The 22 rules for telling a story (Pixar or almost)
Rules 1 to 5
Hello to all. This week, I’m going to continue to talk about character and scenario. This is a moment that I hesitate to post this article because these 22 rules you can find them everywhere on the net…and then I said to myself that maybe some of you had never heard of. That’s why I changed my mind and why I deliver to you today these 22 rules that are, for the most part, the rules of common sense. I wanted you to deliver a blow, but I’m shooting now for a big series and I lack of time. So here are the first 2 rules.
In a first step, I’ll explain why I put Pixar in parentheses. By doing some research you will see that these 22 rules are named : The 22 rules to write a story according to pixar…in truth this is not entirely accurate, these are not rules that Pixar adopted to the letter or used as a sacred holy religion, these are just observations that members of Pixar have done, and they have established these rules.
I’m going to put a link to a free E-book (but in English), written by Stephen Vladimir Bugaj, who was writer/ director for Pixar. As on his website, he allows everybody to download and to talk about his E-book. I put you the link here : Download the E-book
You can also go to the website of Stéphane Vladimir Bugdaj here (in English).
For those who do not speak English here is the summary of the 22 rules with additions in more ;o) :
1) admiration of the character for what he is trying to do and not for what he manages to do.
The hero’s journey and the journey of initiation are there to tell of the transformation of your characters. We love to see them fight and extricate themselves from all sorts of situations and in the background regardless of if they manage to pass it successfully or not for all situations. The trap into which fall many of the writers and apprentice screenwriters is that they attach a lot to their characters and have a tendency ” to facilitate their job “ and do not dare to really put them in real trouble or hurt them. As I have said for the past two weeks, it is the conflict and the attraction that makes the story advance and is interesting. The empathy and identification that we can feel for our characters to do with the fact that they are credible, but above all to their ability to cope with complicated situations.
If you watch a movie where the hero passes all the challenges and obstacles that stand in front of him and although there was a strong chance that you (the public) you désintéressiez of the story.
Therefore, it is important to have a good balance between the achievements of your heroes and defeats. It is not necessary that your heroes to be perfect. This will allow to generate empathy and identification to the public it is a character close to them. Most of the time people have an image of themselves, rather, ” normal “, or even banal. They see especially their weak points, and look at the long road ahead rather than their strengths. A character like that will win a wider acceptance of the viewer(s).
This kind of character is classic : It is everyman who tries to do what only people with “special” can do.
There are always counter examples : John Mclane and Indiana Jones that are always at the heart of the action are also appreciated because they are sensitive, vulnerable, either physically or emotionally.
It is in this case of figure that the writers must ask themselves if their hero must at all costs be admired ?
The answer is no ! It is especially necessary for the character to be interesting, attractive, rather, it is admired. It is for this that you can create a hero unsympathetic, despicable etc…It is also in this context that a character who fails more than it succeeds becomes interesting.
And with the super-heroes ? They have the habit of success and that everything is easy for them. That is why the story leads them to protect, to help, to do something very important like saving the world. Moreover, the goal of the villain in these stories is to simply upset the balance. And create the conflict.
Has every conflict, every difficult passage, the hero made his way, he turns ! (This is the arc of a transformation that I was talking about last week).
You can use this principle by telling a story where your hero has no direct conflict. That is to say that it is his own life which becomes the source of her problems. However, this approach is rather rarely used.
2) Write for your audience and not for you
Why is something, a subject or a theme of interest to you would be not for the public ? It is important that the scriptwriters have fun, and write stories that they like. Otherwise it is not used for large thing to write.
This question raises in fact a real issue. Because, deep down, all writers write the stories that interest them and that will be interesting for the public. But what you need to keep in mind this is for the scenario ?! That is to say, who will read the scenario and not who will see the film made.
For the most part you write a spec-script, that is to say, an original scenario and not a scenario controlled by a producer. And if you want to sign an option or sell your screenplay, it will have to be careful not to use language too literary, for example, or do the stage directions/ descriptions that are too long or romantic or even talking too much about your character in voice-over rather than take action.
On the other hand, if you write a scenario you want to achieve and produce it yourself, you can allow yourself greater freedom on the presentation or on the content. But don’t forget that your story will be read by the technical team, the actors, and that it must be understood by everybody so that you can find what you have written on the screen. If you can’t explain your ideas simply is that you will not be able to transform them into images.
