December 4, 2013

Love Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling? Download a Free eBook That Analyzes Each One

Pixar ebookWhen Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats tweeted out 22 storytelling tips, something interesting happened. It was as if the curtain was lifted to reveal the heart of a mysterious, magical, and inspiring player in filmmaking, and many screenwriters (I was one of them), treated this small collection of advice as a lost book of the storytelling bible. Stephan Vladimir Bugaj, who has spent 12 years writing and developing stories at Pixar, has now shared his eBook in which he expounds on each tip. Continue on for the link to the free download.

For those of you who have never read Pixar's 22 storytelling tips, go ahead and do that immediately. Here's a slideshow from Gavin McMahon of Make a Powerful Point that illustrates them:

In the eBook, entitled Pixar's 22 Rules of Story Analyzed, Bugaj breaks down Pixar's tips and heavily elaborates on them, offering his own (not Pixar's) analysis of the storytelling tools in 75 pages. In a blog post about his eBook, he says:

The eBook goes in-depth into all of the now famous "22 Rules of Story According To Pixar", drilling down into each one in order to make the advice as useful as possible to storytellers across all narrative disciplines.

With his permission, we share an excerpt which elaborates on "Rule 4" -- "Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___."

You can find similar but more expansive ideas along the same line in the writings of Syd Field, Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, Chris Vogler, John Truby, Lew Hunter, etc.

Each of their models is partitioned and phrased differently, and some are very formally rigorous while others are more flexible, but they are all saying the same basic thing:

A story has a setup, change through conflict, and resolution.

Understanding some model of basic story structure is crucial for all storytellers. Whether it’s this exact phrasing or not depends on how well it enables you to actually comprehend the principals.

Filling in the blanks will only get you so far; you need to study and internalize the plot and character dynamics that the model represents.

Unfortunately the strength of the story spine, its simplicity, is also its weakness:

It’s too simple for many uses.

It needs more depth to be a guide for narrative drama. With this in mind, another way to rephrase the story spine would be to say that a story has:

• A setup that introduces the characters and the world.
• Action in the normal, status quo world that establishes the baseline of the characters’ prior lives.
• An inciting incident that disrupts the status quo and poses the thematic question in the form of a decision the protagonist must make.
• A series of escalating events, triggered by the decision the protagonist makes in each preceding event, that build into a climax.
• A climax, and resolution.

He also includes a bonus chapter at the end of his eBook entitled "Bugja's Five Rules for Writers", which is incredibly helpful.

You can download the eBook here, and if you feel so inclined, you can donate to support Bugaj's further educational writing on his blog.

What do you think about Bugaj's eBook? Did his analysis help you understand Pixar's storytelling tips on a new level? Let us know in the comments.

[Pixar's Rule #4 image by Dino Ignacio]

Link: Pixar's 22 Rules of Story Analyzed download -- Stephan Vladimir Bugaj blog

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22 Comments

#3 and #5 are very relevant to me. Thanks!

December 1, 2013 at 5:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
director, producer, dp

link doesnt work

December 1, 2013 at 8:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Laurel

As an upstanding citizen, I have to make a quick suggestion--Rule #4 as stated here is actually inaccurate. It's missing a final seventh step: "And ever since that day _______". Brian McDonald is credited for circulating these seven steps, and, in his book "Invisible Ink," gives the full low-down of those seven magical steps. This is a good explanation of it all: http://aerogrammestudio.com/2013/03/22/the-story-spine-pixars-4th-rule-o... Apparently, Rule #4 was originally tweeted with only six steps, and now that's the rule that keeps getting passed along. The more you know.
When I read that Andrew Stanton (of WALL-E and Finding Nemo fame) credited McDonald's book with getting him past his writer's block, I ordered the book immediately. Having now read it, seriously dudes, the book is that good.

December 1, 2013 at 11:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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That formula comes from Kenn Adams, though Brian McDonald and Rebecca Stockley probably introduced it to folks at Pixar. Perhaps I'll correct the book at some point to add the "and ever since that day" addendum, though it's not very important (given my perspective on the "story spine" as a tool...)

December 10, 2013 at 1:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Every time I read these tips I am reminded of Mat Stone and Trey Parkers number one rule of storywriting (and one of the reasons they can churn out an animated show on a semi-live schedule):

The rule is simple:

"But's and Therefore's, NEVER 'And Then'!"

December 2, 2013 at 4:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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+1

And for those interested here's Trey and Matt going through it.

http://lockerz.com/u/20886016/decalz/9405573/matt_stone_and_trey_parker_...

December 2, 2013 at 9:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Grant

Can't seem to see that clip here in the UK. Any idea where else it could be found?

December 4, 2013 at 1:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Will Gilbey

Absolutely love that clip - essential viewing and food for thought for anyone that takes writing seriously.

December 2, 2013 at 9:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Totally appreciative of this (thank you, btw), BUT...

The translation (I am guessing it wasn't written in English originally), is quite poor. Lots of grammatical issues (and some misappropriated colloquialisms) keep this book from being something that I would use or recommend....

December 2, 2013 at 11:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Seth

Invisible Ink, Ink Spots, and Golden Theme by Brian Mcdonald is everything you need on storytelling. Well, it's a great resource. And free on iTunes.

Have to check this one...

December 2, 2013 at 12:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Is "Invisible Ink" free on Itunes too? I couldn't find it.

December 2, 2013 at 5:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Guy

Awesome resource. Thanks, man!

December 4, 2013 at 12:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Are there dialog related sites/links/advices? The story structure is good but ... oh, wait, I am a natural at it.

December 2, 2013 at 8:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

The genius of Pixar.. before Disney ruined everything!!!

December 3, 2013 at 7:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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December 4, 2013 at 8:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V you have the best articles my friend. Keep em coming.

December 4, 2013 at 8:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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August

Thanks, buddy :)

December 6, 2013 at 4:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

In their last few go-arounds, PIXAR's (now the head of all of Disney's Animation Department) guru and brainchild, John Lasseter, seems to have forgotten most of those rules.

Stale, flat, forgettable story telling that isn't as "subversively adult" and clever in their writing as past classics like Toy Story 1&2, Finding Nemo, etc. They're using modern Hollywood story telling rules (play it safe and play it "dumb"), not PIXAR's tried and true formula that keeps things fresh with great screenwriters.

What the hell happened?

December 6, 2013 at 3:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan H

So Pixar do have a formula after all :(

December 9, 2013 at 12:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Nope. Read the book. That myth is dispelled on the title page.

December 10, 2013 at 12:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Just found and will tear through. I'm curious to apply these principles to how they've approached films since this post happened, such as "Inside Out"

September 28, 2015 at 3:49PM

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Sean Voysey
Creative Director
206

I have always loved these "rules" and obviously Pixar is the gold standard of story. I actually incorporate a lot of these in my writing process - https://youtu.be/1tSKpwBww2g

September 29, 2015 at 11:08AM

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Cory Johnson
Producer/Entrepreneur
74