4 Lessons in Storytelling from Pixar

Hayley Milliman - Content Lead

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If you’ve ever watched the first ten minutes of the movie Up, you know that Pixar has an amazing gift for telling compelling, beautiful stories. You’re also probably scarred for life, because, DAMN, that sh*t is incredibly sad.

Since coming on the scene with Toy Story in 1995 (talk about a walk-off home run), Pixar Animation Studios has released twenty features films. Almost every single one of Pixar’s films has been an instant classic, becoming immediately beloved by millions of fans around the world. To this day, new Pixar releases are treated as major movie events and the Pixar team is seen as having some of the best storytellers in the world.

Back in 2012, Pixar’s Emma Coats (who now works at Google) went on a Tweetstorm from her account (@lawnrocket), offering storytellers everywhere 22 important tips. We take a look at four of the best.

#1: “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.

Storytelling is, to borrow from another popular movie production studio, a tale as old as time. Humans have been telling stories since we could talk, passing down parts of ourselves and our histories from generation to generation. Stories are used to bind us, to connect us, to share the parts of us that are most sacred and vital. As Coats so brilliantly notes here, the best stories are the ones that we feel were part of us all along, even before we heard them.Consider this lesson when you’re crafting your company’s next narrative: stories should start from the very essence of what your company is. What were the core beliefs that your organization was founded on? Don’t think about the product you create, but the mission you solve. That’s what’s going to create a story that resonates with an audience.

#2: “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.”

As a writer, I have thousands of stories floating around my head every day. I’ll see the way the light catches in the corner of my office or watch a kid scootering down the street and instantly be transported to a different time or place. But I don’t tell every story I come up with. Why? Because not all stories are in need of telling.

As Coats states in this Tweet, there are endless possibilities for stories. When you’re considering the story your company shares with the world, ask yourself: “Why this one? Why this story?” The story that you ultimately choose to go with should be one that you can’t not share, the narrative you keep coming back to, the one idea that sticks around, rather than floating off into the ether.

#3: “No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.”

Sometimes, we all have to give up on a certain idea. Sometimes, no matter how hard or for how many hours we work, our project just won’t come together. The same is true for storytelling. You may try to follow a narrative through for days, you may spending money and time making it come to life and, at the end, it’s still not great.

That’s okay. We all fail now and then. We all start things that we cannot (and should not) finish. We all have ideas that seem great in our heads, but don’t work out in the transition to reality.

As Coats notes, no work is ever wasted. If your story helps to sell one million products or if it just ends up scrapped on the boardroom floor, it was still worthwhile. Simply the exercise of trying to create something is infinitely better than not. You’ll have learned from the failure and be able to move on stronger and more effectively in the future.

#4: “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.”

A story is not a story until it’s shared – if you never take action, you’ll never be able to know how something will be received.

Fear of reception, endless procrastination, a never-ending quest for perfection – all of these things can make it hard to share your story. But you’ll never know it’s potential reception until you get out there and TRY.

Put pen to paper, put fingers to keyboard, put marker to whiteboard. Basically, do whatever you need to do to start work on your story. You can always come back and fix it later.

Stories are meant to be told. So, go tell yours.

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