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Things You Can Learn From Pixar’s 22 Story Rules – Part 2

Recently, Emma Coats [1] — a storyboard artist at Pixar — tweeted a bunch of tips for telling good narratives. They’ve gotten collected into a list of 22 [2] story basics (she has more if you check out her twitter [3]) and they’ve exploded all over the internet. kirkdent even suggested it over on our Suggestion Pot.

The tips are great for any type of narrative, and we’re all big fans of learning things about roleplaying from other mediums. So here is Emma’s list, with some analysis and lessons from Kurt [4] and I. We’ve split this into 2 articles because the list and gnome comments got a wee bit lengthy. You can find part 1 here. [5]


#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.

Final note: One of the biggest things I took away from the original list is that there are multiple ways to tell stories. What works in one scenario or for one group won’t work at a different time. There is no one right path to follow, but knowing elements of many paths helps you to decide what to do at any given moment.

We’d love to hear your insights and takeaway gaming lessons from the Pixar 22 story basics list. What sort of things can you pull from this for gaming? What other narrative tips influence your gaming or what sources have you picked up lessons from?