I watched Ratatouille, and learned/was-reminded-of a few things about writing within the first half hour or so. (Seriously, if you need lessons in storytelling, just watch a Pixar movie with a critical eye.) In this instance, I mostly noticed how well the characters were introduced, so I wanted to sit down and figure out what made it work. So here goes.
1. Show them in their natural habitat
We see the rats being rats, but more importantly we see Remy standing out from that. He’s clearly got his own habits and ideas set long before the point where the story begins, and so that first plot moment develops naturally. You get the sense that he’s going to end up in this place no matter what.
2. Use the way they see the world to tell us about them
Remy is also a narrator character, which is something I enjoy employing in my own work, to varying success. In this case, it really works because it tells us details about the world that we might otherwise miss, but especially because it tells a lot about how Remy sees the world. Since he’s the main character, that’s kind of important.
3. Turn something upside down and force them to react
All that normal stuff, all the history given, and then an old lady with a shotgun blasts it all to pieces. Show the characters, then let those characters react to something crazy. I mean, of course we want the plot to happen, but in terms of character development, this is the moment that makes or breaks. If you did your job right, everything the character does just flows out of the prior setup.
4. Don’t have to reveal too much too early.
Yes, the important things should be there, but some details can wait or merely be implied or hinted at. We don’t need to know that Remy’s telling the story from the safety of his little rat restaurant in the future. We don’t need to know anything about how Remy would treat a friend just yet. We’ll see that eventually.
Darn. Now I wish I had been able to finish that movie. (I mean, not that I haven’t seen it before, but I missed the big finish with the ratatouille. I miss that.)
Anyone else with a Pixar movie that inspired them?