Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling
These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist. Number 9 on the list – When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next – is a great one and can apply to writers in all genres.

  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.
  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.
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66 Comments

  1. 15 September 2014 / 6:56 am

    I thought there was only one rule of story telling.

    1. There are no rules…..

    • PS
      1 June 2015 / 5:32 pm

      That’s the one rule of fanfics, not storytelling.

  2. 17 September 2014 / 2:51 am

    Thanks for excellent post. Going to bookmark it 🙂

  3. ccl
    17 September 2014 / 12:28 pm

    There is no rules but t here are rules in everyone’s heart. However, most of us never have time to sort them out.
    What the authors can do is to find out the common.

  4. 4 February 2015 / 6:29 am

    I’m supposed to take writing advice from someone who says “you gotta?” Is that supposed to be cute? Or charmingly quirky? More like lazy. Isn’t the point of good writing to communicate, and if we’re very lucky, educate?

    • 6 March 2015 / 9:55 am

      You’re a pedantic, nit-picky wench. How’s that for cute?

      >Your high horse
      >Get off of it

  5. 8 March 2015 / 8:33 am

    It sort of works if you’re in hell and don’t realise it, I suppose

  6. 9 May 2015 / 4:40 pm

    its a long rule 🙁

  7. 10 May 2015 / 6:42 am

    Too many crooks spoil the brothel, too many points take away the importance of the post.

  8. SteveCeaton
    16 September 2015 / 11:16 pm

    Some great tips here, seriously!

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