Working With Constraints


Chuck Jones, the animator, used rules when thinking about his cartoon The Roadrunner. Here are the rules as listed in Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination:

  1. The road runner cannot harm the coyote except by going “beep-beep!”
  2. No outside force can harm the coyote–only his own ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products.
  3. The coyote could stop anytime–if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.”–George Santayana)
  4. No dialogue ever, except “beep-beep!”
  5. The road runner must stay on the road–otherwise, logically, he would not be called a road runner.
  6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters–the Southwest American desert.
  7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
  8. 8) Whenever possible, make gravity the coyote’s greatest enemy.
  9. The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

It seems that constraints imposed upon us should inhibit creativity. It also seems, however, that constraints work best when we place them on ourselves. We don’t chafe under some misguided notion that someone is restricting our freedom and, thereby, darkening our creative vision.

My favorites are #3 and #8.

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About Ray Fleming

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5 Responses to Working With Constraints

  1. nkilkenny says:

    That’s terribly funny! Beep! Beep! Always thought that the Road Runner cartoons were some of the best examples of physical humor vs. verbal in cartoons.

  2. Ray says:

    I saw a quote on Jones’ website where he said that even subtle facial expression accomplish more than add texture to the animation; they become a part of the action. I’ve been thinking about how this can be more effectively done with words in my own writing.

  3. Dee Andrews says:

    In talking about constraints on creativity in writing, I found that journalism and legal writing both offered interesting and good restraints to my writing. I saw them both, much as I do blogging, as being a form of “technical” writing.

    Does that make sense to you, Ray? Do you understand what I mean here? I hope!

    In reality, whatever form we choose, it seems to me, offers constraints of one kind or another, even journal writing. I say that in thinking (for the first time, I think) about all of the different forms of writing I’ve undertaken in my life and how I worked within “constraints” and THE constraints of each one from journal writing to poetry to legal writing to journalism.

    Interesting post and I’m jumping from cartoons to writing in doing so. Blog posts and comments both require a different kind of constraints, I’ve found. Haven’t you?

  4. Ray Fleming says:

    Dee: I can’t remember the reference and can supply it if you wish, but some time ago I quoted a poet who said the purpose of forms is “to raise talk above the babble.” I think forms give us boundaries within which to work with words or images. I think, though, we need to master certain forms before we can deconstruct the form and “create” a new form. I might write a poem but if it’s not fourteen lines of iambic pentameter with a predetermined rhyme scheme, it’s not a sonnet.

    As for technical writing, I’m thinking that I’ve always labored under the notion that technical writing is not necessarily creative writing. I don’t think that now. In fact, technical writers may need to comply with the rules of a form more than in any other type of writing, which means the creativity of the writer is more focused in a specific direction. The goals of technical writing are probably more clearly defined.

  5. Pingback: Maps of the Imagination — reading notes

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