bendable

On WritingThis post rounds out a three-part series on Emma Coats’ rules of storytelling. If you missed part 1 or part 2, feel free to get caught up before you dive into this one. Part 1 covers the rules from Coats’ list I believe to be absolutely ironclad. Part 2 covers the rules I think are almost always true, but not quite as firm. This week we’ll be looking at the rules from her list I think are best seen as bendable suggestions.

#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 v. different.
And we begin with a doozy. I’ll tell you my reaction when I read this rule the first time: bullshit.

In essence, the rule is true. There are things I could craft as a writer that I wouldn’t enjoy writing but audiences would enjoy reading. That’s fair. However, the moment you start writing that way, you might as well flip off the computer and walk away. If you push yourself to write stories you don’t enjoy writing, you’re killing yourself as a writer. Period.

Don’t do that.

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
Eh, I know writers who would agree with Coats on this one. I’m not one of them. I don’t structure my stories based on the destination. I get wrapped up in the journey. Where we end up is where we end up. I rarely know the end in absolute terms while I’m still trudging through the middle.

One way isn’t right and the other wrong. They’re just different approaches, both valid.

#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.
That’s not an entirely bad idea, but I find taking a break to be a much better coping mechanism for writer’s block. Usually, only a brief break is needed. I play a video game. Read a book. Watch a movie. Do something that isn’t writing, and often that’s when my mind, more or less on its own, finds the missing piece I couldn’t identify before.

Also, and this is purely pragmatic and probably nit-picky, but the list of things that wouldn’t happen next is basically infinite. That’s a lot of things to think up just to get unstuck. I’d rather read for a bit.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
I find that there are times when the first thing I think of is so off the wall I discount it for that reason alone. You’d be shocked at how many times I’ve come back to my initial idea after warming to it.

In this case, Coats may be telling us more about her personal thinking methods than about the writing process, in general. She may think of the obvious stuff first. If that’s the case for you, this is sage advice. If you’re like me and you think of crazy, unique stuff first, this rule is horrible. Know yourself and apply or disregard accordingly.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
Honestly, I have no desire to put this much thought into movies I don’t like. I mean, sure, the exercise could have merit, but why not focus on stuff you like at least a bit?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
This is basically true, provided you understand what the economy of storytelling is. It’s not about brevity, but about making every word worthwhile. The details matter.

And, yes, I get that Coats isn’t suggesting the economical version is the final draft. She’s saying it’s the essence and the starting point. In many ways that’s true, but be careful. It’s hard to start with tunnel vision and expand from there. I find that starting broad and narrowing my focus works better, but maybe that’s just me.

 

There you have it. My take on Coats rules. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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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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