Pixar’s 22 rules for a good story (how do they fit your organization?)

July 30, 2012

Pixar logo, with flourishes

From The Pixar Touch, a set of rules for writing a good story to translate to the screen.

Good rules to keep in mind for composition of stories in English, no?  Good rules of writing to keep in mind for any essay writing.

Where else do these rules apply?

Pixar story rules (one version)

Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 03:39PM

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#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.

Presumably she’ll have more to come. Also, watch for her personal side project, a science-fiction short called Horizon, to come to a festival near you.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Farnam Street, who adds:

Still curious?Watch as Kurt Vonnegut explains the different shapes that stories can take.

Where else can you use this?

Consider the project you’ve got to lead, with one person from each department in your company.  What is your vision (the hackneyed but apt word) for how the project ends up?  Storyboard it — and keep in mind these 22 rules.  What’s the essence of your view of the project?  Can you tell it in a minute?  Get the story down to 30 seconds.  What are the stakes, if you get this project done well?  What are the stakes if you fail?   Everybody on the team knows the stakes?  Is your plan on paper?  Have you revised it?

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Quote of the moment: Hemingway, writers need “shock-proof, [excrement] detector”

July 30, 2012

Ernest Hemingway and cat Cristobal, Cuba; JFK Library collection

Ernest Hemingway with his cat, Cristobal, at his home, Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba.  Date unknown (circa 1955?) Photo from Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. (Copyright status unknown)

Was Ernest Hemingway the greatest writer in English of the 20th century?  Fortunately we don’t have to choose.  We can read Hemingway, and Faulkner (with whom he had a few bones to pick), and Hammett, and Parker, and Feynman, and Vonnegut, Bellow, Morrison, dos Passos,  Shaw, Kipling, Ford, Conrad and a dozen more, enjoying each for the gifts she or he demonstrated so well on a page.

Any way you stack it, though, Hemingway was a great one.

In an interview with George Plimpton, published in the Paris Review in 1958, Hemingway talked about what it takes to be a great writer.  Maybe it’s something one needs to be born with:

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.

If we could make a machine to substitute for that, a solid-gold, built-in, shock-proof [excrement] detector, we could improve writing, politics, government, business, and a hundred other fields of endeavor.

If we had a just and appropriately skeptical world, everyone would have one, a “solid gold, built-in, shock-proof [excrement] detector.”

What an enormous If.

Also at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:


Shorter Anthony Watts: Ignore cities, discount all NOAA sites that show warming, and global warming doesn’t look so bad

July 30, 2012

Since he prefers a Kim Jong Il-style commenter policy –“only those who flatter the Premier need comment” — Anthony Watts‘s site doesn’t get the pleasure of my visits much, anymore.  Consequently I missed the announcement he made last week that he was “suspending” his blog, at least temporarily, until some great news came out.

English: Anthony Watts, June, 2010. Speaking i...

Anthony Watts, June, 2010. Speaking in Gold Coast, Australia, on a tour searching to find some place on Earth not affected by global warming. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Now the great news is out.  I think.  Watts may have been right to suspend blogging.  He should have kept the suspension longer.

Watts says NOAA‘s temperature measurement in the U.S. is way off, and that if we ignore all the cities, and if we ignore sites that show the greatest increases in temperature over the past century or so, global warming doesn’t look so bad.

Watts said he is the lead author on a new paper questioning all warming calculations:

This pre-publication draft paper, titled An area and distance weighted analysis of the impacts of station exposure on the U.S. Historical Climatology Network temperatures and temperature trends, is co-authored by Anthony Watts of California, Evan Jones of New York, Stephen McIntyre of Toronto, Canada, and Dr. John R. Christy from the Department of Atmospheric Science, University of Alabama, Huntsville, is to be submitted for publication.

Wait a minute.  “Prepublication draft paper?”  ” . . . to be submitted for publication?”

Yes, Dear Reader, that claxon you hear is your and my Hemingway III Solid Gold [Excrement] Detectors™ going off.  It may be a false alarm, but still — isn’t this how bogus science is done, isn’t this what Robert Park warns us about?  Indeed, in the Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science, Park says to pay attention to key indicators:  “1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.”  It is, indeed, a press release from Watts, about a paper he hopes to get through the peer review process at some point in the future — but it has not yet been pitched to the science journals.  (Yes, that’s also one of the Seven Warning Signs of Bogus History . . . one discipline at a time, please.)

What’s the rush?  Oh:  Tuesday, July 31, is the deadline for peer reviewed papers to be submitted to the international agency studying climate change, the Internatioinal  (IPCC), for consideration and inclusion in the next report.

Same old stuff, new day.  Watts has been arguing for years that NOAA’s temperature measurements err, but after the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures (BEST) Project determined that warming exists, even using Watts’s modified measurements and accounting for his claimed errors, some of us hoped Watts might turn to blogging about science, instead.

No, Watts turned to finding a hint of a methodology that might support his preconceived notions.  He found one.

So, Watts’s big announcement is that he’s found a methdology which favors his criticisms of NOAA; so we should ignore temperature readings from cities, because cities are hot, and we should ignore temperature readings from suburbs of cities, because suburbs are warm; and if we do that, then warming in the U.S. doesn’t look so bad.

Were I allowed to ask questions at Watts’s blog, I’d ask why we should ignore warming in cities, because are they not part of the planet?  Oh, well.

The Twitter version:

Watts: Ignore city temps (hot!) and ‘burbs (warm!), temps on farms don’t show so much global warming!  Oops – did we say that before?

Anthony, how about you suspend your blog until you get the paper accepted at a good journal?  Make sure you got the numbers right . . .

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