Learning Storytelling Techniques From Pixar

Pixar has created some of the best movies in the past few decades. Although they’ve had a few misfires (“Cars 2” and “The Good Dinosaur”), even their weakest films are better than most of what Hollywood has produced. The secret to Pixar’s success is constant revision.

In the book, “Creativity, Inc.“, one of the founders of Pixar talks about how Pixar develops stories. Essentially, they start with an idea and keep creating rough storyboards that explain how the story unfolds. Then they tell these stories to their own workers to critique the story and explain what they like, what they think is missing, and possibly how to fix it.

The goal is to keep revising a story until it gets stronger and stronger. One fallacy many novices have is that you can write a complete and polished screenplay in one try. That’s like trying to carve a statue by chipping away at a block of marble with one blow.

Storytelling requires constant revising. Michael Arndt wrote his first screenplay, “Little Miss Sunshine” over 100 times. That movie eventually got nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture. Michael later went on to write “Toy Story 3” for Pixar.

By reading “Creativity, Inc.“, you can better understand how Pixar has developed its stories. For example, “Up” originally started out as two princes fighting over a cloud kingdom. “WALL-E” originally started out with aliens as blobs that learn they were once humans. The Disney animated film “Bolt” originally had a Girl Scout cookie selling radioactive serial killer until Pixar helped Disney shape their story better.

The point is that your story needs to change. You need to start out with a good idea but then you need to keep revising it until you get to the essence of your story. In “Up,” that essence was wanting to escape your problems by flying away. In “WALL-E,” that essence was how love can overcome loneliness.

So don’t be afraid to write your screenplay, but then be ruthless and rewrite it again and again. Each time, try to make it stronger in some way. Make the characters more dynamic, make the story tighter, make the setting more interesting.

Get feedback from other storytellers to gauge their reaction, but don’t settle for one draft. Keep writing and rewriting. You’re not going to write a great screenplay or tell any story beautifully the first time. Story telling takes constant revising to keep making your story stronger.

After all, if your story idea is compelling to you in the first place, it should still be compelling enough to make you want to keep revising it until it’s as strong as you can make it. A good idea told poorly won’t do your story justice. Only a good idea told well will give your story the audience it deserves, and that means writing and rewriting over and over again until you get it right.

Remember, in writing, you can get multiple chances to make it right. It’s always better to get it right no matter how long it takes than to rush something out that’s half-baked since half-baked stories will likely go nowhere. Well polished and crafted stories will go a long way and that’s what people really want.

So take your time. Don’t be afraid of rewriting. If your idea is worth telling, it’s worth telling well.

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