Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

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Former Pixar story artist Emma Coats tweeted this series of “story basics” in 2011. https://twitter.com/lawnrocket These were guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories. I superimposed all 22 rules over stills from Pixar films to help me remember them. All Disney copyrights, trademarks, and logos are owned by The Walt Disney Company.

By DinoIgnacio

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

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#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.

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#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.

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#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

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#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
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#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
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#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
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#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.
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#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.
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#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.

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#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.
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#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

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#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
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#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.
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#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
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#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
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#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.
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#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
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#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
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#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
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#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
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#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

 

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