Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

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A couple of weeks ago, Emma Coats, a former story artist from Pixar Animation Studios, took to Twitter to outline what she considers to be the company’s 22 essential rules to telling effective and entertaining stories.

Aspiring writers, filmmakers, and game developers are sure to find the following list interesting and informative – if there is one thing Pixar is known for, it’s for their fantastic films and stories!

Be sure to check out Pixar’s latest film, Monsters University, in theatres June 21! The movie looks hilarious and, as a student and someone who grew up watching Pixar films, I’m definitely excited to check this one out.

Without further ado, here are the tips:

1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

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, but you won’t see what the story is actually about until 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 opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

7 . Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. 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 first thing that comes to mind—and the second, third, fourth and fifth. 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 and 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 do you rearrange them into what you do like?

21. You must identify with your situation and/or characters; you can’t just write “cool.” What would make you act that way?

22. What’s the essence of your story? The most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Good luck everyone!

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6 responses to “Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling”

  1. rtcvers says :

    These are so fantastic. Anyone who crafts story (in print, on film, or on stage) should have these tacked to their wall.

  2. Lina says :

    I saw these awhile back. Very good advice! I love 19. I am very guilty of number 19…

  3. Emile de Bruijn says :

    Yes this is really good advice, and also very relevant for writing in general. I have linked this to my colleagues, as much of it also applies to writing and interpretation about historic houses (which is our sphere of work). I particularly agree with rule no. 2.

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