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Friday, June 7, 2013


Mary Kennedy Eastham, had the good fortune of growing up in a small New England town. She spread her wings and moved to New York City, San Francisco and Malibu which is where many of these stories took shape. Her first book, The Shadow of A Dog I Can't Forget, now in its Fifth Printing, was a 2011 WILD CARD winner in the Hollywood Book Festival and a 2010 Celebrity Achiever Award winner. Her second book, Squinting Over Water - Stories recently was a Runner-Up WILD CARD winner in the Paris Book Festival. Learn more about Mary and her books at her website

Pixar's 22 Rules of Phenomenal Storytelling

I live in Silicon Valley and was lucky enough to be in a seminar where Emma Coats, a Pixar storyboard artist shared with us these rules of Phenomenal Storytelling. They are shaped around the world of movie-making but they are great creative tidbits of inspiration that we can all use.

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.

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__________________________ until finally _____________________________.

5, Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it actually 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 and 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, that perfect idea,  you'll never share it with anyone.

12. Discount the first thing that comes to mind and the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

13. Give your characters opinions. Passive, malleable might seem likeable to you as a writer but its 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 them.

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. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out if it is cheating.

19. You have to know yourself. The difference between doing your best and forcing the story is testing not refining.

20. Here's an exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you DO like.

21. You gotta identify with your character's situations. You can't just write cool. What would make YOU act that way? 

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

Squinting Over Water - Stories
There are no perfect people here. These characters are you and me trying to make sense of things -- good and bad -- coming up with a Plan B when life gets messy. One early reader said she would walk across continents to get to this book. These whimsical stories transformed her, made her believe once again in the true beauty and playfulness of life. 


Rosemarie said...

Wow! Your list is great and very helpful. I particularly like #6.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

These are excellent for beginners and veterans alike. I bet they'd be really good tools in schools, any grade, any English class.

Geoff Mehl

Anonymous said...

I love this list! I think it will be especially helpful when I'm staring at the computer and thinking...where does it go from here? Thanks so much for posting this!
JoAnn Bassett

Bobbi A. Chukran, Author said...

Love that list! I'm printing it out and keeping it. I sometimes forget to include the feelings of characters, and that's so important (and one of the reasons why Pixar films are so popular). bobbi c.

Peg Brantley said...

Just printed this one out. Thank you!

E. Ayers said...

I love your blog. It's informative, fun, and always filled with guests who bring something exciting with them. But you've got to stop adding to my TBR pile! :) This book just hit the top of the pile.

Cris Anson said...

This is a post worth saving. Thank you!

Word Actress said...

Wow. I love all your comments. I know we're all
writers so I try to post things that will really
add to your write-better list. Thank you all for
responding. You've made my week-end!

Mary Kennedy Eastham