Monday, January 12, 2015

Pixar and High-Impact Fiction

A lot of writers know that the people at Pixar are master storytellers. For starters, there's a list that discusses 22 Rules of Storytelling according to Pixar. They've also been mentioned previously here at Operation Awesome, and I explained on my other blog, The Writer Librarian, how Wreck-It-Ralph helped me learn about plot and character motivation. (Wreck-It-Ralph was officially "Disney," but was produced by John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar.)

And, in starting a new manuscript for the new year, I stumbled upon this video from Michael Arndt, one of Pixar's screen writers. This gem helped me work through the beginning of my story:

After watching this video, I figured out that my main character was a perfectionist, and that was the motivating factor that led into her journey. And as Michael Arndt so brilliantly points out, "the seeds of failure have to be planted in the beginning." So even though I'm only about 12,000 words in, I know exactly what happens next, and how it will affect my main character later in the story. 

It was a reminder how Pixar's storytelling has been a key element in their success. 

In reading submissions for a literary magazine, I've come across a lot of pieces that were well-written, but there was no actual story involved. Just a bunch of vignettes where nothing really happened, and the characters weren't really changed by the end. 

On the flip side, a lot of commercial fiction (particularly YA) is thought of as plot-driven only. I've definitely run into this as a YA writer in my MFA program, and luckily for me, my cohorts are supportive of what I write, and don't try to steer me in any particular direction. 

But all that aside, there's room for storytelling in all facets of fiction. Literary agent Donald Maass talked about this in his book Writing 21st Century Fiction, regarding what he called high impact fiction. "High impact comes from a combination of two factors: great stories and beautiful writing" (2). 

So, think back to other Pixar movies you've watched (or Disney movies that had obvious Pixar influence, like Wreck-it-Ralph, Meet the Robinsons, and Frozen). What kept you watching? What made the movie memorable? What seeds were planted in the beginning that showed up throughout the story?

Now think about your own current Work-in-Progress, and ask yourself the following:
  • What does my character want more than anything? How will this get in his/her way?

  • What are the bad choices my character will make, and how do I get the audience to root for him/her in these decisions?

  • How will my characters change as a result of their journey?

Feel free to watch a Pixar movie in the meantime, if it helps. Even Pixar/Disney movies that didn't do as well are informative, because they're examples of stories that might have been lacking.

What about you--what have you learned while crafting your own stories?


Angela Brown said...

As I watched that video, I thought about stories I have and how to improve their beginnings. Thanks so much for sharing this :-)

The Writer Librarian said...

Angela, I'm glad. Yeah, this video has helped me re-evaluate pretty much every beginning I've attempted!