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