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Pixar’s 22 Story Rules (Guidelines for Writing)

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I’ve been watching a few Pixar movies since I got a Disney Plus membership last year. I particularly enjoy their new movie Onward. I think it has been overlooked, but it is excellent.

I had to watch it after bed because my kids are not interested in Pixar movies yet. This makes me wonder are Pixar movies really just animated movies for adults? The storytelling in most Pixar movies is very good, and it made me go and look up the Pixar Story Rules.

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Emma Coats wrote them out on twitter a few years back, and I find these guidelines useful for writing a lot of stories not just Pixar films.

Pixar’s Rules for Writing a Compelling Story

Number 1

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

Number 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.

Number 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.

Number 4

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Number 5

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

Number 6

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

Number 7

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

Number 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.

Number 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.

Number 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.

Number 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.

Number 12

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

Number 13

Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Number 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.

Number 15

If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

Number 16

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

Number 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.

Number 18

You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

Number 19

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

Number 20

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

Number 21

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

Number 22

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

Now, I’ve got to know what is your favorite Pixar movie?

Check out my other writing resources.

Pixar's 22 Story Rules (Guidelines for Writing)

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