Softcover (Vintage) — Amazon
Audiobook (Tantor) — Amazon
Japan (Hayakawa) — Publisher
People’s Republic of China (China Renmin University Press) — Publisher
Taiwan (CTW Culture) — Books.com.tw | Amazon
Korea (Heureum) — Publisher

Entries in Writing (3)


Pixar story rules (one version)

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#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.

Presumably she’ll have more to come. Also, watch for her personal side project, a science-fiction short called Horizon, to come to a festival near you.


Rules for writers

The Guardian last weekend collected rules for fiction writers—but actually for any writers—from, among others, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Annie Proulx. My favorite, from Neil Gaiman: 

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. 


Rejection letters

This post is for the folks who’ve heard me speak at writers’ conferences, and others with literary ambitions.

After my agents sent my proposal for The Pixar Touch out to publishing houses in February and March of 2006, it didn’t meet with unanimous acclaim. No, we ended up, as I remember, with three houses bidding and six turning the project down. Usually the rejections were pretty cursory, but one editor e-mailed the agency a detailed response:

Thanks for giving me the last-minute look at this. I liked it—the Pixar story has elements that remind me of books by Tracy Kidder or Michael Lewis, books about technology and business that are also great character-driven narratives that wring drama out of the process of building something. I love that kind of book, but I wonder if this story has all the necessary ingredients to get there. My primary concern was that – outside of Jobs – I couldn’t find the big character to drive the story. I also worry that the Pixar story—based as it is in the world of entertainment (and children’s entertainment at that)—feels less consequential than some of these other stories (although I know that entertainment is one of the last industries that America truly dominates). In terms of making this a broader, /Soul of the New Machine/ sort of book, I think he may be working against the zeitgeist: Pixar is most interesting, I think, as a pure business story because it’s not a sexy business with a hot new idea…we’ve read lots of business/technology narratives already over the last ten years and this story doesn’t generate that rush of excitement you get when following an entrepreneur into the unknown because a) it’s a software company, at heart, which is no longer such a revolutionary thing to be; b) it’s now an established company (and even from the beginning was operating under the guidance of name-brand businessmen like Lucas and Jobs). As a pure business story, I think it’s fascinating, but as a broader narrative, I’m just not sure the elements are all in place.

Of course, I disagree with what he wrote, but I’d be the last person to criticize him—it was my obligation to make the case for my book, and obviously my proposal didn’t do the job for him. (It’s easier for me to be cavalier knowing that the book went on to find a wonderful and very supportive literary home at Alfred A. Knopf.)

My point is that rejection is just part of the process: Learn what you can from it and move on.