Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Six Lessons from Toy Story 3


I went to see the new Toy Story movie on my birthday. I loved it! It’s deserving of all the hype it’s been getting and you should definitely check it out if you get the chance. In the mean time, here are some lessons I learned about writing courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios.


It’s been eleven years since the last Toy Story movie. It takes time to create something wonderful. Don’t be so caught up in “getting something out there” that you don’t spend the time to make sure it’s something worth having out there.

Keep your audience in mind

One of the things that makes Toy Story work (well, most of Pixar’s movies) is that it appeals to both kids and adults. Even though we may be writing for kids, we need to keep in mind who’s buying our books. This is especially true if we’re writing picture books.

Respect your audience

Kids are smart and often come with a better (and more mature) sense of humor than we give them credit for. Everyone loves slapstick but even young readers can appreciate a thoughtful story.

Pick substance over flash

The animation of the Toy Story 3 is stunning. But what makes it truly great is the *story.* You can have all the flashy tricks in the world going on it your book or following the latest trend. But if you don’t have a quality story, the work will ultimately fall flat.

Good characters are essential

One of the reasons the Toy Story franchise has been so successful is that it has memorable characters. They are clever, kind, smart, dedicated, loving and yes, flawed. We can relate to them and find their world believable.

Show, don’t tell

There is a scene in Toy Story 3 where all looks bleak for Woody and the gang. I won’t tell you what it is, but I will tell you that the characters simply begin to join hands. Without saying a word, these characters tell us so much about their love for each other. It’s amazingly moving. It’s also great writing.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Fall 06.23.10 at 3:31 pm

I heard there was a completely different script for this movie about Buzz getting recalled. Then Pixar decided it wasn’t good enough, scrapped it, and started over. CARS originally had a different script too. I admire their willingness to throw stuff out if it isn’t working.

Christina 06.25.10 at 7:25 am

Great list Carmella! Knowing the audience is really important. And I agree that having unique and interesting characters is necessary. I’m reading a book right now where I don’t like the MC and I’m having a really hard time getting into the book.

Rebecca Ryals Russell 06.27.10 at 2:52 pm

Isn’t it funny how after you begin writing, anything you read, watch or hear on audio tape is automatically analyzed in writing terms? Toy Story 3 also verified the definite need for strong characters, as you said.

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