During her time at Pixar, story artist Emma Coats learned several rules about how to tell a story. While they are not expressly rules that Pixar developed, one can say that these are definitely questions that Coats and other Pixar employees asked themselves before proceeding. The 22 rules that Coats put into words on Twitter went viral in June and continue to make the rounds online. Many have commented on how the rules have inspired them to focus on the importance of story. Others have been inspired to display the rules in artistic form (Lego, infographic), which you can take a look at after the break!
First, here are the 22 rules in text format (compiled by Pixar Touch author David Price):
#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.
Lego-enthusiast Alex Eylar recently submitted 12 of the rules in Lego-form to Slacktory (via io9):
If your brain is ready for some more visual goodness, PBJ Publishing created a nifty infographic, packing in all 22 rules in a beautiful piece (via Huffington Post), which you can click and enlarge below:
The fact that this list has been circulating for months and continues to inspire people is a testament to the incredible nature of these story rules. Some of the rules may sound logical, but once you get engrossed in working on a story, it is not difficult to lose focus on what is necessary to make the story great. While Emma Coats is no longer at Pixar, there is little doubt that the studio was an amazing learning experience for her.
You can follow Coats on Twitter and keep up with her updates on the projects she is currently developing.