22 effective Coaching Questions: Pixar’s 22 Rules of Story Telling Applied to Coaching

Coaching can benefit from animation company Pixar and their rules of story telling.  Pixar has 22 rules of story telling, according to David Price, the author of Pixar Touch – see his blog here. He gleaned these rules from the tweets of Emma Coats, a Pixar storyboard artist. I think they can be usefully applied in coaching. See what you think.


1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

Coaching Question: How can you recognize and celebrate the energy and effort you are applying to your projects?

2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

Coaching Question: How can you keep your client/customer/stakeholder firmly in mind in developing your plans and actions?

3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

Coaching Question: How can you take action right now and stop worrying about how things will turn out?

4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Coaching Question: How many different ways can you describe your history using the formula above?  How are the different versions similar? How do they differ? Which is your favorite version and why? How can this help motivate your next steps?

5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Coaching Question: What aspects of the patterns you see in your situation are pretty similar? What things are you going to leave unexplored or unanswered in the service of action?

6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

Coaching Question: If you faced challenges in areas that you feel the least capable, how could you meet those challenges and succeed?

7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

Coaching Question: Working backwards from where you need to get, what are the foreseeable next steps?

8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

Coaching Question: How can you get a positive outcome and closure in this situation even if it is not the most desirable or perfect outcome?

9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

Coaching Question: What are the most obvious things that would not work in this situation? What does that leave over that might just work?

10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

Coaching Question: Thinking about the people you admire, what specific characteristics or achievements do you admire? How does that reflect on you as a person and your priorities?

11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

Coaching Question: How can you best articulate this to trusted others without delay so you can get to work on refining and implementing your idea?

12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Coaching Question: What are the most obvious solutions to my problem? What would be the most surprising solutions to my problem?

13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Coaching Question: What are your real opinions about this situation?  What would a strong supporter say? What about a critic what would they say?

14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

Coaching Question: Why does this course of action matter so much to you? What meaning does it have for you?  How can you use this meaning and mattering to maintain motivation and persistence?

15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

Coaching Question: If you were a member of your team, how would you feel about the proposed action?

16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

Coaching Question: What is riding on this decision?  How can you use that to motivate you?

17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

Coaching Question: How can you switch your attention to projects where there is a greater liklihood of success? How can you ensure that you are able to transfer what you’ve learned to new projects?

18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

Coaching Question: How can you identify when you have finished something and when you are unproductively fiddling with a successful solution? What are the signs?

19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Coaching Question: How can you leverage chance events to your advantage?  How can you be ready to take opportunities when they present themselves?

20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

Coaching Question: Thinking about a recent outcome you did not like, how could you have done things differently that would have yielded a better outcome?

21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

Coaching Question: Imagine you are the gatekeeper, what things would make you open those gates and remove the barrier?

22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Coaching Question: What are the essential repeating themes, the values and behaviors you want to express in your next actions?

This post was the result of multiple tweets.  First Emma Coats tweets these rules, then David Price blogs on it, then Joshua Cohen blogs on it and then David Winter tweets it and now I blog on it. Social media in action!


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