On Twitter last year, former Pixar illustrator Emma Coats shared a wealth of what she called “story basics” or concepts and ideas she and her Pixar colleagues used to create compelling stories for the digital animation company.
Knowingly or not, in the process, she shared tips that could also help any struggling writer. It’s been awhile since I wrote a piece of fiction, but I did find myself applying Pixar’s story guidelines to write my blog posts. While most of her tips are geared toward character development and plot, the ones about story development are a writer’s gold mine. Some of them every writer knows. Others, not so much. Either way, knowing these are techniques Pixar uses is pretty cool.
Here are a few of my favorites that can take anyone’s blog post “to infinity and beyond”:
Make Sure Your Story is Worth Telling
If you want to tweet about what you had for breakfast, that’s your prerogative. Unfollow. If you want to update your Facebook status with road rage rants, so be it. Unfriend. But when you’re actually posting to your blog, make sure it’s about a topic that means something to you and not just words you threw together so your last post isn’t dated 2009. If it doesn’t have meaning for you, your readers aren’t going to care about it either.
Self-editing Sets You Free
Sometimes it’s tough self-editing. Luckily, here at Global Knowledge I have access to a handful of talented editors (“Thanks!,” says the one editing this post). But because they are so talented, it makes me want to turn in a more polished first draft. Coats warns not to feel like “you’re losing valuable stuff” when you self-edit. I was once the master of a sentence even Thomas Wolfe would say was a run-on, but I found the power of the “economy of words” that poets use. In college and even in the reporter’s pit, words equal inches equal pages. Breaking that word-counting habit and focusing on what is truly important in a blog post can be life changing. Simplifying thoughts to that laser point can make a potentially good blog post great.
Know the Essence of Your Story
Do you know the most economical way to tell your story? “If you do, you can build out from there,” Coats says. The aforementioned poets are taught the economy of words or how to tell an eloquent short story in just a few lines of free verse. Marketers and recruiters know that as the “elevator pitch.” If you can’t tell someone what you do or what your company does by the time you reach the ground floor on an elevator ride, then you’re doing it wrong. The same goes for a blog post. If I see a meandering, unorganized post on your blog that takes awhile to get to the point, or seems to not have a point, I might not be so quick to return.
Pull Apart the Stories You Like
“What you like in them is a part of you,” Coats explains. “You’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.” Earlier this year, I was reading a few articles and blog posts about the Super Bowl that had happened the night before. I don’t watch a lot of sports but have always enjoyed sports journalism. Some of America’s greatest writers are simple, no-nonsense sportswriters. I love the way each writer can break down in a unique way an event that was seen by millions. After reading quite a few well-written Super Bowl pieces, I started thinking about how football is not that different from the corporate world and how success on the football field could translate easily to the boardroom. I ended up writing a blog post entitled “How to Become an MVP at Work Without a Helmet.” With 5,000 views so far, it was one of my most popular blog posts ever. I even had a few coworkers compliment me on it, and that rarely happens. I was feeling it, which reminds me that I need to start on that bacon blog post soon. Write what you like, right? It’s gonna be awesome!
If It Stays In Your Head, You’ll Never Share a Perfect Idea With Anyone
Some of the best ideas I had as a newspaper columnist floated around in my head so long that I left the newsroom before they could ever make it to print. Luckily, today we have blogging and we can express ourselves whenever we want. But getting it to the computer screen is no different than getting it to print. You’ve got to get the idea in an editable form. Write it down. Type it up if you have to, because as Coats says, “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it.” Seeing a story idea with your eyes gives you a different viewpoint that may help you find the missing piece you couldn’t find when you were only thinking about the story. Because I’ve followed Coats’s advice, my Draft folder in Outlook is so full of unfinished but fairly brilliant blog posts, I could easily have a daily blog post. I don’t want to get overexposed, but I can’t wait for you to read them one day.
No Work is Ever Wasted. If It’s Good Enough, It’ll Come Back Around to be Useful Later
So we’ve gone over how harrowing yet liberating self-editing can be. But always keep in mind what you don’t use. You never know when that deleted idea or those words not worthy of one blog post are the perfect fit for another blog post. If it never resurfaces in another blog post, let that be a lesson that not everything you come up with is golden. Of course, no one has to know that secret but you.