Is there such a thing as a magic story formula?
That depends on how you define ‘magic.’
In the world of movie making, a movie that earns $100 million is often considered a success.
With that as a measuring stick, there is a magic storytelling formula. It has been utilized by one studio 16 times, and 16 times it has made over $100 million.
The studio is Pixar Animation. Since their modest beginnings in 1979, Pixar has grown to be the preeminent storytelling studio in Hollywood.
This hasn’t been by accident. Since it’s early transformation into a movie making company, Pixar has used a 7-step formula to craft stories that touch a deep emotional core in their viewers.
The formula sounds almost too simplistic, but when you run every great story through it, each step in the formula can be found.
The key to this process is that each step carefully leads to the next. What is this magical 7-step formula?
Step 1: Once there was a [protagonist, usually a relatable character with a dream].
Step 2: Every day s/he would [describe the character’s ordinary life].
Step 3: Until one day [introduce a conflict that disrupts the character’s life, and creates a challenge].
Step 4: Because of that [the character takes a new action].
Step 5: Because of that [the character acts in a new way].
Step 6: Until finally [a successful change occurs in the character’s life].
Step 7: Ever since then [this highlights the moral of the story].
Take any Pixar movie and run it through the formula.
For example, in their classic first movie, Toy Story, consider the following sequence:
Step 1: Once there was a toy named Woody.
Step 2: Every day he was in charge of all the other toys that belonged to his owner Andy.
Step 3: Until one day an exciting new toy, Buzz Lightyear, is given to Andy and threatens Woody’s standing within the group.
Step 4: Because of that Woody concocts ideas that will restore his place as the leader of the group.
Step 5: Because of that Buzz is placed in a precarious situation by Sid, the evil neighbor child, and Woody is condemned by the group of toys, which blames him for Buzz’s predicament.
Step 6: Until finally Woody helps Buzz escape danger [and as an added bonus, scares the heck out of Sid], and they are reunited with the other toys.
Step 7: Ever since then Woody and Buzz understand the power of friendship and how it makes life more fulfilling.
Contrary to what many people believe, Pixar is not a movie studio that makes animated films. They are a group of storytellers that happens to use animated movies to develop memorable characters that make you laugh, cry, think, and – most important – feel.
They use their magical seven-step formula to create the foundation for their legendary movies. From there, they build unique, but relatable characters, conflicts that create a ‘rooting interest’ for the heroes, and compelling scenes that take you on an emotional roller coaster.
Perhaps your dream isn’t to make $100 million movies. If you do aspire to tell stories that create an emotional impact, why not start with the simple formula used by the masters of the art. You’ll Stand OUT, and stand a much better chance of your message being remembered to Infinity, and Beyond!
(My apologies, it was cheesy, but too easy to end with that line.)
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