Monday, June 25, 2012

22 Rules of Storytelling by Pixar

by James Duckett

Emma Coats, a storyboard artist at Pixar, put out her 22 rules of storytelling over Twitter. Having watched Brave, Pixar's latest release, I thought this would be fitting. Keep in mind that this was over Twitter, so she had to keep each rule under 141 characters.
(Image Source: Wikipedia)

#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.

Do any of these strike a chord with you? For me, it is number 11, which is what I'm struggling with right now. It isn't so much writer's block as a fear I may not be able to write it down as well as I see it in my head. It's time I do it and if it isn't perfect, well, number 17 can become plan B.


Morgan said...

I sooooooo agree with number 17... no work is ever wasted... I feel like as long as I'm writing, trying, putting myself out there, I'm moving forward... Such a great post, Donna! I seriously ADORE you! <3

Chas Hathaway said...

I REALLY like number 12. I've always heard that you need to think of your first idea, then throw it out, then consider throwing out your second idea. But she encourages throwing out the first five! Brilliant! I think it's about at the third or fourth idea that you're starting to tread in truly original stuff.

By idea #6 you'll be in area that you've never explored before, and which no one has ever attempted.


Anonymous said...

This is excellent.....many million dollar book writers forget these basics....thanks kindly for sharing your craft.

Blessings to you and all you serve.