Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

pixars-22-rules-for-storytelling

Since I nominated today to be a Get-Back-To-Writing day, naturally it was only a matter of time before old habits returned and I found myself rummaging around the deep dark corners of the Internet through articles, pictures, gifs and Pins related to writing, rather than actually just getting on with the writing itself. To add further insult to injury, I also, for a time, managed to convince myself it was all in the name of “research”.

Ah, brain. How you love to vex me.

While my disciplinary skills have clearly disappeared down the drain, it appears my procrastination skills remain in fine working order. As such, I successfully stumbled across this little gem of a list at Aerogramme Writers’ Studio. Originally tweeted by Emma Coates, Pixar’s Story Artist, these rules were the little kick-up-the-backside I needed to get back to work today.

May they be equally motivational to your own storytelling adventures.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  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.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Now get back to it!

Advertisements

10 comments on “Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

  1. nice to meet you, Katy. it’s a strong list of practical guidelines. above all: make me care. tony

  2. I’d never thought of #9, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. That’s cool. I have always known how my stories would end (with one slight exception on this last one of where the protag would go after it ended). It definitely helps me to have the big picture. And it’s a struggle, but I am learning to accept “bad” first drafts. Whenever I get discouraged about what I’m writing, I now look back on my soon-release in which its first draft was not very good, and throughout revisions has become my best work yet, not to mention fully doubled its word count! There is hope for me, lol.

  3. Great post! I like #17, the idea that nothing is ever wasted. We have to keep writing. Like Stephen King said, It’s like shoveling s–t from a sitting position. It’s like training for a race. You have to run a lot of miles. Thanks for sharing! Diana Bletter, Author, THe Mom Who Took Off On her Motorcycle, http://www.thebestchapter.com

  4. Pingback: The Birth of A Story: Labor, Delivery, Growth | Gabriela S.

  5. Pingback: life: have a great weekend! | Girl Seeks Place

  6. Pingback: Becoming a Storyteller: Building Initial Ideas, or, Get Thee to a Nunnery! | DLFwriting

  7. “No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.” Very true. I’m now using a story fragment I wrote around 20 years ago. It was orphaned back then (the story went in a different direction and it didn’t fit), but it’s working fine now. :-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s