the Varoom Varoom lounge
a collection of creative thinking resources
the Varoom Varoom lounge
Pixar's step by step creative development process
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#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.

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Pixar story artist Emma Stone’s tweets on storytelling basics as learned from her colleagues

(via Emma Stone/ Only Dead Fish)

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"Ed Catmull, president of Pixar (a company that knows a thing or two about building long-term value through creativity), describes the fallacy of an individual creative genius with a singular idea.
The complexity of product development involves so many ideas that what is required is an ideas-from-anywhere approach, a large multi-disciplinary group, behaving creatively, marshalled around a vision, working together as a team to solve a large number of problems.
Constant effort to avoid error is counter-productive, meaning it’s better to fix problems than to solve them, and the creative leader’s role is to facilitate the group, to mix things up, but keep the vision clear: “When we say we are director led…the way we can tell when they are not leading is if people say they are not following.”"

Pixar

I agree.  Good creative facilitation is key to driving decent collaboration between specialists and input from across the board, whilst helps avoid the ‘death by committee’ trap. Also, having a basic idea development process to guide the group helps too.  It allows specialists and generalists each to play their role along the pipeline,  strengthening the output versus diluting it.

Ann