There is no one “right” way to write a novel. But there are basic types of plot points which every story, no matter how simple or complex, needs to include. Using a strategy like this Pixar storytelling model is one way to make sure you’ve got them covered.

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Ep 67: How to Play With The Plot
Ep. 47: Tie Your Scenes Together
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull


Stephanie: (00:10)
Hello writers. I’m Stephanie Dethlefs, writer and book coach, and this is the Let’s Write Your Novel podcast. This is the place to be if you’ve got a story on your heart, but you need a bit of clarity, accountability, and support to finally write your novel. In each episode, I give you one skill or strategy to apply to your novel, and we’ll also take a peek into your mindset about the process. I’m here because your story matters. You deserve to write it, and you have a reader out there who needs it. So let’s get to it. I love Pixar. I love their feature length movies, and I love the little short films that I used to show my elementary students as they were washing their hands for lunch. I think that their ability to tell an emotionally impactful yet succinct story is really unparalleled. And so in the same way that I often encourage you to look at mentor texts to see, well, how the sausage gets made , I think it’s really helpful to take a look at how master storytellers of any media structure the plot of the story.

Stephanie: (01:18)
The nice thing about these animated stories is that they’re generally simple and direct, which provides us with a wonderful starting place for thinking about the events of a novel. Will this include every detail we wanna include in our book? No. But is it a nice set of guideposts to follow? Absolutely. If you listen to the last episode about playing with plot, and if you followed along with me and used what if as a brainstorming tool for things that could happen in your story, then you have a list of possible ideas that you can play with today. If you didn’t do that activity or if you’re knee deep in the writing already, no worries. Today’s topic is really about how to tie your plot events together with cause and effect and to have a clear starting and ending point. And that’s crucial to think about no matter where you are in the process of writing.

Stephanie: (02:14)
So while I’m going to approach this today kind of like a brainstorming activity, the Pixar structure is gonna be useful to come back to, even if you’re deep in the actual writing. Let me lay out their storytelling model, which you can find described in multiple places online and in co-founder Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity Inc. It looks like this, Once upon a time, dot, dot, dot, One day, dot, dot, dot. Because of that, dot, dot, dot. Until finally, dot, dot, dot. And ever since that day, dot, dot dot. Sound familiar? Possibly like any fairytale you’ve ever heard, ? I know. So let’s look at each of these pieces more closely. Once upon a time, dot, the writer a chance to set the scene. This is also known as the exposition, the place where you give the reader some context for what’s going on. Even if you plan to start your book in the middle of some action, you’ll still come back to this relatively quickly. One day, dot, dot, dot.

Stephanie: (03:25)
This is the catalyst of the story, the thing that changes everything that sets in motion the events of the story. Every story needs this. The catalyst could be huge, like the loss of a loved one, a diagnosis or the end of a relationship, or it could be small like something someone says offhandedly to the protagonist that affects them deeply. The nature of the catalyst does not matter, but it needs to be intentional and clear because it leads into everything that comes next. Next step is Because of that dot, dot, dot. First of all, I did an entire episode on because of that back in episode 47. So I’ll encourage you here to go back and listen to that one. I’ll put a link in the show notes. But to summarize briefly beginning each of the next several plot points with, because of that allows you to make sure that they’re leading intentionally to each other rather than happening as a random series of events.

Stephanie: (04:26)
So just to make it really clear, you’ll keep repeating because of that until you come to the Until finally, which is next. What are your goals for 2023? Is writing a novel one of them? Listen, you’ve waited long enough to become the writer you’ve always wanted to be. I know how life can get in the way and your personal goal of writing a book can get pushed to the back burner. But I also know that you deserve to write your story, and I want to help you schedule a free call with me right now. Don’t let your dreams stay on the back burner anymore. Go to hello, and let’s talk about how to get your novel written in 2023. This is your year. I can feel it and I know you can too. Again, that link is I’ll talk to you soon.

Stephanie: (05:27)
Okay, so we’ve just done a number of because of that’s, and the next one is until finally, dot, dot, dot. Now you might call this the climax of the story, the peak, where everything changes again, and that would be right, But I also want you to think about this as the moment when the light bulb goes on above the protagonist head. They now understand the world in a new way and are going to make decisions from here on out based on this new understanding. It’s really what we’ve been rooting for for them all along the way. And the last one is, and ever since that day, dot, dot, dot, which is how the story resolves itself and the picture that the reader is left with. So let’s look at this whole structure in action. Using Pixar’s first worldwide hit the original Toy story. Once upon a time, Woody was Andy’s favorite toy.

Stephanie: (06:25)
One day, Andy received a buzz lightyear for his birthday. Because of that, Woody was set aside in favor of Buzz. Because of that, Woody tries to get rid of Buzz. Because of that, Buzz falls out the window. Because of that, Woody feels guilty and goes after him. Because of that, Woody tries to trick buzz again at Pizza Planet. Because of that, Woody and Buzz get picked up by the neighbor boy Sid, who torts toys until finally Woody and Buzz realize that they both make Andy happy and decide to work together to get home. And ever since that day, Woody and Buzz have gotten along and shared time with Andy. Now, does this include every nuance detail of the movie Toy Story? No. , it doesn’t. Does it include all of the character development that happens for both Woody and Buzz? No. But is it a frame that shows movement toward the final goal that the two of them realize that they both matter through plot events that are linked with cause and effect?

Stephanie: (07:30)
Yes. And that is the purpose of me sharing this structure with you today. So if after the last episode you wrote a brainstorm list of what if, story ideas, here’s your next step. Try to create a story frame using this Pixar strategy for your favorite idea. Then do another one for the same idea. And another one, switch to a new what if and start again. This is meant to be playful and fun and free. You aren’t committing to any storyline. Not yet. We’re just playing with possibilities. And if you are already knee deep in a story, then sketch out your story frame and see where the gaps are. Do you know where you’re heading? Do you have a One day… and an Until finally… already in place? If not, those are a wonderful place to spend some time this week. Writers, there is no one right way to write a novel, but there are basic types of plot points, which every story, no matter how simple or complex needs to include using a strategy like this, picks our storytelling model is one way to think about it this week. Be playful, have fun, and I’ll talk to you next time.

Stephanie: (08:47)
Thank you for being here. If you like what you heard, would you please take a moment to leave a review, a rating alike, all of of the things so that it can reach more writers who could use a little support today. I would appreciate it so much. Happy writing.