Howdy Folks,

I thought I’d start out the new year with some much-needed rules. You all have gone rampant lately, and if I don’t whip you hooligans into shape, who will?

Now, before you all get defensive about it, when I say ‘rules’, I really mean ‘guidelines’. I think anyone who comes up with any set of rules know that there are always exceptions, and sometimes it is even better to ignore those rules. But, for now, let’s play along and see what the folks at Pixar like to use as storytelling rules, ahem!, I mean, guidelines.

If you’ve ever seen the documentary about Pixar, called The Pixar Story, then you know that though Pixar’s staff get to do a lot of fun stuff, they are also very dedicated to the craft of storytelling. So much so, that some would say they have perfected the craft, able to produce great stories time and time again. I’m sure there are some Pixar stories that do not resonate with everyone, but you have to admit, they seem to have a successful formula.

I recently saw Brave in the theater.

By myself.

Actually, I forced my husband to go with me, but he fell asleep a quarter of the way in. So, really, I watched it by myself.

I didn’t go there with my nephew or niece.

I didn’t go there because I had to watch it to appease a younger member in my family.

I went because I love Pixar films. And I knew I’d love Brave. And I did.

“Why?” you might ask. “Why would a grown woman go to watch an animation for pre-adolescent girls?”

Well, we won’t go into what my husband thinks of my maturity level, but suffice to say that the film made me laugh out loud, cry, and hope. Very few movies manage to do that.

To salvage my reputation (I have a reputation?), I’ll also interject that I saw Looper this past year, and loved it, too.

Anyway, the point is that I felt Pixar (along with Disney) created a wonderful story about a girl realizing that listening to her mom might not be a bad thing. And she was a mean shot.

After watching Brave, when I left that theater, a thought skittered across my mind: How can I write stories like that? But like a gnat, my mind moved on to other things and dinner beckoned. I soon forgot about that thought, and went about my life as I did before.

In the later half of 2012, I finished up my novel and submitted it to an editor. She informed me that my manuscript needed another re-write. I had, yet again, failed to write a convincing novel. Soon after that, a writer friend of mine, Jonathon Wagner, forwarded this link to me.

The wonderful folks at PB & J Publishing put together a fun graphic summarizing the 22 rules of story telling by Pixar’s storyboard artist Emma Coats.

If you click on the link and read through all the ‘rules’, you’ll recognize a lot of them. Some of them will sound like a lot of work (because they are), and others you’ll probably exhale a sigh of relief at – knowing that, oh, maybe you are doing at least one thing right. Whether you agree with them or not, you have to admit that these “rules” are nothing new. I know my writing coach did her best to show me how to change my writing so that it fell more inline with guidelines like those offered by Pixar. The fact is, these, and other rules, simply lay the ground work for good storytelling.

So, rather than hash out another revision of my novel that will simply fail again, I decided to consider each of these 22 rules with my novel (or any short story) in mind, and do so in a blog post for each rule. The hope is through hard work and perseverance, my stories will shine through.

And maybe yours will, too. Watch for my 22 rule review posts to be posted on the occasional Wednesday.

(FYI – I’ll be keeping a more relaxed schedule this year, since my last schedule didn’t last).



37 thoughts on “Rules

  1. That’s … wonderful. I think I need to print that and have it in front of me at all times.

    Nothing wrong with loving Disney as a grown-up! I haven’t seen Brave yet, but I will – and Finding Nemo and Toy Story and Monsters Inc are some of my very favorite movies.

    1. That reminds me – I need to re-watch Finding Nemo! In 3D! I’ll have to check if that is still out.

      I’m glad to know I am not the only adult in love with those movies. 🙂

  2. Great idea doing the “rules” as posts one by one. I can’t wait to see what you have to say about them.

    I finally got to see Brave over the last few days, once with the girls (not the best for focused viewing) and then a second time with the whole family (got to love rentals). It really is a very well done film as you would expect from Pixar.

      1. The oldest liked it a lot (10) the middle didn’t like the scary parts (6) and the little one just thought it was funny (2.5)

      2. Ah, I don’t even remember the scary parts, but now that you mention it, there was the whole ghost thing in the ruins. I completely forgot about that bit.

        Her brothers were funny. They cracked me up. I wish they had had more stage time. But I guess ya gotta cut something.

        Thanks for answering my question.

      3. Mardu(?) the big nasty evil bear was the bigger problem. To be honest the wisps didn’t seem to bother her, we did try to figure out what they were saying.

      4. I liked the wisps. I thought of them more as cute and maybe warning of danger, but not dangerous.

        And, yes, Mor’du was scary.

      5. My recollection is the myths have the wisps as being more mischievous spirits. not automatically dangerous but could be since what they lead you to could be dangerous.

      6. Correct. That’s mine, too. They did make them look awfully cute though, so that dangerous part was definitely underplayed.

      7. Oh I don’t know, I think it is there the subtext. Like when the wisps are leading the characters along and you see Mar’du in the foreground watching them. It seemed to have lead them into the path of the bear as well as to their destination.

      8. Hmm, maybe I should re-watch it. I’m sure there are things I missed the first time round. There’s probably tons of stuff I could learn by doing that.

      9. Yeah I caught a bunch of details on the second pass. One think I like about most Pixar movies is that there are tons of small details you can find if you watch for them.

        BTW did you know that the canyon in the opening sequence of Toy Story 2 was a modified render of the creek bed in Bugs Life?

      10. No, I didn’t. But I would think they’d re-use a lot of stuff. I can’t imagine how much work goes into just one of those scenes. To be only used only once would be a shame.

      11. The floating rocks were an accident, when they changed one of the height variables to make it more like a canyon those rocks which had been on the ground were controlled by a separate value. They saw the test render and were like ‘that looks cool! keep it!’

        got to love dvd extras and commentary tracks.

  3. I love these rules. And I’ve always respected Pixar’s story telling ability. The one about having the ending first really resonates with me as does the way to get unstuck (do something unexpected).

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Yes. I need to pound in that one about having the ending figured out. I think that’s one of my major failings. I never can quite figure out how to end my stories – even after I outline! Not a good sign…

    1. Ha! Maybe you should. No joke. You do have a flair for tearing apart films.

      Interestingly, I don’t. Maybe I should start…

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

    1. Ug. Yes. It is hard just sitting up in a chair, but I think I am on the mend. I took a shower this morning. A small step towards recovery. 🙂

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