Some Writing Tips

Here are some writing tips that were originally posted by Emma Coats, a story artist at Pixar.

You have to admire a character for trying more than for their successes. 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.
Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about until you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. (Kill your darlings.) What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal with what you put them through? Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, so get yours working up front. Finish your story. Let go even if it’s not perfect.

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. 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. Remember, putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, even if it’s a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth, fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. Give your characters opinions. Passive or malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. Why must you tell this particular story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against them. Conflict is interesting. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on. It’ll come back around to be useful later.

You have to know yourself. The difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great, but using coincidences to get them out of it is cheating. Look at the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you do like? You have to identify with your situation and your characters. What would make you act that way?  What is the essence of your story? What is the most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build your story from there.

Now get to work. Whatever you do, write.

6 Replies to “Some Writing Tips”

  1. Great advice. Thanks for posting this. It hits home to me after seeing the film version of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”. Thomas Ryan combined Carson McCullers’ locations and characters and it actually tightened things up without losing anything. Who would have thought you could even adapt that book for the screen? Have a great weekend!


  2. You said Emma said, “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.”
    That’s a tip I had not heard till now. How upside down is that? Thanks. I’ll try it and pass it on.:)


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