Tuesday, September 17, 2013

22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling, by Emma Coates

Maybe you've seen this graphic, maybe not: "22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling." In case you haven't, I thought I'd share since it's a visual that covers all kinds of great writing prompts and inspiration--and packs quite a writer's punch in a compact, artistically pleasing form. What do you think? Pretty cool, huh?

I first saw this in a post by Martina, over at Adventures in YA Publishing. Thanks, Martina!

Digging a little deeper, I found that this graphic was originally designed by storyboard artist Emma Coates when employed by Pixar. She wrote the rules herself, but says she learned the principles from senior colleagues while at Pixar. The beauty of it all is that the 22 Rules can also be purchased as a poster. What a neat idea. What better gift for a writer friend, or maybe even yourself? I know I've been inspired by it.

In fact, I've spent a bit of time this week looking over the 22 Rules from the viewpoint of my finished mss, now in the querying process, and my current WIP. What tips have I actually put into practice? Which ones do I understand better now than I did, say, two years ago? Which ones am I currently dealing with? Which ones do I plan to use as writing prompts or avenues of going deeper?

A few of my stats:
1. Those things I can say about my finished mss: #3, #8, #11, #14.

2. Those things I understand better than I did before: #1, #2, #16, #17, #19.

3. Those things I'm addressing in my current WIP: #5, #6, #7, #9, #12, #13, #21.

4. Those things I have made notes of and plan to experiment with: #10, #20, #22.

The poster provides quite a feast, wouldn't you say? Something from which we can take to fill our writer's toolbox, play with, contemplate.

Overall, I'd say my favorite is #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."

Which, of course, speaks to the number one cardinal rule of a writer: WRITE.

All other advice simply branches out from that...

What points jump out at you? Anything you want to do, or do better? Which rule is your favorite?


  1. Wow - you (and Emma) packed a lot into this post!

    I guess I'd say I'm working on number 10 right now - pulling apart stories I like. Sometimes I catch a glimmer that I can translate into what I'm trying to do in my own WIP.

  2. Peggy--do we even need all those books we have on on shelves about writing when it's all condensed into one graphic? Ha! I thought this was a pretty neat visual...

  3. Hi, Kenda, I like #8 (Finish your story) and #13 (No work is ever wasted.)

  4. Two more good ones :-) Thanks, Elizabeth!

  5. The one that speaks to me most (and they all speak to me, of course) is #7. I'm someone who could wander endlessly in a book and end up with something that is 150,000 words, when the line I am writing for limits word count to 75,000. So once I am solid with the beginning and the ending, where certain things MUST happen, within a certain number of words, I can concentrate on not over-writing the middle.

    Oddly, I have a habit of not fleshing out my scenes enough, while at the same time having way too many things happen. It's the too many things, which ends up being redundancy, basically, that causes the word count meter to tick up too high. Each scene is, after all, an illustration of a single plot point. We don't need three scenes that illustrate the same point, but only one. But we do need a scene for each and every point that needs to be made!

    I'm writing emotionally driven stories, and so I need to make sure that emotion is spilling in each sentence, paragraph, scene, page, chapter. One axiom I read was "emotion on every page." Well, I grossly misunderstood that, prior to my current WIP. I used to think it meant, if you show a single emotion, just as you're showing at least one sensory detail, then you're set. Well, that's not what it's about, at all. We need not one single emotion, but streams of emotion, coming from every character, every sentence, paragraph and so on. That's what causes conflict, and that's what moves the emotional story, and thus the external plot, forward. :)

  6. These are great! I think I'd love the poster version.

  7. Cathy, I made a breakthrough with # 7 recently, too, when the ending seemed to unfold in my head. What a wonderful feeling! And thanks for sharing insight into some of your writing issues (redundancy, scenes, needs for emotions and sensory detail, etc). Helpful insights for us all. Appreciate your thoughts :-)

    Barbara--the poster might be a great addition on the wall of any writer's office, that's for sure! When faced with writer's block, it would be good inspiration, I think :-)

    1. You know, for my current WIP, I knew what my ending was going to be, but when I got there, it took me forever to get the final paragraph written. This time the problem wasn't knowing what was going to happen but knowing how to SAY it. I had a breakthrough a couple days ago and feel pretty happy with what I have. Now I'm thinking about number 22!

    2. Congratulations, Peggy, on your breakthrough! That's exciting. And #22, the essence of the story? That's a tough one. The essence sometimes comes through sweating over the hook, the pitch, the summary. Sometimes it comes in a fragment of dialogue or theme. Wondering how it will reveal itself to you...hmmmm...