivation to do something, a twist or complication that needs ironed out, options for resolving the conflict-anything works. Try it with me. Yes, I’m serious.

Got your paper and pen? Let’s do it.

For mine, I’m going to say I have a contemporary YA where the girl is in conflict with her parents over a guy (I know, how original). What sort of conflicts could this be? I’ll be honest and draft this the same way I would all my other lists.

1) he’s a “bad boy”/has a record so they think he’s a bad influence

2) he’s a poor kid from across the tracks. Their princess deserves “better”

3) It’s a racial/cultural thing thing

4) He’s much older

5) they know a secret about his family that she doesn’t

6) They want her to go to college and are afraid local commitments will hold her back

7) She’s pregnant and they don’t think it’s appropriate for her to be dating right now

8) She’s been in abusive past relationships and they simply don’t trust her judgment; if she likes him, he has to be the wrong guy

9) The guy previously dated her older sister and broke her heart

10) They’ve been cursed to not like their daughter’s boyfriend, no matter who he is.

Ooh, look- that last one isn’t really contemporary. Interesting. Of course, some of these are silly, but that’s okay, because it’s brainstorming. Don’t let your critic get in the way at this point.

So here’s what happens with the rule of ten:

The first 3 things will probably be the same things everyone thinks of. Since they’re what your mind immediately went to, they are probably also what everyone else thought of.  Unless you’re certain one of them is genius, cross them off right away. The mid-list items might be more unique, so look from there down for something that has genuine potential.

Chances are you will have a much harder time than you think coming up with the items for 7, 8, 9, and 10. You’ll probably have to do quite a bit of thinking about how complex people are and how strange life can be just to finish out the 10. Even though some of these have problems with them, several of these really catch my interest. This is a great way to get inspiration and cross off the story ideas that have been overused. I never let myself settle on something until I have listed at least 10 things.

Having done 10, do you think you could do 20? Could you take the one or two that catch your interest, and fill that out into a list of 10? What 10 minor complications could option, say, 7

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