Rules for Story Telling by Pixar


The Pixar company knows how to tell stories. I can’t use my kids as excuses to see animated films anymore — they are too old — so now I just go because I like them. I haven’t seen Brave yet, and the reviews I hear are mixed, but Pixar rarely blows it when it comes to stories. They make me laugh, and in more than one case, they make me cry. The first few minutes of Up? Killed me.

Think of all their amazing stories: The Toy Story trilogy (my wife sobbed uncontrollably at the end of TS3), A Bug’s Life, The Incredibles, Cars, Finding Nemo, Monster’s Inc., Wall-e, Up, even Ratatouille (my least favorite) was a great story. How do they do it time after time?

Well, David Price, author of The Pixar Touch:The Making of a Company shared recently on his website a compilation of tweets over several weeks by Pixar story artist Emma Coats. They are what she calls “story basics” — principles she has learned from her work with Pixar. Go to the original post for the full list, but here are some of my favorites:

#1: You admire a character more for trying 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.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

This last one (#19) struck me as particularly true and something I had never thought of before. If you are a fiction writer or just interested in how to write stories, you really should check out the whole list.


Did these make you think? Tell us about it in the comments below.

About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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