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Things You Can Learn From Pixar’s 22 Story Basics – Part 1

Recently, Emma Coats [1] – a storyboard artist at Pixar – tweeted a bunch of tips for telling good narratives. They’ve gotten collected into a list of 22 [2] story basics (she has more if you check out her twitter [3]) and they’ve exploded all over the internet. kirkdent even suggested it over on our Suggestion Pot.

The tips are great for any type of narrative, and we’re all big fans of learning things about roleplaying from other mediums. So here is Emma’s list, with some analysis and lessons from Kurt [4] and I. We’ve split this into 2 articles because the list and gnome comments got a wee bit lengthy. So check back tomorrow for part 2.

#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.


8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Things You Can Learn From Pixar’s 22 Story Basics – Part 1"

#1 Comment By Orikes On June 14, 2012 @ 1:52 am

I hadn’t seen the Pixar Story Basics yet, but this is such a cool idea. Ever since I started GMing, I’ve felt there were lots of similarities between GMing and other forms of storytelling. They both require many of the same skill sets, but its important to know where the differences are and what works for one but doesn’t work for another. (For example, my story’s characters don’t come up with nearly as crazy ideas as my players do…)

Thanks for all the Pixar clips, by the way. All of them got me sniffly again, especially Up. 🙂

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On June 14, 2012 @ 7:38 am

[6] – Glad you like it. I’m always learning things up from video games, movies, and books that help me with my GMing. The pixar clips seemed the best, most legal way to illustrate things, plus they make me tear up a little too.

#3 Comment By Razjah On June 14, 2012 @ 7:59 am

I’m glad to see an article about putting together a story, that always seems to be my biggest struggle with a campaign. Well, that, and being unable to fully polish the ideas I have to be something I would consider good enough to run a game with.

I love number 10 in helping a GM in a new or unfamiliar genre. It can really help with a story, plot, or even single adventure.

Also love number 4, next time I GM I want to try using that framework for the adventure.

#4 Comment By mcmanlypants On June 14, 2012 @ 8:38 am

#10 and #11 are especially good. I have a non-gaming friend who has, nonetheless, read almost all the setting materials because he enjoys the background and setting information. I like to run plots past him for a sanity check before I run them and he’s good at asking questions about motivations and next steps for NPCs.

Another very serious recommendation: watch some episodes of MST3K. As often as not the things they mock about the movies they watch are creative pitfalls to which any creator is prone in any medium: unlikable characters, inexplicable situations, resolutions out of nowhere and countless other things that drive our consumers (the players) crazy but that the creator might not notice if they’re rushed or if they never sit down and express it all outside their own head prior to trying to run it.

#5 Comment By John Arcadian On June 14, 2012 @ 10:17 am

[7] – The game part of it is always pretty easy, but story can definitely be hard. The first one on tomorrow’s half of the list is what really got me. There is a huge benefit in the way she phrases it.

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

[8] – I’d never thought about MST3K that way, but that is an excellent point!

#6 Comment By kirkdent On June 14, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

Cool! Glad you guys were able to use my suggestion pot post for some articles! I look forward to part 2!

#7 Comment By clight101 On June 14, 2012 @ 10:25 pm

I really like all of these but I want to talk about #7 in specific. I think the advice in there is sound but instead of knowing your ending I would suggest knowing your BBEG’s end game.

If you understand what the BBEG’s plan is and how it will play out if the PC’s never interfere then you can see places the PC’s can interfere. Also knowing the BBEG’s end game will help you react as the players create trouble for the BBEG.

#8 Comment By Miri On June 15, 2012 @ 11:05 am

Ohmygod, putting it on paper DOES change everything. I once came up with what I thought was a really aweosme idea, with a capital I. I wrote it down. I realized it sucked. But then I sort of thought, “What if this guy was actually X?” and then “If he’s X, then that doesn’t make sence, but I can change it to Y…”

Turned into some pretty awesome stuff. Now, if I can just get the lizardman barbarian to stop chopping his way through the clues…

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[…] some analysis of those tips with Kurt Schneider and they broke the article in to two parts – part 1 here and part 2 here. Tons of great food for thought in both articles that I know *I* will be coming […]

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[…] Here is Part One. […]

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[…] some analysis of those tips with Kurt Schneider and they broke the article in to two parts – part 1 here and part 2 here. Tons of great food for thought in both articles that I know *I* will be coming […]