Since my brother has come up from Georgia to spend time with his dear sister, I apologize if this blog post is lacking. I wasn’t expecting to get any time to write this though, so I’m glad that I’m able to write anything at all.
Anyway, a couple of years ago (Wow, time flies) a friend of mine drew my attention to this article: http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog/2011/5/15/pixar-story-rules-one-version.html. It’s one of the lists of the Pixar story building rules, and I truly enjoyed reading it when she showed it to me. I’ve decided to list and talk about my five favorites. I’m also sorry that these are not in the same order as they appear on the list. It bothers me too, but it’s necessary.
#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.
This is great advice which highlights why it’s so important as a writer to read. Whenever someone is unable to tell me what they liked about something, I consider it a complete disaster. “I just do” is not a appropriate answer. Do you like description? Do you prefer a plainer style? Do you like first person narration? Do you like third person?
but I would also say that it’s important to pull apart the stories that you don’t like. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned far more from the mistakes that I’ve made than when I lucked into a success. If you have a story (probably one that you had to read for school) that you hated, think to yourself, why you hated it? Was the character uninteresting? What would have made him more credible? Was the pacing off? What could have improved it? Does present tense writing make you want to shiv the author? Why?
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
Yes, give your characters opinions. Map out their ethics (if they have them). Make them passionate about something. An apathetic character is a boring character. If they don’t care, why should we? I don’t want to see the pushover. The pushover has no reason for conflict, because the pushover never fights. And for that matter, give your characters flaws. Even better, give them fatal flaws that you can exploit later.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
I picked this one because I once saw a movie where two characters were fighting in a hospital. All of a sudden, one character turns around and conveniently grabs a hammer, attacked the other with it, and crashed out the window with it. End scene. My problem with it? They were in a hospital. Where the hell did they get a hammer? It just happened to be sitting there. Not all examples of cheating with coincidences are quite this obvious, but the result is the same. My disbelief can only be suspended a certain amount.
#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.
I had to rewrite Dragon Wingéd in a similar fashion. It wasn’t until I was at the end that I made this huge realization which resulted in rewriting almost half of it. You can try your best to control where things go, but I find it’s best (at least for me) to go with the flow, and fix it later.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. & #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.
These two rules have a lot to do with one another. So many authors and writers I know are married to their material and won’t make changes even if it’s not working. I have come to accept that not every word that I write is gold. Yes, some of it is, and there can be some great funny stuff that is embedded in a scene that just isn’t right. I have to let it go and so do you. Maybe I can bring some of the good stuff into a different scene, but it’s okay if I can’t. The story must come before my ego of having written a fantastic one-liner or the perfect description of a tropical jungle. It’s not right; it has to go. It’s gratutious; it has to go. This is the rule that I now live by.
So there you have it. What are you favorite Pixar rules? Are there other writing rules that you follow? Let me know in the comments.