22 Rules for Storytelling as Suggested by Pixar


So a friend of mine posted a link to this list of storytelling tips from the storyboard artists at Pixar. After reading through them, I thought I’d use it as a meme base and plug in my Elaseim story into them and see what I can come up with. This is all going to be stream-of-conscience writing, so hopefully I’ll make some discoveries. Give it a try if you like with your own story! Here we go!

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. I take this as a character’s drive must be for something outside of themselves. This is where the protagonist is separated from the antagonist; a protagonist makes things easier for those around them, even if it makes things harder for themselves, while the antagonist makes things easier for themselves, sometimes purposefully making things harder for those around them. I’ve never really deeply thought about this for my characters. Rana’s purpose in her journey is to eliminate the evil of Inan in the world, considering it her duty as the last Elaseim and guardian of Adalan Eu. She allows this sense of duty, however, to overpower her concern for the people around her, and comes close to making big mistakes in her personal life (and putting those closest to her in great danger) because of this mindset. Now THAT was a breakthrough! As for Inan, his purpose is simpler. I’m not going to get into the details too much, though. But his intent is certainly personal success in his goal, and he will force all around him into his plans to gain that success.
  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. I always view my stories as movies running in my head. I have a very hard time translating that movie-paced image into expanded chapters, especially because I also really enjoy the elaborate narrative of Tolkien, but don’t want to overdo it myself in my own story. Tolkien had a wonder, a perfection in language, to put imagery into long-winded words that still kept you interested and focused. I don’t know if I can do that or not, and just attempting such narrative gets me nervous. Number two is going to push me into the different styles I’ve been avoiding in order to avoid bad reactions. Considering I don’t get much reaction at all for my writing at this point, bad reaction to improve is better than the nothing I have now.
  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. Long story short, I need to get up off my ass and write the whole damn thing, THEN go back and edit and add and subtract. I need to get away from the planning. I’ve been planning for over 8 years, for Sedar’s sake! (wow, that was bad…)
  4. Once upon a time there was the last of the Elaseim. Every day, the world beyond her sanctuary fell farther away from the world she had known. One day a man brought her back to her nature. Because of that, she properly came into her age, and took up duty of her people (while also falling in love). Because of that, she and her new-found friend, the man, rallied the world against the evils suppressing it. Until finally… well you’ll find out whether she succeeds.character_sheet__rana_by_ranaelaseim-d3hdm2m
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. I have found myself combining or switching characters from one story to another. I don’t think I’ve ever lost anything, per se, but I have set myself free in that way. I think I may do some experimentals with some of the characters and possibly post, see if I like some of the changes or not. I am adding a new character and a new set of chapters in Rana and Taren’s journey, so that will be fun to share.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? This is a unique aspect to Rana, because we really don’t know what she’s good at. When she was one of the original four Elaseim, she had a full development into her the aspects of her character. Now, with her not even in her teenage years before the world crashes in around her, she had not really developed into much of anything yet, and the time she lives with the Equepar, she is not given the chance to become anything but a protected little China doll. She is a blank slate. The closest thing you get to something that is only hers is when Taren is captured by the Equepar for tracking them to the western cliffs. That chapter is actually coming, so I won’t divulge much, but this is when the duty of her people erupts from her, a natural defense mechanism which she has always had itching within her, but never been put in the situation to utilize the feeling before. Because of all this, everything is her polar opposite, and yet everything has a hint of familiarity to it. Where she has her problem is where to the draw the line between Elaseim duty and personal empathy and love. Everything is a challenge, and we learn with her adjustments.
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. I have miserably failed here. The ending has been hard, and to figure it out, I’ve been writing and planning and changing and expanding the middle. By now I ought to know it’s not going to make the ending any easier. One of my next jobs is the stop writing and plan the ending only. Those last scenes. Get it where I do not want it to change, where the ending will erupt the passion of all the emotions within my readers at once. If the middle brings changes to the ending later, that’s fine. But I need to know where I’m going first, and let the final destination change with the journey after it is an actual place to get to.
  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. My Elaseim story is the nearest and dearest thing to my heart in my writing, and has been for almost a decade now. But I need to let it grow up and make it something of my past. It will be harder than my kids moving out of the house (in about 25 years or so, when I have kids at all), but things must always come and go.
