Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pixar Storytelling Prompts

Pixar is an entertainment company that focuses on high quality, full length animated movies using computer generated characters.  Pixar has a successful track record with hits such as Up, Toy Story, Cars, and Brave.

A quick search of "pixar storytelling rules" will return many pages that feature the 22 rules Pixar uses to create a story. 

My favorite of these rules is one that focuses on the basic structure of the story.  The Pixar story formula is designed to quickly generate a story which can then be developed into a full length movie full of details and subplots.

The Pixar storytelling formula:

  1. Once upon a time there was ____. (character is introduced)
  2. Every day, ____. (the everyday, normal world is explored)
  3. One day, ____. (something happens to interrupt normality)
  4. Because of that, ____. (the character takes steps to restore normality)
  5. Because of that, ____. (instead, the character is drawn into more complexity)
  6. Until finally, ____. (the character conquers whatever he is battling and achieves success)

Star Wars

  1. Once upon a time there was a teenager living on a desert planet.
  2. Every day, he dreamed of adventure, but couldn't find this on the planet.
  3. One day, he discovered that a droid contained a secret message for someone else who lived on the planet.
  4. Because of that, he searched for the person whom he also discovered was of interest to the evil rulers of the empire.
  5. Because of that, the boy's aunt and uncle (with whom he lived) were killed and he was forced to leave the planet in order to save the empire.
  6. Until finally, he successfully destroyed the death star and saved the princess.

The Godfather

  1. Once upon a time there was a son of a mobster.
  2. Every day he dreamed of leaving the "family business" and becoming a successful businessman and politician.  This was his father's dream too.
  3. One day, the father was seriously injured as the result of an attempted assassination.  
  4. Because of that, the son felt compelled to retaliate on behalf of his father.
  5. Because of that, he was drawn in to the family business.
  6. Until finally, in order to assure the family's position within the mafia families, he eliminated all of his enemies and replaced his father as the godfather.

You can also use this technique for a nonfiction story.


  1. Once upon a time there was a group of people who were forced to become slaves for the ruling class.
  2. Every day, they dreamed of freedom, which was prophesied by a patriarch in the past.
  3. One day, to avoid being killed by soldiers who were ordered to kill all newborn males, a mother hid her baby in a small basket in the river.
  4. Because of that, the princess of the country found the boy, fell in love with him, and adopted him as her own son.  Even though he was now a prince, he still remembered the pain felt by his own people.
  5. Because of that, he killed a man who was attacking one of his own people.  He had to leave the country and stayed away for 40 years.  It was here that he received divine instruction to return to the country.
  6. Until finally, he oversaw several supernatural events and freed his people from oppression.

Finally, this storytelling formula can also be used when making the case for a business process change.

What Happens When You Assume

  1. Once upon a time there was a company where all the employees worked on computers.
  2. Every day, they confidently stored their files on network (cloud) drives so that their files would be protected in the event their computers crashed.
  3. One day, a computer in the server room experienced an electrical failure which generated sufficient smoke to trigger the sprinkler system, which effectively put out the fire, but also damaged the equipment.
  4. Because of that, the information technology (IT) professionals discovered that that the automatic backup routines had been failing mid-way through all of the employee data.  They always assumed that the routines were working.
  5. Because of that, several employees lost business data that could not be recovered, because it was never actually backed up.
  6. Until finally, IT redesigned its server configuration to provide offsite storage and verification that backup routines were actually running.

Whether you are telling a bedtime story, writing a novel, or developing a business presentation, I encourage you to try this storytelling formula.

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