How Understanding 'Toy Story' Can Help You Get into College

Three words that could get you accepted to the University of Chicago: make it new.

Ethan Sawyer, Writing for,
Episode #473
narrative structure college essay advice

Photo by JD Hancock CC 3.0

Here’s a secret: most Disney and Pixar films have the same structure. And it goes a little something like this:

  • Status Quo. As the story begins, life is like this.

  • Inciting Incident. Something happens to disrupt the status quo. (Fun fact: it’s usually 12-15 minutes into the film.) Often, this is when we learn the main character’s “want” (a.k.a. external desire), which is what the character thinks will make him or her happy. In Finding Nemo, for example, Marlon wants to protect his child forever. In The Incredibles, Bob Parr wants to be an amazing superhero.

  • Raising the Stakes. Over the next hour or so, things get more serious and dangerous. Often, this is when we learn that the character has a deeper need (a.k.a. internal desire). In Finding Nemo, Marlon discovers he needs to not protect Nemo, but to let him go. In The Incredibles, Bob Parr needs to learn to be not only an amazing superhero, but an amazing dad.

  • Moment of Truth. Often, this is when the hero must make a huge choice, after which there’s no turning back. Sometimes this involves our hero choosing between his want and need (as in Finding Nemo), and sometimes this choice helps our hero achieve both his want and need (as in The Incredibles).

  • New Status Quo. As the story ends, we see that life is different from when we began.



About the Author

Ethan Sawyer, Writing for Grammar Girl
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