Friday, June 8, 2012

What Writers Can Learn From Pixar

I first saw this article on Galleycat. I liked it so well I had to share. (Originally from The Pixar Touch blog):

"Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#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.

I particularly like # 3, 6, 7, 13, and 17. How about you?

I'm interviewing New Zealand author, Susan Brocker, on the Project Mayhem blog today also. Hop on over and say "hi."


  1. I particularly like #12 and #19. Thanks for sharing this, Michael! Off to read that interview!

  2. I read it last night after I saw it on Galley Cat. It's a great list. :)

  3. #11 - because I spent years in that mode, not realizing I did have ideas that were worth telling.

  4. This is AWESOME--thanks for sharing! #3 and #10 are just what I was blogging about today. I also like some of these as brainstorming/plotting exercises, like #4. I think I need to post this list on my wall!

  5. This is such a great list~ so many speak to me that I can't choose a favorite :) Thanks for sharing!

  6. These are excellent! Its hard to pick just one. I really liked the idea of writing the ending before the middle. I think it totally makes your middle so much better. Also the one about theme. I don't usually find mine until the story has a chance to marinate and then the flavor truly comes out. Thanks for sharing this.!

  7. Great list. I'm going to try #7 and #9 in my WIP.

  8. I agree with you about #13 and I like #9 a lot too. Sometimes when you're stuck eliminating some options helps focus you on the right one.

  9. Michael -- er, Michele, this was a supremely helpful post! I've passed it on to a number of writer friends.
    Grazie mille,
    Margo :)

  10. Thanks for sharing these. I think my favorites are 6, 7, and 16.


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