Pixar on the Art of Storytelling, Part Two


Greetings NBC! Readers and welcome back to PART TWO of Pixar on the Art of Storytelling.  You can find part one by clicking HERE.  This week’s list includes techniques 12-22.
Here is how things work.  I provide Pixar’s rules and then add in my own thoughts, opinions, and experience.  I am by no means a master at writing comics, but I am going through the process right now.  Hopefully, I will be able to provide you all with a slight glimpse into the art of writing from my perspective.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

This here may be the #1 most time consuming part of writing for me.  I tend to plot out an entire issue before I go through and break it up into pages and panels.  This gives me a chance to write what is technically my first draft.  From there, I keep the basic outline but get rid of situations and events people would be expecting.  It would be really easy to follow methods by writers before me, but I can’t.  I need something new.  I build off of their motifs to create the unexpected.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

I rarely play video games, but when I do, I tend to side with games such as the Mass Effect franchise.  What I loved most about those games was the ability to make decisions, and that is what I want to do for my own characters.  They need to decide what the right choice is in a particular moment.  It is that choice and the ramifications of the choice which provide the best tools for character building.

#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.

I typically write using a great deal of social commentary.  Through my writing, I am able to express my views of the world on any number of controversial topics (sexual orientation, race, politics, culture, etc.).  But at the heart of it all, I am not out to beat the reader over the head with my views.  They are a tool for writing. Above all, I want to entertain while dropping subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ideas which make people stop and think.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

If anyone was to watch me as I write, he or she would think I was crazy.  About 30% of the time spent on an issue is me performing.  I tend to act out everything I write.  I need to feel like I am a part of the story in order to make the right decisions on where to go next.  Hell, if writing doesn’t work out, maybe I can shoot for acting! 😛

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

Springsteen said it best in his song “For You.”  He sings, “Your strength is devastating in the face of all these odds…”  This is how I want my characters to feel.  Despite everything working against them, they will need to rise to greatness by overcoming the odds.  Readers should feel like the best option for a character is to just give up, that there is no way he or she will be able to succeed…until the character does just that.

#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.

Usually, I get great ideas for scenes which will in no way fit in with what I am writing at the time.  The only thing I can do is write it down and save it for later.  And you know what?  90% of the time, it does fit back in the story better than you ever would have expected.  Save EVERYTHING.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

Once I determined the last issue I wrote was complete, I did not look at it or even think about it again for a few days.  Hell, I started working on a completely different project!  What I had felt like something special, and if I added or changed anything, it would just cheapen the story.  After the small break, I got right back into the story and began working on the next issue.  (This does not mean don’t write multiple drafts.  On the front of my last issue, I wrote Rough Draft #Infinity.  Writers just need to know when enough is enough.  I struggle with this all the time, but there comes a time when the energy I am pouring into one story would be better spent on another.)

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Since I read this piece of advice, every time I need to write a character out of a sticky situation, it is all I can think about.  If the escape is easy, it was probably the wrong choice.  I rewrote an entire scene today just because everything felt way too smooth.  There were not enough conflicts or obstacles in the character’s way and his plan worked on the first try.  BORING!  Now he has to run through Plans A through Z in seconds to escape.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How’d you rearrange them into what you DO like?syfy-logo

My family watches A LOT of SyFy channel movies.  They are typically horrible when it comes to graphics, dialogue, playing to cliches…okay, they pretty much suck at everything.  However, they usually have an interesting concept.  Using the concept, it is fun to think about how I would do things differently.  I enjoy playing against the clichéd, stereotyped characters (i.e. black characters usually do not die first in my stories!) to create the unexpected.

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

Writing dialogue is the most difficult part of writing comics for me.  Creating the characters and plot are by far my strongest abilities, but dialogue takes me the longest.  Other than scribbling down brief phrases which come to me during the plotting, I save all of the talking bits until the end.  The method I use is “Cause and Effect.”  Every actions leads to a reaction.  How would my characters react to the action?  I take the action my character would retaliate with and turn it into dialogue.  This is the key to me for finding a voice.  Characters have personality.  Find that personality and it will be writing dialogue easier.

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Following Dark Horse’s ridiculously elaborate submission guidelines, I had to draft out generally what would happen in issues 1-30 of the series I am working on.  Before writing the synopsis, I had ideas and plans, but now I have purpose and reason.  I found the main idea behind the story, and everything seemed to fall into place.

9 thoughts on “Pixar on the Art of Storytelling, Part Two”

    1. Thanks, iroberts! Let me know if you ever have any questions. I’m not a pro or anything like that, but I’ll offer what I can.

  1. Really glad you did these two articles, there’s some real good stuff here. Plus it’s nice to have your own personal notes to see this stuff at work. I will also be coming with questions if I ever get around to my story boards.

  2. Pingback: Jaye Em Edgecliff

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