22 Rules of Storytelling By Pixar

One of Pixar’s storyboard artists recently released a list she’s compiled of advice she’s received over the years. It’s great advice for any kind of writer, but I find it very applicable to those of us attempting to write TPRS stories. I especially like #2, #4, #6 and #9!

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  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.
  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.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  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.
  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 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  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.
  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.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & 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 d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta 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? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Source: Cyriaque Lamar, i09

“Strip” Bingo

This game is thanks to Andrea on the moreTPRS list. The game is called “strip bingo” so it will have your students’ full attention! To play this game, you have students tear off a “strip” of paper. Then they make 5 boxes on the paper and write down one word or phrase in each box. You can then read a story or a list of phrases that have those words in them out loud to the students. For each phrase, the students have to ALL call out what the phrase means in English (or you call them out in English and they have to say them in the target language). The students can only rip off a word or phrase from their strip of paper if it’s the last word on one end of their paper. The first person to have all of their words called and ripped off wins. No prep and the kids love it!

Source: Andrea, moreTPRS

Using Videos as Material for Stories

These videos can be used to provide material for a story. The best part about them is that there is little to no language in them, so teachers of any language can use them! Cynthia Hitz originally explained how she used the video “Alma” in a TPRS fashion, and Ruth suggested using the video “La Dama y la Muerte” in a similar way at Halloweeen. I am definitely going to check out these videos and see what I can come up with for my French classes! They have recently started complaining that we “do stories every day”. Maybe this will help us to change things up a bit.

Source: Cynthia Hitz, Teaching Spanish with Comprehensible Input and Ruth, mjTPRS comment

Two Truths and a Lie

I have used this activity in English with many of my classes as an introductory activity at the beginning of the year. Basically the students each say two things about themselves that are true, and one that is a lie, and the rest of the class has to guess which one is the lie.

I never thought of using it as a TPRS activity until I read about it on Martina Bex’s blog. Martina’s adaptation of this activity involves having students write two things that actually happened in the story and one thing that didn’t. Then students find a partner and share their three ‘facts’. The partner has to figure out which thing didn’t actually happen in the story. The partners then switch roles and the other partner shares their three ‘facts’. Then both students have to find new partners and do it all over again.

Source: Martina Bex, Driven by Data

Stop and Write

This is a way to help with classroom management as well as improve your students’ writing skills. Start telling a story as usual, except as soon as you add a detail, tell the students to write down a sentence. You can write the words on the board, but not in sentence format. That way, they have to build the sentence themselves. Circle the sentence with the detail until everyone has it, then add another detail. Have students stop and write down another sentence. Keep doing this until the students have 5 sentences written down. Then get them to write the numbers 1-5 down for the quiz. The quiz questions can be yes/no, either/or, or an information question with an interrogative word. They use the sentences they wrote down to help them answer the questions. This motivates students to pay attention because they have to pay attention to write down the sentences, but once they have done that it is a very easy quiz.

Source: Jeff Forney, moreTPRS