We Killer Moose love stories. As you’ve no doubt noticed on the site we review them, watch them, read them, critique them, and write them. We talk about them quite a bit too, and the more we talk, the more we’ve realized each of us has our own rules. The rules we try to write by, and the rules that if you’re creating a story are going to get us obsessed with it. I also think the other Moose think I like rules since they asked me to go first. So here they are, my Rules of Storytelling.
1. Loving attention to something bad can make it monstrously good.
This one is probably the most obvious as it’s the basis of my most frequent articles on the site. There’s something so special to me about this one, when you can see that something was really loved, it can turn something awful into something really special. Or at the very least it can turn something that wouldn’t be watchable into something fun. For instance, the live action Masters of the Universe film. Frank Langella, great theatre actor, decided to play Skeletor out of love for his children. He was handed one of the worst scripts ever. This is what happened.
That’s what happens when a fantastic actor loves his kids enough to do something bad. More on that later this month.
2. Find the cliche, mock the cliche with delight.
If you’re writing something, particularly if you like genre fiction, you should know all the ins and outs of that genre. You can’t really follow the “write what you know” adage when you’re writing a high fantasy, but you can make sure you know how high fantasies work and every stupid little cliche they’ve picked up. Then you can leverage those to make fun of how these stories work and add awareness to your story.
Brad Bird is fantastic at this. The Incredibles in anyone else’s hands would have been a generic superhero cartoon, but he decided to send up every goofy thing in every comic book he ever read. From the no capes speech, to the monologuing, to the names of every single character, including my favorite.
3. Find the cliche, use the cliche.
Sometimes when you find those cliches, you just have to use them. People may still complain that you’ve used a cliche but if it’s a fun usage of it, I think it’s entirely valid. In fact some of our most beloved films are greatest hits lists of genre cliches, you only need two minutes on TV Tropes to discover that. (It’ll probably two years but I digress.) Star Wars basically took every space movie serial cliche and stuffed them into one movie, but no one minds because those cliches are basically as important as it being in space at this point. Same goes for any Indiana Jones movie. For some genres when you get too far away from the cliches you take away what the audience likes.
James Bond is a really good way to look at this because they got away from it for a little bit. Casino Royale was definitely making fun of the standard Bond things. Quantum of Solace didn’t have any Bond cliches and is one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. Skyfall and Spectre were fun to watch because they actually started making Bond movies again.
It’s not just franchises though, original work can do this under the right circumstances. For instance, Stardust. Neil Gaiman doesn’t deviate too much from any standard fairy tale cliches, but all of them are used in fun, exciting ways. Like the storybook princes competing for the throne, except they’ve killed most of their brothers, like you do.
4. Horror without humor is like cake without frosting
This one could open up a whole dragon’s nest of a rant but I’ll try and restrain myself. Horror, especially horror films, should be much, much better. Most Horror is kind of terrible and doesn’t even attempt to actually frighten. Most horror movies don’t make you feel scared, they make you feel disgusted, or surprised. Add this on to the fact that Horror as a genre is kind of ridiculous and you get frequent disappointments. However, when you find really great Horror, one of the most overlooked ingredients is a touch of humor, and it’s really important.
This tends to be why people give me the side eye at restaurants when I’m reading a Stephen King book at lunch and start to laugh. Humor is a wonderful tension release and it saves you from having to amp up your scares too quickly. Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor’s podcast about a weird little town in the desert, is no less Horror because it’s also a comedy
Serious Horror works certainly get into the act too, I personally love The Black Tapes Pacific Northwest Stories’ paranormal podcast. They take a cheerful NPR-esque radio host and pair her with a skeptical paranormal investigator and the exchanges between them make you cackle before they get back to scaring the pants off you.
5. Real men do love stories
Quick question, why do Romantic Comedies suck? Answer, they don’t really, it’s just that the ones that a majority of people see tend to be badly written. Conversely if one mainly watches Transformers movies one could conclude that Science Fiction sucks. The point of this rule really is that neither romance, nor action, nor any kind of plot is the exclusive realm of one gender. It also certainly should not be excluded from a piece of fiction because you’ll “lose the boys”. Boys need to see romance too, and I think it’s an important thing to have in fiction.
Bryan Lee O’Malley gets this. Scott Pilgrim is almost a perfect comic, and the romance, and video game style action elements are completely seamless. Not many people could go from a date scene to a bollywood style dance fight featuring demons.
These certainly aren’t all the rules of storytelling, they aren’t even all of mine. In the coming weeks you’ll hear from the other Killer Moose and get a peek inside their heads. Be careful in Hanna’s, there’s some dark stuff in there