Pixar's rules for story telling.

Over the past several months, Pixar’s former story artist Emma Coates‘ 22 Rules of Good Storytelling has been flying around the web. Although we find it to be excellent advice for writers, we found annotating it made it even better: a list of fine life principles for any creative soul. Our favorite:

No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

Here’s our annoted list made simply by substituting words specific-to-writing with more general ones.

You admire a character person for trying more than for their successes.

Simplify. Focus. Combine characters elements.  Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

What is your character are you good at, comfortable with? Throw yourself the polar opposite at them. Challenge them yourself. How do theyyou deal?

Come up with your ending goal  before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings goals are hard, get yours working up front.

Finish your story project, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

Pull apart the stories projects you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

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.

Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Why must you tell THIS story do THIS project? What’s the belief burning within you that your story project feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they you don’t succeed?Stack the odds against.

No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

Exercise: take the building blocks of amovieproject you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

What’s the essence of your story project? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.


With thanks to Susan Dworski.

Related posts: more bill murray: ‘being relaxed’ (+ how to get there)
creative process: doing this-or-that ‘in your head’
houdini’s mantra: “my brain is the key that sets me free”
what happens if you say ‘yes, and…’ (instead of ‘no’)? 

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