On the other hand if you turn a film with a small budget, or no budget, you have to go all out. This is the time to test things out, plans etc…it should be your lab, your field of play. It is through this training that you will be able to improve and sometimes get results which are quite impressive.
If your goal is to write a script and find a production, a pro team, a distributor, etc…then it will be necessary to write your scenario as it should be : presentation, short description, and visual, having a good structure, etc…
In short it is necessary to go to the essential.
A error what do the writers (the young writers) this is to want to do too much, be too demonstrative as in the example below :
“He looked as if he was saying : How can you think that of me after all these years ?”
This is not really the form that need to be adopted in a scenario, because a simple glance can not say much on this as think of the character. So you have to be careful of what you want to spend and what will be possible for your actor. You say that your actors are going to have to pass the intentions that you have written in your scenario, and this is going to be difficult if your information is in the subjective rather than in the action and does not use the off-screen voice that very rarely.
Never forget that the purpose of a writer, beyond that of creating a story and characters, it is to create a ” tool “ that will allow the director and his team to create images. The more your way of writing is going to be subjective and not demonstrative at least your scenario can be turned into a movie.
Writing a scenario is the first stone of team work and artistic process.
3) Your story evolves up to the end of the writing, and well after.
It is not necessary to think that once your first draft is completed that the adventure of writing stops there. Moreover, it is the opposite. It is necessary to think that, once your story is finished and well it will have to rewrite it. As the story evolves during the writing and after. It is important to arrive at the first draft of your scenario, because once this is done, your scenario will not be imaginary, it will be lying on the paper, it will be real and from this moment on you will be able to rework it.
It would be crazy to also begin to write without a theme and without knowing the end of your story. If you do decide to begin your story without knowing the end, you can expect to pay the price ! what does it mean ? Build a story gradually by trial and error without having of cape town offers you plenty of possibilities, but you will spend more time with a cape ! You may you lose more than once, d’to be blocked, and finally just give up.
Start timer. To start by the end to arrive at the beginning. And let’s be agreed, this is not because you know where you go that this does not prevent you from taking, to test other tracks. The markup, the structure is not a hindrance to your imagination.
Planned and structured, your scenario will allow you to clarify your idea and maybe discover a new idea hidden inside your story. All this will allow you to be able to rewrite more quickly, more clearly and more effectively to arrive at your final scenario.
This is due to lack of structuring and planning that we hear, the young writers, and sometimes the less young, to say :
“Damn ! It is difficult to write, I thought that it was sufficient to write down my ideas on paper, that people would love my stories and that I would make of course money ! “
The thing is, that it should not be lost in the analysis of your topic. Sometimes you need to just write.
Today, you have at your disposal many methods known and recognized invented by ” the gurus “ of the film industry, who boast of having an approach that is highly theoretical writing of a scenario. It is obvious that their methods can be of great value provided that you find one that suits you but also one that allows you to take ownership of this method, to convert it so that it fits you properly. This is the method that must adapt and not the opposite depending on the story you have to tell.
All of these methodologies, and all of the writing process they are there for only one purpose : to tell a story. Do not spend too much time to fine tune or try to get the sequences perfect because it is a waste of time especially if you are writing your first draft. You’ll have plenty of time after this step to improve them.
Moreover, you can very well write your first draft without worrying about anything. On the other hand once it is completed you can begin to improve the characterization of your characters, the phases of exposure, the events, the preparations and payments etc…
What you must remember is that writing a script is before all of the feeling. If you know your theme, your structure is good, what matters most are the emotions the viewer feels. Once you have chosen your method, your structure, and each time you rewrite (improve) your scenario, you must keep in mind that the most important are the emotions and why the viewers will come to see your film.
4) The structure of your scenario
Model structure :
There was a time,…..
This is why,….
This is why,….
This model structure is called the ” Story spine “. It is an exercise pretty effective and a great solution to develop and structure ideas in a spontaneous way and to be fairly accurate. You will have understood that this structure simply allows to simplify what you want to tell. As you can see this structure includes an ” evolution “. We feel that the character of this structure (his life) is going to be upset and that he will need to get by (or not). But the state in which it will be in the beginning will have nothing to do with what he will have at the end.
