StoryMade · By Zul Andra

22 Rules of Storytelling From Pixar

In 2012, former Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats tweeted the rules on storytelling she learned from her time at the animation studio. It has been read, shared, and applied till today.


Having worked as a storyboard artist for Pixar’s Monsters University and Brave, and Paramount Pictures’ The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, Emma Coats knew a thing or two about telling stories.

In 2012, she tweeted a thread sharing her experience on how Pixar tells their story. The company is known for its acclaimed animated franchises such as Toy Story, Find Nemo, and Monsters, Inc.

Coats’ tweet has been viewed, shared, and republished countless times. Here 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 very 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 first 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

I absolutely loved how Coats broke down the essence of what made Pixar’s stories endearing and impactful. I’ve definitely used some of these pointers when I write or tell brand stories. Did these rules of storytelling resonate with you?

Share your thoughts with me, on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from you.


About the author · Zul Andra is a communication strategist, trainer, and coach. The founder of Zazoozoo has shaped narratives for global brands and in sectors such as technology, education, finance, travel, and lifestyle. A former Editor-in-chief of Esquire, Zul’s 4-year tenure saw his team winning over 30 local and regional awards. He also won best feature article in 2014 and best editor in 2016 at the MPAS Awards. Zul is a proponent of human-centric connections through the stories we tell.

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