Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

In 1995, a company called Pixar released the world’s first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story. 20 years later, Pixar is a household name. A whole generation has grown up watching their movies. Without a doubt, the folks at Pixar know a thing or two about good stories.

In March and April of 2011, storyboard artist Emma Coats shared a series of tweets containing the best storytelling tips she had picked up during her time working at Pixar.  While Coats referred to these as Story Basics, as they circulated around the Internet, they became widely known as Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. They have since appeared in the New Yorker blog, BoingBoing and Wall Street Journal online.

Here for your reference are the 22 Rules of Storytelling.

These are followed by Emma Coats’ original Story Basics tweets so you can share and retweet them.

#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 v. different.

#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?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. 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 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – 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 & 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 d’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?

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

Here are, to the best of my ability, Emma’s original tweets. A few seem to be missing from Twitter so I have included an early retweet for most.

This was actually #7.

#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.

(This is the earliest tweet we could find of this)

#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.

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

And one often not included in the list of 22:

Gary McLaren

Gary McLaren is an author and digital entrepreneur. He blogs at Writers Unplugged and manages Worldwide Freelance Writer. He's been helping writers online for more than 16 years. You can also follow Gary on social media at Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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