We are moving from an old world to a new world.
This is neither more nor less than the structure of Campbell, Truby, Vogler, Mckee , etc… They explain it all differently, but in essence, it is exactly this structure.
All the stories leave d’a starting situation. Then come the conflict and the character development in this conflict that ends with the resolution of this conflict and the transformation of the hero.
Once again, it is important to understand the structure but do not follow blindly these principles. Sometimes it is necessary to know how to use it to serve your story. It must not just fill in the boxes and then move on to the next to create your story. You need to understand the mechanics to properly use it. This sometimes involves moving the structure, the overhaul.
The story spine is not enough to tell a story encompassing all the drama that a scenario needs.
You can well imagine that this model needs to be thorough and it must contain several fundamental points to be complete, such as :
- The definition of a set of characters, the context and the universe in which they evolve.
- A world that is ” ordinary,” where history begins, that is to say, without conflict, without problems, in short, a world which lays the foundations of the universe in which your character evolves.
- A triggering element that comes to disrupt this world and the lives of the characters.
- Conflicts,and adventures that the hero must overcome. The success or failure depends on the rest of the story. It is therefore necessary to ask how it is going to survive all this. All of these moments are preparing for the hero (and the viewer) to the climax
- The climax and the denouement of the story
It is important to take into account that the conflict and the events should be more and more difficult over the course of history. It is necessary that there is ” a higher bid,” a graduation of obstacles for the hero.
Here is an example of a Story spine :
- There once was a baker who made pies .All day, people came to his bakery to buy his pies. One day, nobody came. This is why it decided to lower the price of its pies. This is why people returned more many to buy his pies. This is why he could not provide orders. That is why he recruited new employees for the help. This is why the production of pies grew until, finally, the baker was at the head of the largest corporation of pies in the country.
This example shows that the Story spine makes the stories flat. Because at the bottom there is no power or tick obstacles. In short, there is really no drama and most importantly there is no arc of a transformation of the main character : The baker. It does not…this makes the story even more uninteresting.
Without heroes, or characters who live in conflict, ups and downs, victories and defeats , if there is not a dynamic and profound changes…in short there is no story because no interest.
Actually, the story spine is interesting to pick up new concepts or starting a rapid development of a story, but not for use as a single structure. To be more clear, the Story Spine is a good solution for your pitching but that is all.
If you want to get into the writing of a scenario, it is necessary to rely on models of the “gurus” of which I spoke to you just now.
5) Simplify your story and your characters
It is a rule quite difficult as apprentices, writers, and writers are struggling to apply : Simplify ! Remove from the characters, to avoid too much to explain or mix several characters into one is not easy. You have the impression of losing the content and the value… when in fact, you you free.
But you’re right, simplify it is to remove the content ! Besides, this is a concept or a precept known to the authors for a very long time, well before the time of the writer William Faulkner in the sentence : “Kill your darlinds” which means ” kill what you love “.
You must in all conscience the sacrifice of sequences, figures and elements of your story that you find interesting in the optics to remove what clutters the story and make it more understandable for the spectators.
In short, you will need to remove the material, even if you know the sequences and the characters that you ‘re going to have to remove are extraordinary. Because you need to make the difference between which work just one/ a very good sequence but the background brings nothing to the plot, breaks the rhythm and adds unnecessary to the story.
Of course this is the same thing for the characters ! If you see that the two characters who interact with your hero bring nothing more the a and the other to your character then it may be that there is a character, too. In this case it is necessary to simply combine them. Don’t forget that a scenario should be concise.
It is necessary that every new sequence and every new character you bring to the viewer (and history) new information and push forward the all.
That’s it for this article on “The rules of writing at pixar”, which means a lot for me.
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Has next Sunday.
Here are other articles to help you create your characters and write your scenarios
How to find a name for your characters
How to give emotion to your characters
Here’s how to create your main and secondary characters
How to master the identification with the characters
How to create your sheets of characters
Introduction to the adaptation of a book Part 1 and 2
The importance of the sequences of the daily life in your scenario
The point-of-view narrative
How long is a short film !
10 steps to write a film