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:
- You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
- 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.
- 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.
- The story spine: Once upon a time there was __. Every day, __. 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 opposite at them. Challenge them. Make them respond.
- Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
- Finish your story, even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on and do better next time
- 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.
- 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, just an idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
- Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth... get the obvious ones out of the way. Then surprise yourself.
- Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable as you write, but it's poison to an audience.
- 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.
- If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honestly 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 them.
- No work is 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 and fussing. Story is testing, not 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 do you rearrange them into what you do like?
- You have to identify with your situation and characters. You can't just write 'cool.' What would make you act that way?
- What's the essence of your story? The most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.