Personal Interpretation of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Some of you might have come across my Twitter and Facebook post on Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling: “Tell a story w/ your business; become the character. Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling applies to more than just movies ” In my personal notebook, I incorporated Pixar’s “Rules of Storytelling” into my own life and would just like to share!

Some background information on these slides from Fast Co.CREATE:

A while back, now-former Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats tweeted a series of pearls of narrative wisdom she had gleaned from working at the studio. This list of 22 rules of storytelling was widely embraced as it was applicable to any writer or anyone who was in the business of communicating (which is pretty much everyone, including software developers). And much of its advice (e.g. “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 very different”) is still as applicable as ever. Thanks to the efforts of one fan, though, the rules may now become even more eminently shareable.

Last week, Dino Ignacio, a UX Director at a subsidiary of Electronic Arts, created a series of image macros of the 22 rules, posting them to Imgur. Now, those rules that helped make Pixar synonymous with quality storytelling (we’re pretending Cars 2 never happened) are broken into meme-like chunks, free to spread around the Internet. Each of the rules is illustrated with a corresponding scene from a Pixar movie, making for what look like motivational posters for making timeless entertainment.

The following are my personal interpretations of the Pixar slides:

3018559-slide-s-1-pixar-lessons#1: TRY. Sometimes your efforts may define you more than your accomplishments.


slide-s-2-pixar-lessons#2: With a business, do both. Have fun with it but don’t forget your audience. This reminds me of a quote from Scott  Belsky’s (’02) book, “Making Ideas Happen”: “Many claim they create solely for themselves; they argue that the conception and actualization of an idea is simply a means for self-fulfillment and nothing more. But  this is argument is selfish: an idea executed for an audience of one is an awful waste of potential inspiration and value for the greater good.”


3018559-slide-s-3-pixar-lessons#3: As you transition through life, events in your life that seem to be stark dichotomies won’t always seem to relate at that moment, but the dots will connect when you look back. Your life’s theme may not be apparent to you now, but you’ll see it soon. Feel free to rewrite your story as many times as you want – don’t stress the minor details.


3018559-slide-s-4-pixar-lessons#4: Your story is currently unfolding. Fill in the blanks. Write. Don’t forget that you’re the author of your own novel.


3018559-slide-s-5-pixar-lessons#5: Don’t become tied down. Be malleable. Stay flexible. Simplify your life and focus on what matters.


3018559-slide-s-6-pixar-lessons#6: Be the character. Step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Be aware of  your progress and setbacks. Understand yourself a bit better though reflection before, during, and after these challenges. 


3018559-slide-s-7-pixar-lessons#7: After knowing exactly what you want out of your life/ career/ business, finding your way through the maze will be much easier. The hard part is knowing what you want. 


3018559-slide-s-8-pixar-lessons#8: Don’t get caught up with what you can’t change anymore. File it away as a lesson and improve the next time around. Sunk cost.


3018559-slide-s-9-pixar-lessons#9: If you don’t know where to turn next or which career path to take, figure out which direction you don’t want to go and start narrowing down from there.


3018559-slide-s-10-pixar-lessons#10: Figure out what makes you tick and create that tick in everything you do or find the career/activity/idea that encompasses that tick. Understand yourself. Knowing what makes you happy and fulfilled – what makes you feel alive – will help you navigate life choices and other seemingly hard decisions. 


3018559-slide-s-11-pixar-lessons#11: You have absolutely nothing until it’s tangible. Don’t be selfish with your “brilliant idea.” Test the “brilliance” of these ideas via feedback. You’ll need all the help you can get to refine them. 


3018559-slide-s-12-pixar-lessons#12: Make your creativity work more than it has to. Have it strive for more than just minimum because, chances are, the first few ideas/observations that come to mind are the same that everyone else first sees. Explore nuances and unfathomable perspectives. 


3018559-slide-s-13-pixar-lessons#13: When applied to you, stay malleable but don’t be wishy-washy with your thoughts and opinions. Don’t fade into the background. 


3018559-slide-s-14-pixar-lessons#14: Apply this to activities and your life as a whole. Everything you do should relate to you and your goals. Give everything you do a purpose that inherently stems from a driving force within you. The current status/stage of your life should reflect what you stand for.  


3018559-slide-s-15-pixar-lessons#15: How would you feel if you were in your customers’ shoes? Employees’? Friends’? Try to sympathize, if not empathize, with everyone around you. 


3018559-slide-s-16-pixar-lessons#16: Why do you deserve XYZ? What have you sacrificed? What kind of effort have you invested? How badly do you want this? What’s your passion and why? In other words, what essence of the passion ignited your interest? When you have these answers, manifest and reflect your passion through action. 


3018559-slide-s-17-pixar-lessons#17: You are the collective of your experiences. Everything you do shapes who you are so don’t ever discount your work. Value can be found in every thing you do. 


3018559-slide-s-18-pixar-lessonsStill working on this one. Send me your interpretation (  if you have one; I’m curious!

#18: There are many different personalities in the world; one key break down is that there are 1) people that focus on the problem and 2) people who focus on a solution. Complaining about all of the work that you have to do and how no one else is completing their jobs will only make you unhappy and appear weak and disgruntled. Recognizing a problem and doing your absolute best to fix it and make things better for others will make you and your peers better. – Zach Williams, BFA in Graphic Design from Concordia University; MFA in Special Effects Animation from Digital Media Arts College 


3018559-slide-s-19-pixar-lessonsStill working on this one. Send me your interpretation (  if you have one; I’m curious!

#18: “From a story perspective this one is pretty clear. It is really interesting when all of these bad things happen to a character all at once. It is unbelievable if there is a lot of build up with all of these bad things and then the solution is super simple like the character winning the lottery. Those types of endings leave the audience feeling cheated like they wasted their time, or like the writer ran out of time or creativity.

To compare it to business I would say that problems are actually solutions in disguise.1 Sometimes coincidences will make you aware of a problem that you didn’t know existed, which provides you with the opportunity to make a change before that problem becomes larger. Catastrophes often provide opportunity to implement large changes that would have otherwise been difficult to get employee buy in.”  – Zach Williams, BFA in Graphic Design from Concordia University; MFA in Special Effects Animation from Digital Media Arts College 


3018559-slide-s-20-pixar-lessons#20: Find a company you dislike. What would you change or improve? Don’t consistently play the “devil’s advocate” (Ten Faces of Innovation, Tom Kelley of IDEO) – offer solutions.


3018559-slide-s-21-pixar-lessons #21: Personification. Give life to your company. Relatable characteristics will make the company shine. Don’t forget to have the company culture permeate through every aspect of the company – from product to employee. Don’t just list or describe company characteristics. Be it. Show it.


3018559-slide-s-22-pixar-lessons#22: It took me a while to understand what “Most economical telling of it?” meant. I interpret this slide as “What value are you leaving your customers? Better yet, what value are you contributing to your community?” When you narrow down your purpose or end goal, it’s easier for everything to fall into place. How do you want to be remembered? What’s message does your life convey?

How do you interpret or relate to these slides? Send me your insights (!


[1]: Zach’s comment reminded me of a topic we covered recently in my Finance course taught by Prof. Curtis: when raiders try to buy out a company, they often indirectly improve the company (even if they don’t succeed in buying them out) by forcing management to improve on their flaws, in hopes of regaining support from the stockholders. If management doesn’t improve, stockholders may lose hope in management and end up selling their shares to the raiders, allowing the raiders to succeed in taking control of the company: a buy-out.