Ian Philpot

At the beginning of this summer, I read the article “The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar.” As I went down that list, I felt like I was reading some sort of holy book for the first time. Not only were these rules good, they had proven to be effective again and again.

But I ignored those rules for about a month. I legitimized how those rules were great for storytelling, but I was confident that, as an artist, my writing didn’t have to do those things. I went out of my way to think of stories that didn’t abide by those rules. And I didn’t get far.

Then I thought about storytelling in general. From Greek theater to reality television, there are some very specific rules that keep audiences captivated. Sure, Pixar doesn’t nail all of the rules possible to storytelling, but I’d make the case that they hit some of the most important rules—especially when it comes having characters that people want to hear a story about.

Long story short, I ended up with Alan Staph, which is great and fine for me, but I feel like an idiot for wasting a month. The important part is the lesson I’ve learned: It’s important to have rules to storytelling.

And that’s transferrable to other areas of my life. How many times had I ignored specific instructions because I thought I could do it without them?

Have you ever tried putting together IKEA furniture without the instructions? You don’t get very far. If you put a couple screws in the wrong spot, your new dresser is going to become a Swedish curb accessory on garbage day.

Life is difficult without rules. A simple lesson, yes, but it was one that I never expected to come from Pixar without learning it through the humorous antics of talking toy or the father of a lost fish or a super-proud race car driver. (Wait, maybe that was a lesson I was supposed to learn from Cars. Better re-watch it, just in case.)