Rule #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.

The 14th writing rule in Pixar’s 22 Storytelling Rules is more of a statement of fact and not a writing tip or rule (remember, I’m using the term ‘rule’ rather loosely here as I’m sure Pixar intended). Regardless of whether this is a rule of grammar or content, this probably should have been the first. Without a heart, your story is dead. It meanders. It scampers down loopholes, and, in the end, confuses your audience.

A good test of whether you know the heart of your story is to do the old pitching test. You know what I mean, right?

When pitching your story to agents/publishers/readers (or the elevator), you often have a limited amount of time and/or space. An agent or publisher wants to get the gist of your story in two pages (the much dreaded 2-page synopsis), and sometimes in only one sentence.

I’ve tried the exercise of whittling down a summary of my novel to two pages, then one page, then half a page, then one paragraph. And after all that, down to one measly sentence. It is hard, my friends. Easier to start with one sentence and build from there.

So, tell me, what is the heart of your story?


6 thoughts on “Rule #14

  1. Wow… umm. The heart of my novel is how destiny is forced upon us and we must face it or break. Taking responsibility? Or in the immortal words of Dumbledore “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

    I’m always fascinated by that as a concept, personally.

  2. Thanks for the post! I love these 🙂

    This rule always struck me as a little awkward, though. I guess as long as it is phrased as, what is the story’s theme, it’s all good. But am I supposed to believe that every single Pixar movie or every A. C. Clarke novel told a story that was “burning” within the writer? That seems to be a bit high for a bar, at least after you have a few stories under your belt.

    Maybe it’s better advice for an early writer and perhaps that’s part of the reasons for the second novel slump- the first book was on a theme dear to their heart, the follow-on, not so much (although I think that has more to do with the author being rushed by the publisher for their second novel).

    As to your question, my current novel has the theme, “what price will you pay for power”. I’m having trouble articulating the theme for my current short story but it’s something like, “can dedication to family keep a warrior from the very family he wants to honor?”

    1. I am always amazed how other people can sum up their story in one pithy sentence. No matter how hard it is, I think it is essential – especially the longer we write. I think you may be wrong about every single Pixar movie or every single Clarke novel. The thing is, if the story doesn’t have a good, central theme – who would watch/read it? I do agree that they may not get it right, and thus fail.

      Sounds like you got a good one for your novel, and a pretty good one for your short. I’m gonna try to be more disciplined with my new stories and make sure I come up with the “heart” first (or, at least, try to). Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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