198. How to Tell Stories that Motivate, Inspire, Move, and Change People

26 takeaways from this video:

00:00:22 Pixar Animation Studios is an “American computer animation film studio.” Pixar has set, and to this day maintains the standard for film animation, but even more important than the technical aspects of 3D animation are Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in the documentary The New Black: The Future of Clothing & The Quest For Climate-Positive Products that Nancy Tilbury of London-based design Studio XO points out that you should “start with an effect, build a narrative in your mind, work out what it is you want your product/service to do, and everything else really falls into place.” And as you specialize, you learn really great tricks, and those tricks turn into a methodology. That methodology detemines your authenticity and what makes your work special.]

Embrace your medium and use it to its fullest potential.

00:00:40 To instill virtues? Teach a lesson? To motivate, inspire, move or inform people? WHY does your story need to exist?

00:01:44 Animations have a tendency to reduce the story’s core message into one principle conflict between a hero or anti-hero versus a 1-dimensional, power-obsessed villain with no real explanation or backstory of what made them become ‘evil.’

Add a backstory and explanation, and even the worst villains can evoke some level of empathy for why they became the way they are.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on understanding how people become who they are, watch my lecture Managing Age, Culture & Personality Differences, Jerks & Assholes.]

The most powerful stories appeal to some core truth about the human condition.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in Tyler Cowen’s TED Talk Why You Should Be Suspicious of The Stories You Hear, he warns that stories act as an information filter allowing the storyteller to pack a lot of information and social power into a brief narrative by ignoring certain bits of information while highlighting others. And the more inspiring a story makes you feel, the more nervous you should become because the best stories are often the trickiest ones because when information is conveyed to us in the form of a story, we often place more importance on it, remembering it when perhaps we shouldn’t.]

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling (Source):

  1. People admire character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. What you – the storyteller – likes might not be the same thing your audience likes.
  3. Theme is important, but you – the storyteller – won’t know what the story is about until you’ve actually finished it; so rewrite it.
  4. Once upon a time there was___. Everyday___. One day___. 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 get 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 do you like in them is a part ofy ou; 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 first 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 wouldd 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.

Pixar Animations 22 rules of storytelling

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