Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How to Tell a Story – Pixar Style

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 11, 2012

Just one o’ those links I feel compelled to share. Here are 22 “Rules” of storytelling according to Pixar – which hasn’t made a movie I haven’t liked yet (or that hasn’t made bajillions of dollars).  Via Pixar employee Emma Coats, here’s the little nuggets of wisdom she’s picked up from the studio:

The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar

Most if not all of these are applicable to any medium. Including, obviously, games.

I thought they were valuable enough that, upon returning home from my trip, I intend to print them out and hang ’em on my wall over my desk.


Filed Under: Design - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Xenovore said,

    Good stuff! I might need to hang ’em on my wall as well. =)

  • Silent said,

    Or, as the Yahtzee guy would put it :

    “One or more lovable protagonists have existed for some time in a stable but fundamentally flawed routine, which is shaken up by the introduction of a foreign entity, usually another character, around whom attitudes are initially hostile. Attempts to deal with this character eventually lead to the protagonist(s) discovering a new, unfamiliar world, and in doing so discover the nature of the fundamental flaw in their routine. Villains are usually introduced or only become truly villainous from around the mid-point or quite late into the film. Along the way the heroes enlist the help of various lesser characters with clearly definable quirks and at one point reluctantly enter a high-speed chase. The villain is generally finally defeated with surprising ease, and everything concludes in an emotionally manipulative ending in which routine is restored with the fundamental flaw excised.”


    The 22 points list was interesting, but you can still see the bits that keep it safely formulaic. And the reasons why it’s difficult to watch, say, the “wreck’it ralph” trailer without feeling you saw the whole story already quite a few times.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    Yahtzee is snarky and brilliant as always, but what’s the real complaint here? Stories ARE formulaic – the good ones anyway. It’s been shown and argued many times that there are only 7-12 different story formulas. Everything is just a remix of these with different details and characters plugged in.

    In fact, look at life in general. No one really has any unique experiences that someone – many someones – haven’t experienced before. CHARACTERS are what make a story special – not the story itself necessarily. We don’t REALLY care if the empire falls or the rebels win, because we’ve seen that story a hundred times before. We care if the characters we’ve come to care about win. It is the same way we care about a friend’s troubles when those same troubles afflicting a stranger might bore us.

    The Pixar list pointed out trying to think of non-obvious answers and search for unique complications and solutions, and that’s really all you can do. If you try to ignore story formulas and go all avant-garde the result is often an unwatchable mess.

    Storytellers have been honing the formulas for THOUSANDS OF YEARS, and they persist because they are extremely effective. Yes, conclusions are often emotionally manipulative – they are designed to be. Storytelling is meant to entertain, provoke a certain idea or thought, comfort, educate, etc. Like a puppet master a good storyteller knows which strings to pull to achieve their goal with the audience. The audience even knows this. We often go to comedies to cheer up, or maybe watch tragedies to wallow in our misery or see someone else suffer.

    No story that has abandoned formula has ever been successful, or else we would have ANOTHER formula that future stories are recycling. I’d say the fact we’ve not had any new story formulas for thousands of years means we’ve found all the ones that work. Story is after all about character, and human characters are the same now as they have ever been, no matter how the little details change.

  • Modran said,

    I don’t know how you keep finding such things, and time to talk about them between everything you’re doing.
    Interesting stuff !

  • Anon said,

    LateWhiteRabbit said,

    > but what’s the real complaint here?

    Do Pixar movies *ALWAYS* have to use the VERY SAME formula?

    > Stories ARE formulaic – the good ones anyway.

    Lots of “stories” (movie plots, novels, games etc.) are formulaic but that doesn’t necessarily makes them good.

    Thankfully there are enough people & companies out there more creative than the majority of “recyclers” to stir up the pot every now and then.

    Pixar, however, is only a technical innovator, not a story innovator.