Monday, February 8, 2016

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

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Good Morning, All!

This is going up a bit late today, but what can I say? Super Bowl Sunday means that, naturally, I'm gonna get less done than usual. :D (How did everyone like the game, btw?)

So I cam across these rules a while ago, courtesy of Pinterest, and I thought they had a lot of depth and value to them, so I thought I'd share them. And actually I'd say they're less rules and more like 22 pieces of writing advice from a very successful story-telling company. Keep in mind these are applied to mostly children's cartoons, but each and every one can be adapted for writing novels or any other kind of story you may be working on. My commentary is in the blue font. (Obviously, as they're from Pixar, I didn't make them up myself. Just for the record.)

1. Admire characters for attempting more than what their successes have been. Push them. Give them challenges.

2. 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, however you won't see what the story is about until you're at the end of the story. Got it? Now rewrite. I personally don't think there's anything wrong with trying for a particular theme, but don't force it. If you let the story and characters take you where they want to go, the theme will emerge naturally. And it may not be the theme you were originally trying for, which is often kinda cool.

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. In other words, tighten, tighten, tighten.

6. What is your character good at or comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at him. Challenge him. How does he deal with it?

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. More often than not, the material that gets you unstuck appears. I LOVE this idea, and will have to try it. Never done it before but it sounds like tons of fun, and very useful!

10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you. Recognize it before you use it.

11. Why must you tell this story in particular? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it. I think both #10 and #11 are about self-awareness. As my TWD buddy Bob Stooki once said, "Self-awareness is a beautiful thing." That's true of writing as well. So start first by telling the story that's in your head. That's most important. But once you've done that, or maybe when you get stuck, understanding things like story elements, or recognizing and consciously using different techniques, is what takes your writing from good to great. It takes your story from interesting to amazing.

12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th - get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. This is something I need to work on.

13. Give your characters opinions. A character being passive or malleable is easy for you as a writer, but it's poison to your audience. This is something that many first-time writers do. We want our characters to be likable, so we unwittingly make them dull. Been there.

14. What's the essence of your story? What's the most economical way of telling it. If you know that, you can build from there. Elevator pitch. Reduce your story to one line. 

15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honestly lends credibility to unbelievable situations. I really like that last line. Even when a story DOESN'T feel unrealistic, most situations in stories aren't things that would happen to most people in real life, if at all. The only way to make them realistic is through character/emotional honesty.

16. What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if he doesn't succeed? Stack the odds against him. 

17. No work is ever wasted. And if it's not working, let go and move on -- if it's useful, it'll show up again. Love that too. So true.

18. You have to know yourself, and know the difference between doing your best and being fussy. Story is testing, not refining.

19. Coincidences that get characters into trouble are great. Coincidences that get them out of it is cheating. Yes! Well said.

20. Exercise. Take the building blocks of a move you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you DO like. I do this in my head all the time with books, films, television shows. Everything. I think, The stakes weren't high enough. It needed more drama. I just didn't care. Or, I would have done it this way. Then the ending would have been WAY more satisfying. I think this is one of those "You know you're a writer when..." things. :D And it's another example of self-awareness in writing.

21. Identify with your situation/characters. Don't write "cool." What would make YOU act that way?

22. Putting it on paper only allows you to start fixing it. If a perfect idea stays in your head, you'll never share it with anyone.

So that's it. I really enjoyed reading through these and gleaned some valuable advice. 

How about you? Which of these do you already make use of? Which do you want to try and incorporate? Did you have a favorite?

Happy Monday, Everyone! Write 'til you drop! :D


  1. Some good suggestions. I never try for a theme and don't even know what it is until I'm done. Miraculously, one always appears.
    Enjoyed the game. More so because my team wasn't playing.

    1. Yeah same for the football game. Wasn't really invested in either team, but still had fun hanging with the family and eating good food. :D