Awhile back, a former story artist at Pixar Animation Studios, Emma Coats, tweeted out on Pixar’s concrete “story basics.” This isn’t only a great guide for aspiring screenwriters—it’s also a great resource for writers of fiction and non-fiction since it discusses the basic and essential elements of story-telling.

I mean, think about it: Seven out of 14 Pixar films have been nominated for Best Screenplay at the Oscars, the company has also had 14 box-office hits, and it now seen as one of the best film studios on the planet. Clearly they are doing something right.


While it really comes down a to a great story idea, the way you craft it can mean the difference between having a bevy of devoted readers, to a “meh” review on Goodreads.

The list detailed 22 pointers for creating a compelling story, but here at Midnight Publishing we picked the 12 most relevant to authors.

  1. 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 very different. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. 
  4. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? 
  5. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. 
  6. 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. 
  7. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. 
  8. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. 
  9. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it. 
  10. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against. 
  11. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. 
  12. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you DO like?