Writing is a creative act, and as such it is inherently messy and imperfect. It can be frustrating and difficult, or it can come naturally and easily. While some people seem to have a preternatural gift for writing, us mere mortals must develop our skills over time through years of practice.
And who better to learn the craft from than the expert writers at Pixar, who seemed to have mastered the art of storytelling through animated cinema? Thankfully, former Pixar director and storyboard artist Emma Coats (@lawnrocket) once tweeted the company's 22 tips for great storytelling, offering insight into the strategies the company uses to come up with such heart wrenching, tear jerking, inspirational storylines.
My favorites, as they pertain to content marketing, include:
Rule #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.
[Every article, every sentence, every word should be written for the reader, not the writer. Put yourself in the readers shoes and make sure you are addressing their needs, interests and pain points, not your own. I'll often delete some of my favorite sentences because I realize I was being self indulgent as a writer.]
Rule #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.
[Everyone has their own personal writing style, but for me, I often don't know exactly what I'm writing about until I get to the end. That's when your thoughts crystalize and you know what it is you meant to say, even if you didn't necessarily say it the way you wanted to. That's why the rewrite is so crucial. Go back and say it better!]
Rule #5: Simplify. Focus. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free
[Especially for those of us writing for B2B tech companies, it's easy to fall into the trap of over explaining complex topics in order to make them more accessible. But there's always an easier way. Go back and cut out any extraneous fluff.]
Rule #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.
[What's the old rule about perfection being the enemy of progress? Sometimes we push too hard to write the ideal article, when 'good enough' is good enough. I commend you for striving for perfection, but sometimes even artists need to ship their product out the door. The Beatles recorded over 200 songs, but only (!) 20 #1 singles. Still, the world is a better place for songs like 'Honey Pie' and 'Julia.']
Rule #12: Discount the first idea that comes to mind. And the 2nd, and the 3rd and 4th and 5th. Get the obvious ones out of the way. Surprise yourself.
[First drafts usually have lots of obvious statements in them. That's okay. But keep digging. You'll eventually strike gold.]
Rule #16: What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against them.
[Give your readers a reason to care. Explaining what might happen if someone doesn't take your advice or doesn't use your product is an excellent way of instilling fear, which as we all know is a great motivator.]
Click here to view the complete list of Pixar's 22 rules of storytelling.