Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

The storytelling rules Pixar uses (that you can too)

In 2011, Pixar employee Emma Coats shared "Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling." They're a masterclass in story, psychology, and human connection.

Here they are:

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

  2. You have to 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. The story spine: 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. Make them respond.

  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

  8. Finish your story, even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on and 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, just an idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

  12. Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth... get the obvious ones out of the way. Then surprise yourself.

  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable as you write, but it's poison to an audience.

  14. Why must you tell this story? What's the believe 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? Honestly 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 them.

  17. No work is 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 have to identify with your situation and 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.