I’ll be honest: I’m a huge fan of Pixar movies. All of them. Seriously. I think the guys over there have some of the most intriguing ideas, some of the best artists working today, and some amazing writers.

Now I know why.

I highly recommend that any aspiring authors who read this blog ask themselves these questions and put their stories through the wringer with these rules. In fact, I liked it so much, I created this handy list for those of us who have CRS (Can’t Remember $()%). If you’re more inclined to apply the rules to your own work – as I am – then use this worksheet as well. Please note: I didn’t create this list; it was originally tweeted by a former story artist for Pixar, Emma Coats. I found the list on imgur, courtesy of Dinolgnacio, with some awesome photos.

Check out my comments on some of the rules, after the jump.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, I’ve got some comments on these rules. Everyone try and look surprised.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

Joe Konrath put it another way that I liked: “Just keep raising the stakes for your characters. Set up goals in the beginning, throw some obstacles in the way, and see if your characters sink or swim. And if your characters do swim, send a few sharks after them.” Yeah, it’s great to see someone struggle against adversity, especially very long odds, and ultimately win, but unless it’s the end of the book, it doesn’t work. You can’t have more story after the climax, or you end up with multiple endings, like Return of the King – which is, still, in my top 5 movies, regardless.

#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 very different.

I’m not gonna go through all the rules, but this one is one of the few I disagree with, for fiction writers. This is just my humble opinion, but I believe you should write the story, regardless of what you think an audience might find interesting or not. If you’re writing a ‘true story,’ then it will find its audience, even if that’s years down the road. Stay true to the story, and it will be interesting to someone. Maybe it won’t be Twilight, but it’ll be true, and for me, that’s more important.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

This is why I cut out the stories that will eventually comprise The Walker Chronicles. They’re good stories, but they’re not the heart of it, and that’s what’s going in the books.

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

I did this with The Dying of the Light as a whole, and with the first book. Interval was always going to be the harder story to tell, because it’s the “downtime” between the big bits.

#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.

I have, at last count, over 100 ideas for books. Not just stories, but full-length novels. Including my 31-book epic fantasy world (it’s not a series at that point). But until I put them on paper, they’re just ideas.

#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.

There’s a scene in Beginning (the upcoming DOTL finale) that was originally slated to appear in End (the first book), back when there was no trilogy, just a single book. It didn’t work, because I realized there was too much story to tell in one book, so I figured I’d save it for the second. Because it’s a good scene, lots of good action and consequences and character development and zombies and screamers and… well, lots of meaty story. But it didn’t work there, either, because the timing wasn’t right.  So now, it’s in the third book, because that’s where it was meant to be all along. And if I’d just tossed it instead… well, that would’ve been a waste.

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

This is a great piece of advice, and should really be #1. Because at the end of the day, you’ll need this distilled version anyway, as a pitch for editors, publishers, and most importantly, readers. It’s not Hollywood, though, so you don’t necessarily need to get too simplistic.


There’s a lot of wisdom in this list of rules. Ultimately, though, it’s you that has to apply them to your work. Don’t skimp; write. It takes work. Suck it up and get back to it, because no one else is going to tell your stories for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *