Monthly Archives: April 2013

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

This has been on facebook a few times and I thought I would repost it here. Great tips for a writer of any genre. (Excuse me while I watch the first 5 minutes of UP and cry)

1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
9. 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.
10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
14. 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.
15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

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Happiness

There are hundreds of self help books on it. How to get it, how not to loose it…
For writers I think it’s important not to focus on big, out of this world, holy sh*t happiness, but the tiny, “this makes me smile”, kind happiness. That way when you’re struggling, you can refer to your list (or collage or doodles) to give you a boost. You should including things that make you laugh as a good reminder to not take yourself, or your work, too seriously.

What makes me smile?

A glass of red wine.

God rays.

Chubby babies in snow suits.

Kermit the Frog singing Rainbow Connection (anything Muppet related, really)

What makes me laugh?

Puppy hiccups.

Pictures of my parents/our old house from the 70s. (Go orange and brown!)

Any line (any line at all) from Spaceballs.

And if you’re a Canadian who grew up in the 80s, this should definitely make you laugh.
My peers, I present to you, The Log Driver’s Waltz. (You can fast forward the first 40 seconds of real footage. Who needs that?)

When you’re done watching go and make your list. Make it long. Put it somewhere you can see it. And smile.

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Dee Tales: The Agency

27 - Grace

Dee Tales are whimsical stories inspired by photographs taken with my i-phone. A tiny story for you, a wee sense of accomplishment for me. Enjoy.

It’s my own fault. I lived next door to their office for years. I just never went in. Now they’ve moved and I’ve had to take a bus, the subway and a streetcar to get here.

Their new building is much larger. They must share it with other agencies, though their sign sits alone inside the window.

I check with the reception who informs me they are on the twenty-sixth floor. “But the elevator is out of order. You’ll have to take the chairs.” I sigh, anticipating my exhaustion. “Yeah,” she says with a smile, “You really have to work for it.”

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Process

My fantasy “as in imaginary, ideal and not going to happen” process

I wake up a 5am and write for three hours solid. I’m focused. I meet a writing quota. The ideas are always there, flowing from my fingers.

I think about my writing all the time. I’m constantly snatching ideas out of the air, out of the water, out of life.

I work on multiple projects at one time. A book, a poem, an article. I have boundless energy.

I am always in a good mood.

My actual “I’m going to have to live with this” process

I am not a morning person. I would write late at night if it weren’t for things like a day job and a new puppy.

I have varying lengths of time to write. I need to make more use of 30 minute spurts.

I don’t have a quota. Looking at my lack of process is harmful to my process and so I stopped.

I can’t write by the seat of my pants. (Happily, a lot of writers can’t either) Outlines are my friends.

One… project… at… a… time….

I don’t have a special pen. I don’t write standing up or lying down. I don’t do warm up exercises.

I am often frustrated, fearful and self deprecating. I try desperately to enjoy creating without worrying about the results.

This would all be very discouraging except for two things:

1) Other writers have the same process.
2) I’m still writing.

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It’s not easy being green…

I suppose I should be grateful. I’ve been given an education, I work a day job that supports my writing and my family and friends believe in me.

This is what I try and remember when I’m seething with jealously. Jealous of what?

Authors who publish young
Téa Obreht is the author of The Tiger’s Wife which is an absolutely phenomenal book. She was twenty-six when it was published.

Authors who bend time
Vincent Lam, a full-fledged doctor and the father of several children, still found time to write Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Authors who are fiercely original
Hart’s Hope by Orson Scott Card. His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman. Read them and you’ll see why.

My eyes usually turn green when I’m stuck, when I find I have less and less time to write, or when my writing is just plain awful. There’s nothing left to do, really, except keep writing. Good or bad. Fast or slow. Hoping one day some writer will be as equally jealous of me.

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Dee Tales: The Warning

Unicorns

Dee Tales are whimsical stories inspired by photographs taken with my i-phone. A tiny story for you, a wee sense of accomplishment for me. Enjoy.

When the first one was spotted, everyone was so excited. People assumed they would be sweet, even helpful.

They were wrong.

No one knows where they came from, or what happened to a make them so angry. It doesn’t matter anymore. You see one, you run. Fast.

When they claim an area as their territory, that’s when you leave a warning. It needs to be in a spot where everyone can see. The sidewalk is not a good place. People use to lower their eyes when they walked but not anymore. That’s why I didn’t see it. And now the sounds of hooves on cement. Flashes of white. And horns. So many horns…

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On Genre

As a reader I try not to limit myself (though I do tend to stay away from mystery and horror since I don’t like suspense or being scared). As a writer, I’m currently working on a fantasy fiction novel. Will I continue in that genre once it’s complete? I’m not sure. There are a lot of things I love about fantasy… and a few things I really don’t.

Naturally I love magic. I love the different rules. I love magic’s power and its limitations.

I love battle scenes. I love the clash of steel on steel and spell on spell.

I love (most) magical creatures. Good and evil.

I don’t love the quest for an all powerful magical object that must be obtained to save or destroy the world. There are too many of these and there is only one Lord of the Rings.

I don’t dig dragons. I don’t know what it is. Maybe they remind me of dinosaurs? (I was never big into them, either) Whatever it is, I’m just not interested.

I’m not a fan of most fantasy book covers. Many of them are either cheesy or sexist. Cover art should represent the contents of the book. It should be cool, classy, and not make me want to vomit.

My biggest beef however, is less about the genre and more about how others perceive it. For example, when I was in grade twelve I needed an elective and couldn’t decide what to take. I ended up straying from my advanced courses to enroll in a general English class. It’s focus? Sci-fi and fantasy. The novels and short stories we read were outstanding. This begs the question, why was the class limited to general students?

I feel as though sci-fi and fantasy are still limited to the general classroom. When it comes to the media, “literary” fiction will receive coverage while “genre” fiction does not. Many book and literary festivals limit or exclude sci-fi/fantasy. There are even separate book awards. So I ask you, isn’t a good story, a good story no matter what the genre?

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