Peter Raymundo on the 5 Elements of Story Structure at Disney

Local Author Fair Roundup Part 1

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to attend a local author fair at the West Osceola Library in Central Florida. It was a small event with several self-published and traditionally published authors in attendance. The highlights for me were the two guest speaking sessions by three different types of authors. Each one shared stories of their writing and publishing experiences that were helpful to me and hopefully to you, too. Part 1 will cover just the first session which included Disney’s storytelling formula and an author/illustrator’s writing process.

The first session was hosted by author and illustrator Peter Raymundo. A former animator for Disney films such as Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, Peter has used his animation skills to jump into the publishing world with the Third Grade Mermaid book series and The Monkey Goes Bananas.

Peter Raymundo at book fair
Courtesy of orangeobserver.com

An Illustrator’s Writing Process

Peter spoke at length about his writing process. For example, he shared how important it is for him, as an illustrator, to always have a sketchbook with him. When something in real life sparks his imagination, he gets to work right there. A lot of his books are marine life themed, so he visits aquariums regularly with his sketchbook. If he sees an interesting animal or something he’s never seen before, he pulls out the book, sits down, and sketches it right there.

Peter also talked about how much research goes into his stories before they are ever written. Animals he had never heard about before, such as the sea cucumber, come to life with interesting character traits based on the real-life research he does.

The Disney Storytelling Formula

My favorite thing that Peter discussed was about actually laying out how your story will flow. Most of us learned about the beginning, middle, and end of a story in school, but the former Tarzan animator said he learned something different to crafting stories at Disney. At Disney, they focused on the 5 parts of story structure. I’ll briefly list and explain the 5 parts below:

  1. Character: Who is the main character and what does he/she want?
  2. Setting: Location, time period, etc. It should become part of the story.
  3. Problem: What’s the one main problem with the main character getting what he/she wants?
  4. Struggle: The main character tries to get what they want, but fails over and over. Typically, the more they try the more complicated things get.
  5. Resolution: Does the main character succeed? Often they do, but not how they expected to.

Using Pixar’s Story Outline

Learning about story structure is always interesting to me. People have their own ways of deciding how to layout their narratives. For Crunch Time Cam, I used a story outline that I learned from a Khan Academy/Pixar course. It goes something like this:

  • There once was a ________ (Main character)
  • Everyday, ________ (His/her current life)
  • Until one day, ________ (Inciting incident that launches the adventure)
  • Because of that, ________ (Event after event that moves the plot forward)
  • Until finally, ________ (Resolution)

I highly recommend that Khan Academy course by the way. It was free, interactive, and incredibly helpful for beginner storytellers and veterans will pick up a thing or two. I’d love to hear if you have a formula for structuring your stories?

Part 2 of the Local Author Fair roundup can be found here!

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