Great Writing Tips from Pixar
Have you seen these 22 writing rules, apparently culled from the terrific Pixar animation studio?
As I understand it, these rules originally were tweeted by Emma Coats, a freelance director and Pixar’s story artist. I have not met Ms. Coats and hereby congratulate her on an elegant list. Proof positive that those who can, teach.
Not only do I believe in most of these to be valid, I’ve taught variations of them in my writing classes. So don’t think of these as “animation-centric.” They’re not. In fact, last month I ran a list of 10 writing rules by famed Hollywood director Billy Wilder. If you go back and cross-check them, you’ll see a lot of similarities.
- 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 very different. (I’m not good at this, but I see the wisdom in it. Dana)
- 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. (I understand her point. But I knew the theme of the NTSB thrillers and Daria Gibron thrillers from jump. Just sayin.’ D)
- Once upon a time there was _____. Every day, _____. One day _____. Because of that, _____. Because of that, _____. Finally, _____. (love this! D)
- 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. (I’m not good at this. D)
- 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. (This is in my writing workshop. D)
- 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. (As is this. D)
- Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth, fifth … get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
- Give your characters opinions. Passive and malleable might seem likeable to you as you write, but they are poison to the audience.
- Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that feeds your story? 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 characters. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against them.
- No work is every wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on. It’ll come back around to be useful later. (yes! D)
- You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of trouble are cheating. (I teach this but never in such an elegant, simple structure. Lovely. D)
- Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How do you rearrange them into what you DO like? (Remove “movie” and insert “novel” – it still works. D)
- You gotta identify with your situation and characters; you 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.