This TED talk features Andrew Stanton (the writer for all three Toy Story movies and the writer/director for Wall-E and Finding Nemo) sharing what he knows about storytelling (like how to make grown men cry). I also found Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling that you can use for your next short story, so Merry Christmas ya’ filthy animals…
I admire Pixar a whole heckovalot, almost as much as a business as a storytelling phenomenon. Seriously, its own story is on par with most of its movies:
John Lasseter gets fired from Disney for trying to make a computer-animated film and starts Pixar as the computer division of Lucasfilm. The small renegade company eventually spins out on its own with an investment from Steve Jobs after Jobs was fired by Apple. Pixar makes the first completely computer generated movie (Toy Story) and keeps making kick-ass movies, until Disney finally makes an offer and Lasseter is able to sell the thing back to his former employer for $7.4 billion (also making Steve Jobs Disney’s largest shareholder).
You can’t write this stuff! But if Pixar did write it, the movie would probably make millions AND make you cry. Because that’s what Pixar movies do now, they make you cry. I’m looking at you, Finding Nemo… and don’t even get met started on UP or Toy Story 3… dear God!
Quick story: I never saw the first 10 minutes of Finding Nemo so I never knew why the father was being so protective. I just assumed he was unreasonably unreasonable and I never cared for him. That is until I watched those first 10 minutes that I never knew existed and found out that he [spoiler alert!] …LOST HIS WIFE AND ENTIRE FAMILY! Why, Pixar? …Why?
Like I said before, below is a list of 22 Rules of Storytelling that was originally tweeted by Pixar’s Story Artist, Emma Coats (@lawnrocket). And since Pixar always figures out a way to pull on my heart strings, I’m going to make sure I use these little gems while writing my own short 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 very 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.