ironclad

On WritingNearly a year ago, I posted Emma Coats’ rules of storytelling. I wrote, “I don’t think any of these are ironclad, but all of them are worth considering.”

I’d like to amend that.

I think some of her 22 rules are ironclad. I think some of them are almost always true. And, I think some of them are bendable enough to be a bit suspect. So, I’ve broken the list down into three lists which I’d like to share with you in the next three posts. You may not always agree with me. In fact, I hope you don’t. I hope you feel strongly enough to comment, even. Discussion helps us all.

That said, here are rules from Coats’ list I would classify as ironclad, with a brief explanation of why.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
The movie Rocky illustrates this point well. It won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing, and was nominated for seven other awards, include Best Writing, Screenplay.

What sets it apart? Well, it isn’t that Rocky wins in the end because (spoiler alert) he doesn’t. It’s his commitment. The way his drive impacts his relationships. The raw humanity of the character.

It’s the fact that he tries.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
I’ve seen this happen. You craft a sentence you fucking love, but it kills a scene.

Ditch it.

Don’t get overly emotionally attached to any one character, plot element or turn of phrase. As the saying goes, kill your darlings.

#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.
Fiction never feels finished. If you’re waiting for that feeling before you let anyone else see it, you’ll never share your work. Get it close and then let go.

#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.
Similar to #8. Writers are writers because we write.

‘Perfect ideas’ feel safe. They’re cozy. They’re a comfort. And they’re a facade. Sure, the minute you start working on an actual story, you’ll find flaws and imperfections you didn’t know were there, but you’ll also have something tangible you can actually share with others. Which is more valuable? Which means more?

#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.
That’s the story’s message. Every story has one. It’s far better to know what your story’s message is and work with it than to blindly plod along, unaware of your own motives for writing.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
There’s no perfect story. No point when you will have crafted flaw-free fiction. Just do your best with the understanding that your best today is (hopefully) better than your best one year ago.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
I cannot agree more.

There’s no victory for a character who, by sheer luck, wins. Bad luck–being in the wrong place at the wrong time–can muck everything up and create the central conflict of a story, but only determination, sacrifice and cunning can get him/her out of the mess. Not only is it cheating to use coincidence to resolve the tension, it’s also thoroughly dissatisfying.

There you have it. I believe each of these is more or less unbreakable. Next week, the ‘almost always’ rules.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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