Creative Writing 101,  Facts of Life,  Writing World

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

One of the nerd channels I follow on YouTube did a video last week talking about the Crimes of Grindelwald and how it fails according to Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Writing a script for a movie, writing a book, and writing a graphic novel are all different mediums and require different storytelling styles, but some things are universal and can apply across the board. The 22 Rules of Storytelling are one of those universal things and can be a fun and quick way to discover your own storytelling weaknesses and figure out why an otherwise good movie or book left a weird metaphorical taste on your brain palate. Follow the links if you want to watch the video or read all of the rules, but I specifically want to talk about #4 today.

Crimes of Grindelwald Video by Super Carlin Brothers
Pixars 22 Rules of Storytelling

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

The goal, of course, is to fit your story into those blanks. You get to the heart of your story and see how each event influences the next, because each event SHOULD influence the next. You shouldn’t have things happening that have no effect on characterization or the plot.

For fun, of course, I ran my own stories through the model. This is what I came up with for House of Falling Embers.

Once upon a time there was a girl who lost her friend after he went inside a creepy house in the woods. Every day, she tried to move on from the horror and enjoy her damn life. One day she thinks she sees him in the woods. Because of that, she spends a lot of time in the woods talking to a possible apparition. Because of that, she finally goes back to the house where he disappeared and goes inside. Until finally she confronts the horror inside and puts an end to the curse once and for all!


It’s fun. Try it. ^_^

I think it’s a fun way to practice the law of cause and effect. It’s very similar to the gun law, or whatever that thing is called, for plays: don’t show a gun unless it’s going to go off. Otherwise, you’re wasting the audience’s time. Twist endings are only fun because they’re possible and logical based on the order of events. When an ending is twisty and surprising – see Gone Girl and Secret Window (the movies AND the books) – you should be able to go back and see the clues that lead directly to that ending, even if you missed most of them, or ALL of them, before. If you have a “surprise he’s the new king” moment when the entire story had been about a guy training to be a train conductor, that twist isn’t fun or logical. Ergo, the ending is unsatisfying, even if the ending is cinematically entertaining. See any nerd video about Game of Thrones season 8 for a perfect example of an entertaining but highly unsatisfying finale. It’s hard to make an epic dragon scene unsatisfying, you guys. You almost have to try.

I think you can apply all of the Pixar rules to novels, so I definitely recommend reading the article. It’s short and fun and helpful, and there’s a lot of awesome there. Plus, who doesn’t want to have more fun with their writing? πŸ˜›



  • Tonja Drecker

    I use a similar fill-in-the-blank. But without so many becauses. Could one add more becauses? Hmmm…
    I had never heard of the Pixar rules, though. Guess, I’m going to have to check them out now πŸ˜‰

    • Krystal Jane

      I feel like you can add or subtract as many becauses as you want! When I first heard about the “rules” in the video, I was like, “Rules? No way!” But they’re more like helpful brainstorming tools and easy ways to help people like me focus. Haha.

  • Michelle Athy

    I’m going to try this when I have a second because, as you know, plots aren’t my strong suit and I think this will help me narrow plot down πŸ™‚ I’ve been thinking more about working out the end and what in romance is called “the dark moment”–so probably that moment in a plot when things are at their worst, right before the climax–and I think for me, the best way to make my stories more likely to succeed is to work those moments out soon after the idea starts fleshing out.

    Will definitely check out the link!

  • Jodi Perkins

    Well isn’t that a nifty little tool! I filled it in for Chasing Echoes. It only took about two minutes, so it looks like my story works well with this little formula.

    Gonna go check out Pixar’s 22 rules.

  • Thea Landen

    Oh, that does look like fun, and I’m going to have to try it! (And maybe steal the idea for a blog post….) In some ways, though, I almost feel like writing romance is cheating, or at least playing on Easy – the last part is pretty much always going to be “and they got together and lived happily ever after.” πŸ˜‰

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