THE SELF-ADJUSTING PLOT

~ Posted by Robert Butler, June 13th 2012

In "How To Be Topp", the schoolboy Nigel Molesworth provided an invaluable service to schoolchildren of the 1950s and 1960s with the Molesworth Self-Adjusting Thank-You Letter. He divided the thank-you letter into seven parts: "Dear...", "Thank you very much for the...", "It was ...", "And I hav..." (his spelling), "I am feeling...", "My birthday when next present is due is on..." and "From..." The first five sections had a list of words and phrases and all the letter-writer had to do was strike out the ones that didn't apply.

Something similar has emerged from Pixar, the company responsible for "Toy Story", "A Bug's Life", "Finding Nemo", "The Incredibles", "WALL-E" and—later this month—"Brave". Except this time, you don't strike out words, you fill in the blanks. In one tweet, the storyboard artist Emma Coats, who tweets @lawnrocket, has provided the Self-Adjusting Key to Storytelling. It goes:

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

This is one of 22 tweets Coats has posted on the art of storytelling. Plenty in the list are obvious enough, but the three I like are:

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle.
Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#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.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great;
coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

The list is far from exhaustive and people are pitching in with suggestions. As one blogger, Cyriaque Lamar, notes:

There's nothing here about defending yourself from your childhood
toys when they inevitably come to life with murder in their hearts. A
truly glaring omission.

 Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life