Storytelling from Pixar

Again, I have to give a huge shout-out to Advice to Writers for sharing this post. Jon Winokur has collected some great pieces of advice and quotes to help inspire us writers and to make us think. If you are a writer or hope to be one, please check out his site. You can also find him on Twitter at @AdvicetoWriters.

Please note: in the below list, the comments/ asides in italics are my thoughts. Feel free to leave comments on your thoughts/ opinions 🙂

22 Rules of Storytelling from Pixar

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

2. 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. (so true and sometimes difficult for us as writers!)

3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til 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 polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? (perfect – torture your character! Let the reader see what he/she is made of.)

7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. (unfortunately, this one doesn’t work for me.)

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. (heck yeah! Don’t stop to edit midway through. Keep plugging until you get to the end. Then go back and rework.)

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. (good idea!)

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 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. (tough, but good advice!)

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. (ooh, conflict…we like!)

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 & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. (absolutely! Think this is my favorite one of them all.)

20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you DO like?

21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way? (I find that makes my characters more believable and realistic. The readers can tell if you aren’t ‘one’ with your character!)

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

So what do you think? What’s your favorite rule from this list? Did Pixar leave out anything obvious – something you would have mentioned? I’m sticking with #19 – that’s my favorite!

Thanks again to Advice to Writers and Pixar!

4 thoughts on “Storytelling from Pixar

      1. Not yet. I’m fussing about what camera to take. Do I take my Big Boy and have the possibility of it getting damaged (but get amazing pictures), or do I go with my Tiny Bird and still get good pictures but it won’t break my heart if it gets damaged.

        In other news – I’ve now written in two more characters (they are going to be long term companions for the MC) and started adding some meat to the mystery of why all this happened.

        Mystery Meat – Hmmmmmmmmm : )


      2. Let me know what you decide. I’m debating the same thing for a short weekend trip in April.

        Whoo hoo! More characters and clues to the mystery… yay!


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