“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pixar Blogging Challenge #1

Hello! I'm really excited to be taking part in a new blogging challenge, started by writer, teacher, and industry intern Kate Brauning.  For more details on the Pixar Blogging Challenge, check out the details here: Blogging Challenge: Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

Last year, Pixar writer Emma Coats tweeted 22 Rules of Storytelling, all things she had learned, discovered, or been taught in her time with Pixar. In this challenge, we're looking at each one every day for twenty-two days. So...here we go!

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling, Rule #1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.  

Unavoidably, we grow to know a character as they carry us through the plot, as we watch them...try. We learn about them through their methods and their reactions, whether they grow angry and bitter over failure or whether they dust themselves off and begin again. And I think it's true because it doesn't just apply to fictional stories. It applies also to the way we view real people. Life is nobody's instant success. We all come to it in different ways, but at some points, many points, we are presented with challenges and we fail. It is these moments where we discover, and show the world, who we really are.

A mother of two little boys, I consider myself something of a Pixar expert since I've seen all the movies at least thirty times each. (I really don't think I'm exaggerating.) If I'm going to point to a Pixar example on this, the first one that springs to mind is Marlin in Finding Nemo. I will never forget when I watched it for the first time in a movie theater, long before I had children actually. It was that moment in the very beginning where the boat is motoring away, a churning wake behind it. We hear Nemo shouting, "Daddy!" and Marlin is both terrified and helpless as his child is taken from him. I sat in the theater thinking, "Well...that's it. This is hopeless. He's never getting Nemo back."

Quite honestly, I didn't like Marlin very much up to that point, and I don't think I was meant to. We see him blundering his way through social conversation among the other dads at school. He is overprotective and a bit of a nag. In fact, we mustn't forget that the reason Nemo was taken by divers is because he felt pushed to defy his father, who had humiliated him in front of his friends by following him on his school trip.

But that's just it. That's where Rule #1 comes in. It is Marlin's failure--when he attempts to protect his son a little too zealously, thereby losing him--that brings us to sympathize with his character. How unimaginably terrible, horrifying, crippling, to watch your child be taken from you. Powerlessness and loss.

And how does Marlin deal with it? Annoying, irritating, overzealous, overprotective father that he is? He chases that boat. Long after its trails have disappeared, his son's cries are lost, and hope is gone, Marlin takes on the entire ocean to save his son.

Many people could argue that the success of the rule is only there because this is Pixar. Because the colors and the images are so vivid, bringing scenes and emotions to life in a much more powerful way than any other story could do. The violin music swelling and flowing with the sway of the ocean throughout the film certainly helps to play my emotions, but it is really that moment. That crushing moment where every parent in the world knows what Marlin is thinking: "Oh my God. What have I done?"

Stepping away from the movie screen and into literature, call to mind the characters who have stayed with you the most. The characters who have nestled themselves in your heart so that when you hear mention of them, you say, "Ah. Elizabeth Bennett," and, "Oh, Pip!" In Great Expectations, we follow poor unfortunate Pip through his life, wondering at each chapter whether he will ever truly have what he wants, what he deserves. With each disappointment, we see his hopes and dreams, his kindness and love, and his perpetually good conscience. As he grows and learns about his world and the world at large, it is these good qualities that have us rooting for him, begging the book itself to allow him to overcome and succeed. That feeling, the wanting for our protagonist to do well, that is what drives us to keep reading. And that, on its own, is evidence enough of Rule #1.

When my oldest son Joey was reading Harry Potter for the first time, he was only five, but extremely precocious and intuitive. My husband and I were going back and forth about the various winning qualities of Gryffindors, most specifically of the leading trio of the series. Joey was quiet for several moments before suddenly interjecting. "I feel bad for Percy," he said, naming the lesser loved Weasley. He went on to explain how Percy's older brothers have all grown up and done great things, and his younger brothers are always getting attention for being wild and funny. "I think he acts mean and bossy because he doesn't know another way to fit in."

Of all the characters in the Harry Potter series for a little boy to pick up on, and mine chooses Percy Weasley. And yet...what was it that struck my little reader? The fact that Percy is a character who tries very hard, and never seems to please anybody (at least not as far as Joey, a kindergartener, could tell).

So, to conclude my first blog for this challenge, I'm going to shout AMEN! to Emma Coats and her first rule of storytelling.

Please check out what the other bloggers are saying about it:
Kate Brauning  Alex Yuschik  Regina Castillo  Talynn Lynn


  1. I love the story about Percy. How true. :)

  2. Great post. I am with you! I love, love, love great characters. If I am into a character, I can't wait to turn the page to see what happens next and if I have to walk away my own little movie plays in my head until I can sit down and read more. I guess I just love great people and great struggles!