Mentor Text Wednesday: Roadrunner Rules

Mentor Text: Chuck Jones’ rules for writing Roadrunner cartoons

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing using guidelines
  • Creating guidelines for a piece of writing
  • As an analysis tool

Background:

As I’ve stated before, one of the coolest things about the ol’ Internet is the random and amazing things it pops in front of your eyeballs. This winds up being especially helpful if you’re a teacher, doubly so if you’re a teacher writing a weekly column.

A while ago, someone’s tweet brought an image of the rules that Chuck Jones, famed Warner Bros. cartoonist, had for the writing of the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.49.50 AM

Image via Amos Posner on Twitter

Initially, I thought of this as a really cool thing about something I loved as a kid. Then, TeacherBrain got a hold of it, muttering something about how cool it would be to use in class.

Let’s be honest, TeacherBrain was right. How could I not use this in a classroom?!

How We Might Use Them:

  •        Writing Using Guidelines––In an earlier post, I talked about an idea similar to this, using a set of rules to guide a piece of writing within a certain universe. In this case, the rules are already written for us. I’m positive you’d win Cool Teacher of the Week if you “studied” Roadrunner cartoons, discussed these rules and wrote Roadrunner stories. When we think of our writers, especially those that intend to move on as writers, we need to be cognizant of the fact that they will continue to be faced with this type of task – needing to write a story that fits guidelines. These rules seem silly, but we learn pretty quickly that if we break them, we wind up with a story that isn’t really what it should be.

Rules serve to give structure. As I said already, they’ll hem in our wilder writers, prevent them from crossing lines, and taking their writing to crazy places that may not work. They can, however, be great supports to our struggling writers. They can serve as a checklist. A student writing a Roadrunner story will know that they need to keep the Roadrunner on the road, and that they can’t hurt the coyote too much, unless it’s in the feels! Most TV shows have teams of writers, and they have a “show bible” for this very purpose, to provide a cohesive structure to the writing a group of writers does.

  •         Creating guidelines for a piece of writing––As much as we may hate to admit it, stories need rules. If we think of our young writers, we know that there is nothing more damaging to their narratives than those random touches they want to throw in there. How many times have you seen a character suddenly have amazing abilities, for no other reason than your writer thought it would be funny? In our classroom story project, I had to remind a group of boys that their characters weren’t assassins who could just up and kill the matriarch of their small town… yet. As I mentioned in that earlier column, a great activity might be to discuss these rules, establishing what can, and can’t happen in the stories we’re about to write. Certainly, it could save us some edits in the process.

In short, if we’re all going to write in the same world, we better figure out what writing in that world means. We need to establish, as a class ideally, what our stories will be about, what can happen, and what can’t.

  •         As an analysis tool––This is a weird part of teaching writing. We need to look at writing, and figure out how it works. By looking at an established set of rules, we get an insight into how the story works.Asking why each rule exists would be a valuable task as well – what is the result in the story of each rule, and how does it contribute to the story?

Writing the rules is an activity in analysis as well. We’d have to look at, and assess the stories being told to decide what the rules are. In doing so, we’d be making some pretty big decisions about how things are done in our stories, influencing plot, setting, characterization, and obviously the action.

Again, as I finish writing this, I’m reflecting upon the potential this has in a classroom. Not only would I like to use this one in my classroom, but I’d also love to get my hands on one or two of the show bibles from some of my favorite shows for mentor text purposes too.

What other uses can you see for the Roadrunner Rules in your classroom? Are there other sets of rules that you’re aware of? Would there be value in studying these rules, and then breaking them on purpose?

––Jay

Find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy

 

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