Pixar has a set of 22 rules that serve as a roadmap to creating captivating stories and are testament to Pixar’s dedication to the craft of storytelling. By focusing on strong characters, clear narratives, and audience connection, they’ve woven a tapestry of films that resonate with people of all ages. Here are a few takeaways from the list.

Pixar’s rules emphasize the importance of character to remind us that audiences admire characters for their perseverance more than their victories. We root for those who give it a shot, even if they stumble. It’s important to take characters out of their comfort zones and create challenges to help them grow. Then, don’t be afraid to create characters with strong opinions and flaws, in order to make real and relatable.

pixar 22 storytelling rules

“Once upon a time… Every day… One day… Because of that… Until finally…” gives screenwriters a powerful story spine with a clear story arc and satisfying conclusion. It’s also important to know that the story’s core theme can emerge organically or crystalise during the writing process. Then, don’t be afraid to rewrite – the journey of uncovering the theme can be as valuable as the destination.

Pixar champions the power of simplicity. The list encourages us to streamline the story and focus on the core narrative to create a clear and impactful movie experience for the audience. Then, try to get into a headspace where you constantly declutter by removing unnecessary detours. It can also be useful for screenwriters to list what doesn’t happen next in order to unlock the way forward.

It’s important to establish the stakes and the consequences of failure, grounding even the most unbelievable scenarios. Then, while fantastical worlds can whisk us away, it’s a good idea to prioritize the audience’s perspective and what resonates with them over our propensity to write a thesis on farming on the inside of a ping pong ball.

Pixar’s approach emphasizes the importance of finishing the story, even if it’s not perfect. The process of letting go allows for growth and improvement in future endeavors. Sometimes the best ideas come later and unused material or ideas might prove valuable down the line.

Here’s the list of rules…

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.

10. 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.

Unveiling the Magic of Pixar’s 22 Storytelling Rules
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