A Little Treat For You Writers


I hope you’ll pardon my long absence from blogging. Baby A. and Sarabeth have been in Florida and my book editing has picked up steam. I’ve also been hard at work on my next book, a young readers historical novel about a dachshund named Oskar, living in Nazi-ruled Germany.

Keep checking back for updates.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to post some of the all-time greatest writing advice I’ve ever found. Below are 22 rules of storytelling generously given to us by somebody inside Pixar Animations Studios.

I swear by these rules. Enjoy.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

#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 v. 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.

Published by Andrew Toy

Writer when I'm not being a husband or dad. So mostly just a husband and dad.

18 thoughts on “A Little Treat For You Writers

  1. Just an awesome post! I’m a new fan, so I didn’t know you were gone…LOL. Glad you stopped by my blog, so Thanks!
    Author, Cat Lyon 🙂 🙂


  2. This is a great post! I’ve been reading your “So You Wanna Write” blog entries and I think they’re awesome! I’m not an author, but I plan on becoming a screenwriter and your posts have been very helpful for me.

    Roxanne Oduro


  3. Thank you so much. I am a nonfiction writer, but in starting my book, never having done so before, I realize that I need to learn some fiction secrets to keep the reader turning the pages. Overcoming depression is not as dry as it sounds, it is heart-wrenching in places, and I intend to make it come to life. I remember Iyanla van Zandt’s first book and how it changed my life. Let me do 1/50 as well and I will be happy. I think this list will be very helpful, am already imagining scenes to put on a story board.


    1. Some of the best books in the world are nonfiction, and it’s because they followed fictional techniques.


  4. Hi James! I’m participating in a blog hop, and would like to mention you in my post! I’d also like to nominate you to participate as well if you choose to. It’s totally up to you. Here’s what you have to do;
    Write a piece on your website for next weekend which answers the following questions:
    1. What am I working on?
    2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
    3. Why do I write what I write?
    4. How does my writing process work?

    Include how you know the writer who invited you, and any links to other works, social media, etc Finally, include 2 writers you have nominated whose work and websites you admire, with links to them.

    Just let me know either way!


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