By Donna Cangelosi
I recently attended a Disney and Pixar short films festival featuring two Pixar shorts Feast (2014), showing the culinary adventures of a Boston Terrier and Piper (2016), a baby sandpiper's quest to overcome her fear of the ocean. Both character-driven movies, like all Pixar shorts, serve as excellent reminders of good storytelling, demonstrate perfect story arcs, and have instructive qualities for picture book writers.
Get to the point...and quick!
In the opening scenes, Pixar shorts introduce charming characters facing big challenges. In Feast, a small Boston Terrier, Winston, searches the streets for something to eat. In Piper, the baby sandpaper approaches the ocean to find food for the first time. Both are simple introductions with big impact. They pull viewers in and have them rooting for the main character right from the start. Director of Piper, Alan Barillaro said, "You're trying to tell a story visually, as quickly as possible, something that's easy for the audience to get but also humorous and character-based."
The Takeaway: Use opening lines that introduce the character, identify the problem and pull the reader in.
Create endearing characters
Pixar is known for its adorable characters. In creating them, the animators rely on facial expressions, body language, and fine details to show emotions. For instance, the pacing of Winston's movements, tilting of his head and body positions portray his satisfaction with various foods. The use of personified facial expressions gives the audience a glimpse into Piper's internal experience of shock and fear when she is drenched by a huge wave. Her quick retreat, ruffled feathers, and quivering elicit empathy and a strong emotional tug.
The Takeaway: Use strong verbs and to show your character's expressions, body language and emotions.
String together strong plots with satisfying endings
Pixar animators rely on movement to tell the story. One scene quickly follows the next. Without dialogue, the audience must infer what's going on. This means that every scene must drive the story forward. There are no unnecessary details or detours--just a clear story format where the main character is faced with challenges that must be overcome to reach a goal. The end result...a beautiful story with a satisfying ending. And Pixar never fails to deliver heart-warming films, which make the audience walk away feeling touched, inspired, and looking forward to the next masterpiece!
The Takeaway: Don't be afraid to cut characters or scenes that don't drive your story.
Try watching more Pixar shorts with fresh eyes--as a writer on a quest to learn more about storytelling!
Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel are picture book critique partners & friends who are passionate about kids' books & are eager to share tidbits from their writing journey with other aspiring writers.