The path into a writing practice can be littered with a gauntlet of rules. In journalism school they told us never to write a headline that ended with a preposition, a rule that persists in every part of English that I know of. (Ha-Ha!) Except for poetry, of course. I’m reminded of the poets at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. They read their work in an open mike night, and each was commanded to add nothing other than this before they started to read: “This is fresh, but it smacks of genius.”
The range of genius runs wide and rarely pays attention to rules while its sparks creations. That’s why I like the scope of There Are No Rules, the blog by Writer’s Digest editor Jane Friedman. Up on the blog’s front page today are a long examination about the re-branding of Reader’s Digest (good luck on that one), what makes her stop reading a blog (it has as much to do with how it looks as what’s being said), and Great Storytelling 101.
Of the last, Friedman reminds us that Steven Spielberg has said that “people have forgotten how to tell a story.” The blog entry includes a 9-minute YouTube movie that explains the fundamentals of storytelling’s essential parts.
You may have been told a million times about the elements of a great story (e.g., protagonist, conflict), but this 9-minute clip has an immediate way of showing you what happens when those elements are missing! Fabulous.
It’s a multi-part series, using Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and the middling prequels to illustrate how the elements of storytelling work — or don’t, if they’re missing or mangled. I subscribe to the school that considers The Empire Strikes Back to be a seminal text of storytelling, so the problems of the Prequels stand right out. Are there rules to be observed for a writer? Yes there are, and as a storyteller you will need to know them. Use their Force, young Jedi.