Writing Excuses 7.48: Pixar Rules for Writing a Compelling Story

A while back one of the former storyboard artists at Pixar, Emma Coats, (@lawnrocket on Twitter) started tweeting the “22 Pixar Storytelling Rules” And now the cast of Writing Excuses reviews them, and offers some applications.

These rules cover character development, plot structure, process, and much more. No, we weren’t able to give them all deep coverage, but this serves as a great refresher on lots of things we’ve covered in the past.


“The Multi-Tentacled Space Goat cannot come and save us again.”

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by Scott Brick

12 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.48: Pixar Rules for Writing a Compelling Story”

  1. Ah….so _that’s_ why certain incompetent characters piss me off while others are interesting. Some books launch straight into the try/fail sequences and try to use them to establish the character. Unless you establish that the character is capable in some way, they just seem utterly pathetic when they’re going through the try/fail cycles and when the success finally happens it’s somewhat jarring. The first Dresden File novel, Storm Front, kinda does this (though the character was charismatic enough for me to like him anyway):

    *Spoilers for those who haven’t read Storm Front:*

    We know Dresden is a mage PI, but he’s more or less bankrupt. He uses a memory repository loaded with other people’s knowledge to help him with potion making. When he ends up making two potions, he ends up stressing excessively about possibly mixing them up (though given their effects, I guess I would, too). He’s borderline in the wizard community as to whether or not he needs to be executed (though why is never fully explained). He fails to recognize the scorpion totem as a danger or the significance of the storms until it’s nearly too late. Most times he’s placed in direct peril, he fumbles his way through and barely survives, draining his magical items with useful combat abilities in the process. In short, he never really demonstrates that he’s good at anything through most of the book. In the last couple of scenes, once he finally pulls everything together, he suddenly becomes awesome, interrupts the magic ritual intended to kill him, wrests away control of the antagonist’s pet demon, and turns his enemy’s weapons on him, all the while adhering to a rather stringent code of laws set down by the leaders of the wizard community.

    As I said, in Dresden’s case, I liked him anyway (and first publications are often a little rough, anyway). The cases where I didn’t are books that I didn’t complete and don’t remember.

  2. Dear Writing Excuses Quartet –

    It’s almost 9:30 p.m. and I should be doing homework right now. This was a fantastic cast and I really appreciate you sharing the information of the 22 Pixar tips to better writing. I would like to comment on my two favorites.
    The first has to do with finishing. The Pixar tip said something about just finish the novel first and if it doesn’t work, oh well. I really enjoyed Mary’s contribution in that you should shoot for 100%, but be happy with 80%. My grandfather would echo that with shoot for the stars and if you hit the moon, so what? This is terrific advice. I’ve been writing now for the better part of four years and I think the advice on just encouraging writers to finish is some of the best.
    To go right along with that is the idea of putting it on paper. What fantastic advice. Nothing can happen do it if it just stays in your head. Einstein once remarked, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Fix it later. That’s one of the tenants of NaNoWriMo – just encouraging those out there to put it down and not worry about making it pretty or if it will suck or whatever – just get it down.
    Thank you for the cast. The cherry on top was Mary’s use of the word malleable, and the text message sound of someone’s iPhone toward the end of the cast. Brandon’s writing prompt was enjoyable as well. Keep it up.

  3. While I’ve learned the hard way that writing rules are usually more like “guidelines”, her 22 “rules” are excellent guidelines. #10 (Take apart what you love to read to see how it works) and #11 (Get it on paper so you can start fixing it) strike me as almost essential. #11 in particular is important whether you are an outliner or a discovery writer.

    Thanks for an especially insightful podcast!

    BTW, iO9 listed her 22 rules last June for anyone who wants a handy list: http://io9.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar

  4. I would definitely appreciate if there’s a list of your opinions on this because sometimes it’s hard to visualize the list.

  5. Confession; I really want you to start a cafepress writing excuses store just so I can buy a shirt that says “the multi-tentacled space goat cannot save us… again.”

  6. Fantastic episode! Thank you all! And if you ever feel like doing the other 11, I’d definitely love to hear your thoughts!

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