Saturday, June 30, 2012

Writing tips, Pixar Style

I went with my boys to see BRAVE on opening day last week. Thank goodness... they had been begging for it for MONTHS.

In fact, the four year old did not understand when we went to see Pirates last month that we weren't ACTUALLY watching BRAVE yet. Throughout Pirates (which I enjoyed) he would pipe up with, "When does BRAVE start?"Ouch. Pirates was good, but some of the humor was over his head. We went to BRAVE on opening day and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In honor of BRAVE, I wanted to post this little gem, which has been circulating on Twitter and FB and you've likely all seen it already.

I give you: The 22 Rules of Storytelling, by Emma Coats of Pixar. (Follow her tweets here.)

#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.


  1. I'd heard about these tips and seen some of them, but this is the first time I've read them all. Man, I should have paid attention to the blogosphere, these are pretty cool.

  2. These are fantastic! Like Sophia, I've seen a lot these tips scattered about, but never collected in one handy spot. This is definitely one to bookmark and revisit on those "I'm stuck!" days. :)

  3. These are some really great tips. I'm going to use them while I'm revising just as a sort of check. Thanks for sharing them! :)

  4. Excellent tips. I'm glad to say that I follow at least half of them already.

    Let me just say, knowing the end before you hit the middle helps a lot more than you'd think in the begining. :-P

  5. I haven't seen this. Thanks for sharing it!

  6. These are great tips! Wise words. :)


YAY for comments! Thanks for adding to the conversation.