Pixar storyboard artist, Emma Coats shares the most important aspects of storytelling:
1) You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. This is about the journey and making the audience root for them so they succeed. If they don’t succeed, they’ve evolved as people along the way. If they do succeed, it’s a bonus.
2) Keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. Film is a communication medium and your story must speak to an audience.
3) Searching for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about till you’re at the end of it. Even after extensive plotting, identifying what your story is really about can take several drafts.
4) Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. Situation, normal world, upset to this world, forced to confront obstacles and act, motivation, cause and effect, climax and resolution.
5) Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free. Don’t try and cram too much story in your story. Some plot belongs in another scripts.
6) What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal with their fears and dislikes?
8) Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. It helps alleviate your sagging second act.
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 by writing the worst script possible in your first draft. Bad ideas generate good ones.
13) Give your characters strong opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. Characters need a strong viewpoint.
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 them.
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, maybe in another script.
18) You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and 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 do you rearrange them into what you DO like?
21) You must 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? What’s the most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
23) 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.