Pixar Rules of Story #22: Pare it down and Build it up


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

Rule #22 is another that is bound to other rules. While Stephen Valdimir Bugaj discusses it mainly in relation to Rule #16: Raise the Stakes, I feel it is more about the theme and heart of your story, or its essence, linking to other rules including:

Rule #22 asks us to think about what it is our story is about and pare that down to its essence, or the most economical telling of it. Once we know that, when we understand what our story is about, we can start to flesh it out and build the story onto that framework.

Stephan discusses the story pitch at this point, taking this as the starting point for fleshing your story out. Perhaps 2 to 3 short paragraphs outlining the bare bones of your tale. Obviously writing a pitch is an important skill to master as a screenwriter and we should be writing them. However, Stephan suggests that this is the most economical telling of your story. I do agree with him there – it will be difficult to get it down below those 3 paragraphs and a logline or simple theme isn’t really a telling of your story. However, to me, a logline or the pure theme does suggest the essence and a another starting point for your story.

So perhaps that is another way to look at the Rule. Starting with your theme or logline, flesh it out to the pitch and then a summary, treatment, scriptment etc etc etc. We start with the essence, as suggested by the rule, and work through various stages to build the story from that point until we get to the first draft, adding layers each time we move outwards – a bit like dipping a candle.

This may be counter to other rules that talk about starting with the ending, or letting the theme emerge, but none of these rules are mutually exclusive. They are simply alternative ways of doing the same thing – getting you to the final draft. The trick is to try them and see what works best for you.

With this rule, starting with the theme might help you, or it might be better to start with a pitch. Just try it and see what happens. I like to work out from a logline (or as close as possible – it is likely to change throughout the writing process), then move on to a three paragraph summary (one paragraph per ACT), then a broad outline and then, finally, a more detailed treatment. Sometimes it becomes a combination of treatment and scriptment as I include some dialogue and direction but it works for me – it might for you… or not, just go and have fun figuring out what DOES work for you.

So start out small, then put flesh on the bones of your story so you are good and ready when it comes to “FADE IN”

Good luck!

Do you start small and build your story up?

Oh, and that is the last rule… so there is no new rule next week, although I will revisit the series for a final time with a debrief of all the rules and what they tell us about writing.

Hope you have enjoyed the series!

Feel free to comment below and you can access the whole series from the Introduction.


Posted on August 5, 2015, in Learning, Structure, theme, Writing, Writing Rules and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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