Amplify Your Storytelling Style With These Tips From Pixar

Strong storytelling is the keystone of a great brand. And nobody's better at it than Pixar.

Before we get to how Pixar makes amazing stories, let's first reacquaint ourselves with their genius. Grab your tissues—it's the opening from Up.


Notice the narrative perfection, the subtle clues of their relationship; how the animators show you their bonds, their shared dreams. These four minutes are as simple as they are powerful.

You can't chalk it up to fits of genius—though they're certainly present. Pixar's unmatched consistency evidences a commitment to process. Thanks to former story artist Emma Coats, we have a few pieces of their creative puzzle, as collected by Aerogramme Writers' Studio. Let's investigate a few here.

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

It's harder to be concise than to be verbose. (What's that Twain line about if he had more time, he would have written it shorter?) Still, if we're going to do our best work, we need to simplify, simplify, simplify. As Matthew May details in the Laws of Subtraction, simplification is a key to the creative process, whether you're making comics or organizing production, innovation cuts with Occam's Razor: The simpler solution is the better one.

And if that simple solution doesn't work out? Make it not work faster—if you mess it up the first time, you can always "unsuck" it later.

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.

Whether it's the block of the writer or the dilemma of the innovator, bringing something new into the world is hard. And when it does start to emerge on the screen or on the page, all of a sudden you get self-conscious about this new thing you've just made. Eep.

That's why creativity is as much a habit as it is a moment, whether you're getting your working juices flowing before you get to breakfast, right when you get to your desk, or in the quiet hours of the night, taking away the transaction cost of "should I really do this now?" will allow you to invest that energy in a better place: letting whatever is in your unconscious out.

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.

As research suggests, reading stories is an empathic exercise. (In fact, reading fiction can make you more empathic.) And as research psychologist Barbara Fredrickson finds in Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, emotions like empathy are a single activation between two subjects—when you're laughing with a friend, your bodies and biologies mirror one another. Putting those pieces of research together, we can surmise that the emotional activation that you experience when you encounter an amazing product or narrative, be it bootup screen or opening scene, was felt also by its creator.

If you want to make things that resonate with people, you need to identify what resonates with you. To do that, invest in your emotional intelligence.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Fayez]

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