Wednesday, 10 February 2016

22 Story Lessons... from Pixar

Emma Coats is an animator who works for Pixar. Although she is a relatively low-level employee, she listens when the serious story-people talk. And when she hears something good, she writes it down. 

Early last year, she tweeted a series of “story basics”—guidelines she learned from her more senior colleagueson how to create appealing stories. In May 2011, the Pixar blog (The Pixar Touch) published a story about Emma's lessons

Some of the Pixar crew, hard at work
For those who missed them first time around, here are Emma's twenty-two Lessons.  
(Note:  I was interested to see Brian McDonald's story outline method included on the list.)
  • You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  • Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  • What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  • Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  • 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.
  • If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  • What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they 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.
  • You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  • Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  • Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  • You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  • What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

To finish, here's The Beauty of Pixar.

First posted:  15 June 2012

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