Storytelling is a craft, an art form that, once mastered, empowers the storyteller to bring their audience to places they’ve never even dreamed of.
The art of storytelling isn’t difficult, but like everything else, it requires practice.
A good mentor is helpful, too, which is why we picked up these 22 rules to up your storytelling game from the story champions at Pixar:
1. What is the most economical way to tell your story? What’s it’s essence? Use the answers to these to build out your story.
2. What would make you act the way you’re making your characters act? Identifying with your characters is an absolute must.
3. Exercise: take chunks of essential storyline out of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them to make it likable?
4. Coincidences that get characters into trouble are great, while coincidences to get them out of trouble is just cheating.
5. Story is testing, not refining. You have to know yourself & hone your ability to do your best work.
6. If it’s not working, let it go and move on. No work is ever wasted.
7. Give your audience a reason to cheer on a character. What are the stakes? What happens if they fail? Stack the odds against them, especially if you like them.
8. How would you feel if you were the character in this situation? Honesty gives credibility to the most unbelievable of circumstances.
9. What’s the belief at the heart of your story, the one it feeds off of? Why must you tell this story specifically?
10. Give your characters opinions or your audience death by boredom.
11. Discount mostly what first comes to mind. The predictable stuff is no fun. Leave yourself room to surprise yourself.
12. Putting it on paper gives you opportunity to fix it. If it stays moored in your head, a perfect idea, it’ll never help anyone.
13. Pull apart stories that you like: what you like in them is a part of you, and you have to recognize that before you use it.
14. If you get stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen. Stories have a way of unsticking themselves when you limit their options.
15. Finish your story, even if it isn’t perfect. In an ideal world you can do both; in this world, you may have to pick between the two. Always finish it.
16. Figure out your ending before you figure out the middle of your story. It gives you something to aim for.
17. You know what your characters are good at; throw the polar opposite at them. How do they react? Challenge them to see how they deal.
18. Simplify, focus, hop over detours, combine characters. You may feel that you’re losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free.
19. Use a framework to get down the basics. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
20. Trying for theme is helpful, but you won’t see what it is until you get to the end. Now go back and rewrite.
21. What is interesting to an audience is often very different than what is interesting as a writer. Side with your audience, not yourself.
22. Admire your characters more for trying than for being successful.
Now, go forth and write!