When 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]