Judging Your Own Work - Brian McDonald

By award-winning writer and director Brian McDonald
Excerpted from Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories that Resonate

 

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
– Thomas Mann

Don’t write for other writers. People are drawn to writing for different reasons and many people do it to seem smart. If you have a good first act, most will never recognize it, because they’re not really clear on what a first act does. They know nothing of construction, but will turn their noses up at the idea of it anyway. The less they know about it the more they will object to it.

The one thing I have noticed about people who are exceptional in their creative work is that they are always trying to get better. That’s how they got good in the first place. These people judge themselves against the best work. They aim for the top.

Just worry about the craft and the art will take care of itself.

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A guest post by Brian McDonald. Brian is an award-winning writer and director. He is also a sought after instructor and consultant who has taught story structure seminars at Pixar, Disney Feature Animation and Lucasfilm’s ILM. Here he shares his advice on the natural way to tell stories.

Ever since Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction was released, people have talked in awe about how that film and others have played with traditional notions of story structure. That film tells its story out of sequence and is therefore innovative, or so the reasoning goes. This is a mistake. Telling stories out of sequence is actually as traditional as it gets.

The idea that story structure is ruled by linear chronology is a common error. As I have often written, and told students, one must look at how stories are told in real life. One must study stories not in their written form, or some other medium like TV or films, but in their natural habitat.

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Once Upon a Time
In 2012 Pixar Story Artist Emma Coats tweeted 22 storytelling tips using the hashtag #storybasics. The list circulated the internet for months gaining the popular title Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. We reposted this list two weeks ago and the response has been phenomenal with thousands of likes, shares, comments and emails.

Since posting the story, a number of people have contacted us regarding rule number 4 on the list, also know as ‘The Story Spine’:

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

Reports were that this tip did not originate with Pixar but instead with writer/director/teacher Brian McDonald. Intrigued, we contacted Brian to find out more. He replied as follows:

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