Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling (and what they mean for corporate communicators)

By Will Hardie

Once upon a time there was a bored and lonely PR writer. Every day, day after day, she typed up tedious corporate speeches and press releases. She found joy in life only on her train ride home, when she would fire up a Pixar movie and immerse her mind in the raucous world of Nemo or Monsters Inc. One day, she sat at her desk staring blankly at a page titled “CEO talking points v.15”.  Somewhere deep in her frustrated brain, a fuse blew. Her eyes glazed over, her hands moved over the keyboard, and the two sides of her mind came together. Six magical words flowed onto the screen: “Let me tell you a story…”. Because of this, the CEO’s speech was filled with feeling and colour and narrative tension. The audience loved it. Because of this, the writer got a smile, a raise, and the inspiration to weave human stories into everything she wrote. Until finally, everyone understood the most important lesson: everything that matters in life is a story.

Storytelling is a joy. Stories add impact to every kind of professional communication, from copy-writing to public speaking and media interviews. A little lateral thinking can transform a dry idea into an engaging human narrative that resonates with an audience. Stories capture attention. Stories make ideas stick.

So where to start? Learn from the masters at Pixar, whose stories have captured the imagination of a generation. Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats has tweeted 22 principles of storytelling that all of us can use.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#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 v. different.

#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.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#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.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#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.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Via gizmodo.

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This article draws on the ISOC knowledge base for Media Training, Writing and Public Speaking and Presentation Training.


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