Keys to All Creative Crafts: Rule #8

8. Storytelling: Give all art the guts of a joke.

Here are the basics of a good joke: First, set up an interesting combination of familiar things. Next ask a question. Like this: “Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl when he uses your bathroom?” (I know bathrooms, and I know dinosaurs, but I’d never thought about why the beast would be silent while using the bathroom.) Then give us an answer to it that we hadn’t thought of but was there all along: “You can’t hear a Pterodactyl because the pee is silent!”

That answer was there making sense all along, waiting to be discovered. But now I know it and I’m better for the knowing. Well, a little better.

For jokes it is often the absurdity of this new connection that triggers humor, but this method is a great tool to help deliver your message in your art when it’s not so absurd. This is a way to deliver the gems I talked about finding and unburying in rule #1.

I think the best endings to novels and movies are the ones we never expected but all the pieces were there waiting to fall into place. The question we ask is, what is the character going to do, and the answer should be something unexpected from him and yet still make perfect sense with who he is and how we know he needs to grow. Have you seen the movie “Whiplash” yet? It’s awesome. The young drummer’s goal is excellence and he gives up everything to pursue it. But in the end, when we think he has been defeated by the ruthless antics of a teacher, he rises above in ways we never imagined, but that he totally earned, and in doing so, masters the teacher.

This adds to rule #7, which said art is better when you make patterns and then make variations on those patterns. But today’s rule is saying, your variation is better if it just fits, pulling everything together, like the last part of a puzzle.

Even the non-moving arts on canvas are made better by this. Put colors, shapes and characters together in ways that are new but also just makes sense that others haven’t made of them before. And it can be done on so many levels! Do it with colors, then do it with cultural icons, then do it with geometry. And make us think, why didn’t I think of that! Brilliant!

What do you think of M.C. Escher pictures? He took shapes and manipulated perspective and patterns to find a way to repeat the original idea in a new way that was unexpected but unified. Here’s “Day and Night” by Escher.


This rule also has elements to rule #4, which said coming up with the most simple solution isn’t always the most simple process. It’s hard to make something unexpected just fit because if it were easy, then the connection would have been made before.

So now as I close this blog post, I need to try to take some things that I referenced above, and put them down here in a way that pulls everything together and that you didn’t see coming . . . hmmm.

So, why was the Pterodactyl in a human bathroom?

Because her species had the appropriate name to be used as a bystander of a careless joke maker.

But why was this joke maker put into my blog? His joke was the appropriate type to be used as a bystander of a careless blogger.

Okay, so I should have stated that if it is done as poorly as that, it’s probably better to stay away from the punch line all together.

(Check out the other rules:
1.Value: Unbury gems and polish them
2.Awareness: Don’t grow pot in your basement
3.Audience: Don’t call your girlfriend fat
4.Pure Beauty: That bird’s got bugs
5.Passion: Feed your monster
6.Focal Point: Give them a paper weight
7.Patterns and Variations: If life is a series of roads, give me some windows to look in
8.Storytelling: Give all art the guts of a joke
9.Details: Dress your art to the T, even when it’s skateboarding clothes
10.Brand: The singer has to be as cool as the song.
11.Bonus rule: There are too many rules to know, but try