More than Words


I love a good story. Is there anything more engaging or thought provoking than a compelling story?

No one seems to tell a better story than Pixar, the Walt Disney animated subsidiary. Pixar is renowned for its high quality animation and superb story lines. In a recent webinar I was directed to check out Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling to see how it parallels with digital brand storytelling.

So, what does Pixar have to say about storytelling?

Rule 1.                    You admire a character more for trying than for their success.

Rule 2.                    Keep in mind what’s interesting to an audience not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

Rule 3.                    Trying for theme is important, buy you won’t see what the story is actually about until you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

Rule 4.                    Once upon a time there was       . Everyday,     . One day       . Because of that,    .because of that,     . Until finally    .

Rule 5.                    Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Rule 6.                    What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

Rule 7.                    Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

Rule 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.

Rule 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.

Rule 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.

Rule 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.

Rule 12.                 Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Rule 13.                 Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Rule 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.

Rule 15.                 If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

Rule 16.                 What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

Rule 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.

Rule 18.                 You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story telling is testing not refining.

Rule 19.                 Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great. Coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Rule 20.                 Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How’d you rearrange them Into what you do like?

Rule 21.                 You have to identify with your situation and characters; can’t just write “cool”. What would make you act that way?

Rule 22.                 What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

And there you have it (I think #4 and #10 are my favorites). To build on Pixar’s storytelling rules, Filmmaker Andrew Stanton offers great advice in his Ted Talk video, The Clues to a Great Story. One tip is “Make Me Care”. I think this is an important part of any story – even brand stories. Why should readers or viewers care about what a brand has to say? As we know, storytelling can be the best form of engagement. What better way to connect with customers than through brand storytelling? Yet, there must be a compelling reason for people to want to listen. This is where brands fall short. They usually spin yarns about their products or services, but few have the insight to offer the audience more. Stanton advices that storytellers should use what they know, expressing values they personally feel deep down to their core. How many brands can say that?

Here’s an example of a brand that I think did a great job with their brand story. It’s Guinness’ “Empty Chair” ad from July 4, 2014:

So what did you like about the Guinness example? How do you think the story aligns with Pixar’s storytelling rules?

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