Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

 Pixar is the animation computer studio in California that has created many successful animated movies, such as: Toy Story, Cars, Finding Nemo, among many others. The company, purchased in 2006 by Disney Studios, has produced some of the highest grossing films in the movie industry. One of the reasons for Pixar’s success is following a set of guidelines or “rules” that have proven to create excellent and well-loved movies which have made an impact on the industry.

One thing I’ve learned as a novelist is the techniques used by scriptwriters and the film industry can add and enhance techniques writing novels. Both media written as fiction deliver the product to their audience in different ways yet with similar goals which is to capture the hearts and minds of readers and viewers by providing entertainment and also leaving them with a lesson or theme that makes an impact on their individual lives. Though Pixar presents animation, it still presents an amazing story. A writer friend who works for Disney brought my attention to these rules followed by Pixar and I’m happy to share them with you. So to understand Pixar’s philosophy, study the 22 storytelling rules that Pixar uses to create their movies.

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

2: You have to 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 until 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 ___. (Fill in the blanks)

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, and 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 and 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 do you rearrange them into what you do like?

21: You have to 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.

If you study these techniques and elements of presenting a story and apply them to your fiction writing, you will improve your storytelling many times over. Think of the success of Pixar at story telling. You can do the same.

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