Pixar’s 22 Rules of Screenwriting

The following are Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.

The Other Drive

The American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has eliminated the category of “Neurosis”, reflecting a decision by the editors to provide descriptions of behavior as opposed to hidden psychological mechanisms as diagnostic criteria.,[3] and, according to The American Heritage Medical Dictionary, it is “no longer used in psychiatric diagnosis”.[4] These changes to the DSM have been controversial.[5]

It’s almost like… the function of neurosis — the entire mechanisms of neurosis — is to motivate, fuel and shape, however unconsciously, one’s life journey, even if that journey is not about increased awareness, even if that journey is a result of avoiding pain, even if that life journey produces greatness and immortality and/or destruction and negativity. Here I’m using the term “neurosis” loosely, for lack of a better one, to mean: any reason for one’s inability to be one’s maximum self due to any and all things past tense (including anything unresolved, not satisfactorily understood, inappropriate, habitual, compulsive, reflexively defensive and/or has become a virtual impediment). I’m suggesting that the entire mechanism of “neurosis” – no matter how one believes it to operate, it’s origin, structure, treatment or cure – may actually be built into the composite mind-body-spirit configuration nearly like other biological “survival” drives. However this “drive” is custom-built, designed specifically, no matter how automatically and unconsciously, by each individual being. This drive is the drive of neurosis.

Possibly, this thing I’m terming “neurosis” is in fact the other survival drive. That is, not unlike other basic survival drives such as the need for respiration, nourishment, reproduction, etc, which demand basic survival motivation, this “neurosis drive” also motivates, and in doing so forges a specific living path that along the way might illuminate our innate, unique self. This other drive might actually inhabit if not just inform what we call our instinct. It too, not unlike literal hunger and sexual urges, is pain based. It is chronic; operates on a relatively low threshold, and is never permanently satisfied. But as hunger or sexual desire can be said to be temporarily sated — then the urge to lesson the pain/needs/desires/drives/urges of “neurosis,” through a “myriad of activities,” can also be temporarily sated. And of course, exactly like other more biologically oriented drives, to the degree they’re not attended to, they will reflect the intensity (and desperateness) of each being to handle and to satisfy, his/her more complex and mysterious cravings, of this other drive.

This “myriad of activity” is not quite as easily categorized and identified as simply “eating” or “copulating.” Whereas the solutions to satisfying these two survival drives are relatively clear and simple, the solution to satisfying this other drive is messy and unclear and thus … demands uneasily answered questions to be asked such as: Who am I? What should I do with my life? Etc. And suddenly the very messiness of it all, the uncertainty of what are the correct questions let alone their answers becomes the essence of the this other drive, this mysterious instinct! It is messy; it must be messy — since the pain/sensation that this neurosis drive causes is only reduced through actively attempting to order, organize, understand and affect its messiness. Even if such organization takes the form of avoidance —- it doesn’t matter! It still takes doing! And so the myriad of activity we call human life, not unlike the Homo sapiens species itself, is assured to continue — since the unresolved-ness of our neurosis can never be completely resolved. Consequently, it is our faults and deficits (that inform this other drive of neurosis), way more than our innate strengths and abilities, that, through being affected by and dealing with the problems from this drive, help determine what paths we take and shape who we become.

Our neurosis, this other drive, then, is as adversarial as hunger — another prime life motivator that motivates us in all kinds of ways. Removing the automatic, pejorative sense to the word and concept “neurosis” allows us to still engage in the understanding and/or changing of aspects of ourselves that are obviously “neurotic” (self destructive, less than optimal, etc.) — and do so with the knowledge that our neurosis isn’t simply some infected mental organ that if not removed will kill us. But, with a sense of consciousness that as we react to our neurotic drive we are concurrently creating our lives.