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Everyday storytelling – How Pixar helped beat the back to school Blue(s)


Written by Holly Haselden-Davies


I have to admit that I hadn’t really thought about storytelling before I learned about the role it plays in our lives. Everyday storytelling really does happen all around us, but I didn’t imagine being able to apply its principles to one of my children’s homework. 

It was the night before school started and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The school bags were hung by the front door with care, in preparation for the first day at school pictures that mummy would share.

That was the idea at least. The reality was very different…

Because the night before his first day at secondary school, my son Blue dropped an almighty bombshell.

He’d been set a 500 word essay/story to complete over the holidays. He just never got around to mentioning it to me!

I was filled with a mix of emotions. Anger because he’d left it until now to tell me, guilt because he hadn’t event started it and, lastly, dread because of the consequences!

I could see what was going to happen. After an 8-hour working day, with the dinner still to cook and a baby to get to bed, I’d have to use every ounce of my remaining energy to muster up the enthusiasm to help him. I’d have to offer him advice he wouldn’t want to hear in the face of a complete absence of cooperation.

Every day is a school day

Trying level best to remain cool, I suggested he start by planning out the story. There needed to be a plot, a beginning, a middle and an ending.

Of course, this didn’t go down well. He told me the essay only needed to cover the beginning of the story and wasn’t listening to reason.

By this point, both the baby and I were feeling pretty grizzly. Without showing the desperation in my voice I used J K Rowling as an example. Would she have written the Philosopher’s Stone without knowing what was going to happen in the Deathly Hallows? Of course not. But just when I thought I’d got through, his tears started to flow.

I started to consider writing the essay myself over an ice-cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc. But I looked at his little face, wiped away his tears and gave him a hug.

I knew he really didn’t get it, and that was the thing we needed to crack. After all, there will be many more stories he will have to write.

The Pixar effect

Then I had a light bulb moment. I remembered back to my training at the Berkeley Storytelling Academy and how we learned about the Pixar storytelling format.

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The classic structure of a Pixar story

I showed Blue how Pixar uses this approach to write all of their stories before they’re made into smash hit animations. His ears pricked up. He got it!

He was able to use format to plan his story and get the essay written. He’d been won over. And he was acting on it!

And I was reminded once again that you never quite know when you’re storytelling skills can make a difference to someone.

As a homage to Blue, I decided to make this post 500 words long. So they all lived happily ever after.