Storytelling Rules

Are there rules to storytelling? Probably. Me, I usually like to know the rules, so that I can figure out creative ways of breaking them. Still, io9 posted something interesting the other day -- the 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar, which includes:

  • #1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • #6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  • #13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
  • #15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  • #16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

I cherry-picked the rules dealing mostly with character, because, well, building strong character is essential to storytelling, after all. Plot can be fun -- hell, I love a good plot -- but without strong characters moving the plot along, the story comes up dry.

One thing I notice younger writers doing -- at least those in the horror genre -- is making characters that are simply a means to an end. Meaning, basically, that the characters exist simply to die at the end of the story. Now there isn't anything wrong with that per se, but you have to at least make the reader care about your character, so that when they do die, it means something. Or at least give your character purpose. Have them at least try to fight back and survive. They might not always win, but at least they put up a good fight. I mention this from experience -- a lot of my earlier horror stories were just as I mentioned: characters presented just to die. The stories relied too much on the idea or plot. Which, again, can work sometimes, but it's still best to give your characters purpose.

Which leads me to the big movie of the moment Prometheus. I saw it yesterday, in IMAX 3D. Let me tell you -- don't waste your money on IMAX 3D. I don't mind IMAX, and I hate 3D, but I was told from a reliable source I had to see it in both. So I saw it in both. And you know what? Eh. The movie, I don't believe, was made for 3D in the same way Avatar was made for 3D. They made it, and they turned it into 3D for the big bucks, which is what Hollywood seems to think it's good at. But the movie itself? It's impressive visually, but that's about it. The story is blah, the characters are blah (again, most of them exist just to die), and the action, well, almost all the action you already saw in the trailer, if you're somebody like me who loves trailers even though he knows he shouldn't watch them because they always give away most of the movie. So who knows, maybe I would have enjoyed the movie more if I hadn't seen the trailer a bunch of times, or if I had seen it in good ol' 2D. Then again, maybe not. A turd is a turd, no matter what dimension you see it in. Now, having said that, I think I will see it again at some point in the future, most likely on DVD, to see if I'm wrong. I'm pretty sure I won't be, though.

But I'm sure there are others who disagree and think Prometheus was an AMAZING movie. Okay, fair enough. Let me ask you this then: why?