22 Rules of Storytelling from Pixar’s Vaults

It’s all over the web—and for good reason. Pixar’s 22 Storytelling Rules are jam-packed with great nuggets. Read, enjoy and try some out!

1  You admire a character for trying for more than just their success

2  You have to keep in mind what’s interesting for you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. Sometimes they are different.

3  Trying for theme is important but you won’t know what the story is about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

4  Once upon a time there was a _______. Everyday, _______. One day, _______. Because of that, _______. Until finally _______.

5  Simply. Focus. Combine Characters. Hop over detours. It will feel like your losing valuable stuff but it will set you free.

6  What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal with it?

7  Come up with your ending before you figure out the middle. Seriously endings are hard, get yours working upfront.

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 first thing that comes into your head. And the second, third, forth and fifth – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

13  Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable may seem like to you but it’s poison to the audience.

14  Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning in you that this 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 a 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 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 trouble is cheating.

20  Exercise: Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into something you would like?

21  You have to identify with your situation/characters, you can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

22  What’s the essence of your story? What the most economical way of telling it? If you know that you can build out from there.

The Design Gym
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The Design Gym is a strategy and innovation consultancy helping leaders to grow their business by fully unlocking the power of their most important advantage: their people. We work at the intersection of business strategy, experience design, and change management to engage the people that matter most to your work: your customers, your leaders, and your employees. See something that resonates with a project or challenge you're working on? Shoot us a note at [email protected].

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