EMMA COATS’s 22 “STORYBASIC” RULES FOR STORYTELLING:
■NO. 1: You admire a character for trying more than for her or his successes.
■NO. 2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
■ NO. 3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about till you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
■ NO. 4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
■NO. 5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free.
■ NO. 6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
■NO. 7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard — get yours working up front.
■NO. 8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
■NO. 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.
■NO. 10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
■ NO. 11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
■ NO. 12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
■NO. 13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
■NO. 14: Why must you tell this story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
■NO. 15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
■NO. 16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
■ NO. 17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on — it’ll come back around to be useful later.
■ NO. 18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
■NO. 19:Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
■NO. 20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
■ NO. 21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make you act that way?
■NO. 22: What’s the essence of your story? [The] most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
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