Every time we see a new Pixar movie for the first time, we're dazzled as we watch these new characters on the big screen. Through their stories, we've experienced strong emotions from toys, robots, and even monsters.
There's no denying that Pixar is incredible at storytelling, and I believe that they have lessons that every aspiring writer can take away. Former storyboard artist, Emma Coats, even created a list of 'rules' to Pixar's phenomenal storytelling, which is very useful to any writer; not just to those specializing in movies or animation! Without further ado, here's her list...
1.) You admire a character more for trying than for their successes.
2.) Keep in mind what's interesting to an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
3.) Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about until 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, and 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 first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth, fifth - get the obvious stuff 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 just that.
17.) No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let it 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 is cheating.
20.) Exercise: Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How'd you rearrange them into what you do like?
21.) You have to identify with your situation and 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.