  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. A very good tip! I think I’ll use this when developing the ending!
  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. I’ve pulled Lord of the Rings apart in every way possible. The origin of the Elaseim, and specifically Rana, was the OC for my LotR fan fiction, and found every possible thing she could do to adjust and change the series of events within the LotR trilogy, as well as many of the back stories from The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.
  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. I’m working on it, I swear…
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. After 8 years, I’m pretty sure I’ve been going through into the dozens of ideas at this point. BUT, that doesn’t mean I don’t bother with making new ideas constantly, just to see what will come of it.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. Trust me, my personality is always as passive and malleable as possible, and so I always try my best to make my characters distant from the way I would end up going about their problems. If anybody wants to argue that, by all means go for it. That’s what the comments are for!
  14. Rana_by_RanaElaseimWhy must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.  Rana is part of me. There are shadows of me in her, but mostly she is the epitome of my old dog of the same name. She was the best thing of my childhood, and aside from my boyfriend, she was the best of my life. The character is her spirit reincarnate on paper, immortalized for the world to know and love as I loved. My story has evolved around her, and she in turn is evolving with the story, which I have just as much passion for as I do for Rana. It is my heart and soul live in this story, and even if someone else could tell it better, they would not feel the way I do as the words hit the paper from my pen, appear on the screen through my fingertips. This is my story, and that’s just that.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.  This is one of the areas where I do the, “How many ways could this turn out?” kind of writing exercises. I work every possible response the characters could make at the situations I use in the storyline. That’s really it for that.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.  The changes and additions I’ve been making to the story have mainly consisted of challenges for the main character(s). Sometimes it’s for the sake of the challenge, sometimes it’s just to find out little nooks and crannies of the characters’ personality I haven’t yet found. Thinking about it a little more, I realize that the changes I’ve made have actually made things harder, not on myself, but on my characters. I’m thinking I’ve been trying to keep them safe in a way over the years, and have finally moved into the acceptance of making my characters experience the difficult aspects of life without my lightened touch.
  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. I couldn’t agree more. I keep every note I make I keep. If anything else, it shows the progress I’ve made, and allows me to compare ideas from then and now, to see which ideas were good or bad, and decide why (which isn’t the easiest thing, when the whole story and all the ideas to develop it are your own).
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining. This goes back to the last answer. Watching my development as a writer, as a storyline developer, etc. through my notes and my drafts really lets me get to know myself, pieces of myself that only comes out on the page. My poetry does the same, and allows me to put the worst of myself out in the open instead of bottled up inside. The work on my novel is the same, just more expansive.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. Haven’t really thought about this… Personally, I always find coincidence to be cliche in some way, especially when the characters know each other and just happen to show up in the same place at the same time to the detriment of one. Doubly especially when nothing actually comes of the coincidence at all.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How do you rearrange them into what you DO like? I can’t tell you HOW many times I’ve done this… That would be another whole blog post SERIES to cover them all.
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way? The fear and confusion I’ve been putting Rana through, making her so young during the fall of the Elaseim, has brought no end to ‘uncool’ reactions. It was an experiment that went quite right, and this is precisely what it was about.
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there. The fantastical aspects of Tolkien’s genius is where the essence of my story originated. I’m still not completely convinced that the novel is the only way this story can be told (as I see this movie running in my mind every time I think of any scene), but I’m sure that it feels great to write, and when I write, it feels so right.



2 thoughts on “22 Rules for Storytelling as Suggested by Pixar

  1. What a great idea, to walk through and see how these apply to your own writing. I have to say, I was surprised how helpful I found this list. It’s definitely something I’ll keep in my back pocket as I go through all the torturous steps of writing and editing 🙂

    • Thank you! I was surprised as well how helpful it ended up being. I don’t think the intent for these was to be a plug-in kind of situation, but it works really well! ^_^

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