22 Pixar Rules of Storytelling by Emma Coats
Emma Coats, a former Pixar story artist has tweeted a series of story basics for about six weeks from April 2011. She shared these guidelines, which she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create great stories. Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling is a great advice for any writer extending beyond writing.
- You admire a character for trying more than for their success.
- 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.
- Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about till you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
- Once upon a time there was______. Everyday,______. One day,______. Because of that, ______. Because of that, _______. Until finally______.
- Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
- What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
- Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard., get yours working up front.
- 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.
- When you are stuck, make a list what you WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
- 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.
- 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.
- Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th 5th – get the obvious out the way. Surprise yourself.
- Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s a poison to the audience.
- 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.
- If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
- What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
- No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
- You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, nor refining.
- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
- Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How ‘d you rearrange them into what you DO like?
- You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ’cool.’ What would make YOU act that way?
- What’s the essence of your story? Most economical way of telling it? If you know that you can build out from there.
Think of everyone of your marketing communications as a story. Apply these rules to them diligently to create stories that stick.