Lessons well learnt: Pixar and the art of storytelling

(image via pixarwallpapers.blogspot.com)


When I am not indulging my expansive and ever growing love of pop culture, I am working at a writers centre in Sydney where one of my tasks is to gather all manner of articles on the art of writing, storytelling and creating beautiful written art and then tweet them to all our wonderful followers.

It was in the course of executing these duties – makes it sound like I gathered a whole lot of blog posts, blindfolded them and shot them at dawn – that I came across this gorgeous piece on io9.com (one of the better sites out there with intelligent posts about all manner of interesting topics; you owe it to yourself to check it out) titled The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar.

It is a gathering together of a whole lot of very sage lessons that a one time Pixar story artist by the name of Emma Coats (@lawnrocket) tweeted out over a period of a month and a half about what you need to do to effectively tell an engaging story that will connect with audiences/readers/viewers.


(image via bitrebels.com)


They are great tips and I am looking forward to whatever Emma Coats chooses to create now she has left Pixar and is, in her own words (from her Twitter bio), “out in the world writing & directing films” since she has clearly paid attention to what makes a good story and articulate them so well.

It doesn’t matter what medium you work in; these lessons are universal and they have inspired me to re-visit the stories I write to make sure that I tell my stories as beautifully and engagingly as Pixar does.

So enjoy, learn and hopefully get ridiculously inspired to create an amazing tale yourself.


Toy Story (image via momof6.com)


#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.


UP (image via pixarwallpapers.blogspot.com)


#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 ___.


Finding Nemo (image via cartoonwallpaper.org)


#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?


WALL-E (image via pixartimes.com)


#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.


A Bug’s Life (image via dan-dare.org)


#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.


The Incredibles (image via collider.com)


#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.


Monsters Inc. (image via moviemaniac0007.blogspot.com)


#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.


Cars (image via pixar.wikia.com)


#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.


Ratatouille (image via sh.asia-city.com)


#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.


Brave (image via hdw.eweb4.com)

#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.

[Pixar Touch via Kottke]

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