How to break the rules:
Lessons learned from Wile E. Coyote
Wile E. Coyote is not supposed to talk.
Seriously. That’s the rule. See #4.
But if that’s the rule, then why, pray tell, do we know he sounds like an English professor from Hogwarts?
Why have we heard him talk?
When Chuck Jones, grand poobah of cartooning, slapped down his 9 un-misinterpretable, rock-solid, oh-my-god-how-am-I-supposed-to-write-with-these? rules, he expected them to be followed.
“No dialogue ever, except ’beep-beep!’”
Now, imagine yourself on ol’ Chucky’s team the day he rolled these out. It’s 1949. You’re in a meeting room with mustard yellow walls. 13 of you are sitting at an oblong writer’s table with overflowing ashtrays, and someone sketched a dirty picture of Daffy Duck on the armrest of your cracked-brown leather bridge chair. It’s hilarious.
Jonesy slides you his notes.
The guy to your left raises his hand…
“Lemme get this straight, Chuck. You want us to write a cartoon about a dog in a desert chasing a bird, with all these tremendous weapons, but the only thing that can hurt the dog is gravity? And the bird can’t fight back. Or ever leave the road. Yet it still wins? And the only dialogue in the whole damn thing is ‘Beep Beep’?”
Hands up if you’d walk straight out of that meeting to the nearest bar?
Until a few weeks ago, I’d be prancersizing my way to the bar-stool next to you...
But now, after The Headline Project, I actually like constraints. I embrace them. Because there’s no blank page. You know exactly what you can’t do.
See, for the most part, the process is the same. You still need a great idea; that hasn’t changed. But now, when it strikes, you have guidelines. You craft, you mold & tinker — and you sculpt without settling for the first obvious concept that fits.
Which happens a lot.
Constraints steer you down a unique path.
Because you’ve got a very specific, very focused, very directional box. And the confines can guide you to greatness.
Like bowling with bumpers.
You just have to let them.
So put yourself back in Chuck’s writer’s room. Only now with the mindset that you’ve got a creative genius who trusts you fully.
You know the Coyote can’t talk. You know the bird can’t leave the road. You know the desert and gravity come into play. So that means Wile E. either has to go up, or he has to go down. Enter the cliff.
Merrie Melodies followed a very exact formula set by stringent guidelines. And they’ve become cartoon classics that never would’ve come to fruition without inconceivable restraints.
Great things happened within big walls.
“But, Justin! You said it at the beginning of this very email. Wile. E. Coyote talked!”
Oh, I’ve got you, lil’ peanut…
See, sometimes you need to break barriers. You need to reward your viewer to make a statement. And you need to strategically override a rule.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that rules were made to be broken, because that’s cliché bullshit.
But I will tell you this:
When you break a rule, people notice.
If Wile E. Coyote spoke all the time, it wouldn’t matter how he sounded — and it wouldn’t matter what he said.
But he did it rarely, and we remember.
So don’t always break rules. But don’t never do it either.
What I mean is, save your moments.
Pick your shots.
The less often you break rules, the more power it has when you do.
- Look at the photo below
- Which character represents your business?
The bird, right? You want to be fast & agile.
The Coyote! You want to be attacking your customers 24/7…
…But never actually catch them?
Oh, The rocket! Of course!
Nope. That’s designed to hurt people…
The road, silly. Road Runner never leaves it, it’s part of his natural habitat, and he’s safe as long as he’s on it.
That’s you. You’re the road.