Monday, June 22, 2015

9 Golden rules for the Road Runner and Coyote

cartoons humor, film hollywood

Chuck Jones created 9 Golden rules for the Road Runner cartoons. These famous rules insured that fans received exactly what they expected from these Loony Tunes characters. First the rules, and then some storytelling lessons we can draw from this popular series. 
Rule 1. The Road Runner cannot harm the coyote except by going “beep, beep!”
Rule 2. No outside force can harm the coyote—only his own ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products
Rule 3. The coyote can stop anytime—if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: “A fanatic is one who redoubles his efforts when he has forgotten his aim.” George Santayana)
Rule 4. No dialogue ever, except “Beep Beep!”
Rule 5. The Road Runner must stay on the road—otherwise logically he would not be called Road Runner.
Rule 6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters—the Southwest American desert.
Rule 7. All material, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
Rule 8. Whenever possible, make gravity the coyote’s greatest enemy.
Rule 9. The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

writing tips television and hollywood
Chuck's handwritten rules

Previously, I published the 7 rules for the television series Bonanza. Television series, movie franchises, and even cartoons need a list of dos and don’ts so the characters and action remain consistency from episode to episode. Book series need the same. The protagonist must remain true to his or her character and the plot cannot go too far afield without losing fans. If you write a series, or even a single novel, write down the plot and character rules. This little exercise brings clarity and dependability to stories.

There are additional lessons to be gleaned from the Road Runner and Coyote. All stories revolve around an antagonist making life difficult for the protagonist. Different stories can have a multiple number of one or the other. Although Steve Dancy is the main protagonist in my Western novels, he has two (and now three) characters in secondary protagonist roles. Multiple bad guys or gals are also not uncommon. 

Warner Bros. Loony TunesAfter these main characters, the entire story is usually populated with all sorts of supporting and bit players. What if we were to whittle this down to the bare essentials? Could a story be told in a world populated by only one protagonist relentlessly pursued by a single antagonist? Steven Spielberg’s first movie Duel meets this criteria, as well as Tom Hanks’ Cast Away. These are intimate, tense stories. Of course, the Road Runner cartoons fits this minimalist construct. In fact, the Road Runner has no dialogue except for a single word repeated twice.

How in the world can you keep audience interest with these limitations? Watch. You’ll see storytelling reduced to its barest elements. Even if you have a cast of thousands, you can keep the reader’s interest by following the precepts displayed so eloquently by Road Runner cartoons. 

cartoons and old hollywood storytelling

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Looking for a Father's Day gift?

father sonThe best gift is a vacation … and the least expensive vacation is a book. A novel effortlessly transports the reader to another place and time. With a good book, dad can take a fifteen minute vacation or while away an entire afternoon. Either way, he returns feeling refreshed and more content with life.

father daughter
Gift books don’t have to be fiction. A respite with a nonfiction book about a special interest can also be relaxing. The great thing about books is that there are numerous ones for every interest, hobby, sport, or enthusiasm. If for some reason, your dad can’t get away to fish, golf, or whatever, he can frequently find a few minutes to read about his favorite activity. A good book allows him to indulge himself and possibly pick up a few pointers.

There is another reason I like to give books as gifts: I can write something personal on the flyleaf that won’t get thrown out like an old greeting card.

car enthusiast
The most important thing is to remind your father that you love him. The perfect book is far more personal than most gifts because it’s aimed directly at what you father enjoys. Put some serious thought into the right book to show you really tried to please him.

Here are a couple previous blog postings about Father’s Day.

Father's Day Tribute

What to give for Father's Day?

P.S. It's Saturday. Forgot to shop for a Father's Day gift? It's not too late. Support your local independent boookstore and get dad something he'll really enjoy.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

People Love That Story

storytelling by an expert storyteller
Kurt Vonnegut

I'm collecting writing tips from famous author's. You can read them here. In this post, I'm adding Kurt Vonnegut’s writing tips. Good advice from an expert storyteller. 

Although I posted it before, I also wanted to share his amusing description of story forms. Behind the entertaining presentation, Kurt presents some solid analysis of the art of storytelling. So if you want to hear it from the horses mouth, watch the video below. 

Here are Kurt Vonnegut’s "8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story."
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

FX’s Justified Lives on …

My favorite television program is Justified.  I don’t lament its demise because I watch TV programs on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I don’t need to be first on my block with an Apple watch, I don’t care about the Kardashians, and I never banter with co-workers. I’m retired and way past the age of needing to be hip, cool, with it, or whatever. (Thank goodness I write historical novels.)

Being out of fashion is liberating. I can wear clothes without an emblazoned logo, drive a 2000 model car, shun Instagram, and watch my favorite television shows whenever and however I want. My way is after the season’s over. I can binge-watch or spread them out, and I’m not even bothered with a need to fast-forward through commercials. Life is grand without a remote in hand.

All of this is to note that I’m in the middle of season 5.  So please, no spoilers.

Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and a host of other fine actors, is a character-driven modern day western based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. I believe bad guys and gals make heroes heroic, and Justified has a bevy of really bad characters. Our hero has sidekicks of course, but basically, it’s Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens against this cast of misfits, hoodlums, and felonious masterminds. Good actors portraying interesting characters in a tightly written drama presented with masterful storytelling. Who could ask for more?

If you haven’t watched Justified, you should. Here are a few links to articles about the program. The first consolidates all the professional reviews of the final episode. I glanced at it, but quickly closed my browser window before I happened upon a spoiler.

Episode Review: Justified Series Finale by Jason Dietz at Metacritic
Trigger-Happy by Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker
What ‘Justified’ Reveals About Manhood by Rachel Lu at The Federalist
The Literary Genius Of ‘Justified’ by John Daniel Davidson at The Federalist

John Daniel Davidson wrote some lines that seem apropos to Justified and westerns in general.
“an extended meditation on grand themes: the price of sin and violence, the ties of blood and kin, the difference between justice and vengeance.”
“the western is at heart about the tension between civilization and barbarism—and the interplay between the two.”
“Ford’s films, like the Greek epics from which they’re drawn, portray civilization as a fragile thing, always under threat and always in need of protection—a task that often falls to those willing to step outside of civilization and into a state of nature. Hence, heroes like Ethan.”