If you want to learn how Pixar creates stories, you can watch their free video series at Khan Academy. One crucial element that Pixar focuses on is that action alone is meaningless without emotion. In the first video, Pete Doctor (Inside and Out and Monsters, Inc.) explains how “Monsters, Inc.” evolved. Initially, the story was about monsters scaring people and that alone wasn’t enough to tell a complete story. Pete discovered that what his story was really about, the emotional side, was the hero learning to become a father.
In “Monsters, Inc.” the hero learns to take care of a little girl and not scare her but make her laugh. This emotional bond helped turn “Monsters, Inc.” from just about monsters scaring kids to providing an emotional foundation for the story where the hero gradually learns to take care of a child. That’s an emotion anyone can feel when caring for a helpless creature whether it’s a baby, a small child, or even a pet. Look for the emotional bond in Pixar stories and you’ll find that this emotional bond elevates the story from just pure action and high-concept (monsters scaring people) to an emotionally satisfying and complete story.
Another key from this Pixar video series is that ideas need to be continuously refined. Far too many novices write a screenplay and get excited about completing a screenplay that they never go back to revise and edit their story. The end result might be a decent idea and even some good scenes, but no coherence in the overall story. Don’t just write a screenplay once and think you’re done. Complete a screenplay and realize that’s just the first step of many drafts you’ll need to go through to continually refine your story and make it better from start to finish.
The bottom line is that Pixar cartoons tend to be very good because their stories have an emotional bond in them that forms the basis of the entire screenplay. By watching these Pixar videos, you can learn more about story telling in general than reading an entire screenwriting book might tell you. Of course the real test isn’t just learning something but applying it in your own screenplays as well.