There isn't much to dislike in this analysis of rule twenty of “Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling” (that aren’t really Pixar’s), but it will help you be a better storyteller, anyway.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like.
This is a great exercise that I do all the time, often in a group session with the filmmaking team I've been working with for the last three years, in order to hone overall story analysis and troubleshooting skills. It's not a rule or piece of advice specific to defining your own working approach, or solving a common creative problem, but it's a fun and informative exercise to do whenever you see a "bad" film.
Picking a part a movie you don't like and trying to fix it makes you realize what you do and don't like about story, what works and doesn't work for you, and how you troubleshoot those things It's a great exercise because it gets you thinking about editing, which is something a lot of writers and directors don't think enough about. (Though, frankly, writers shouldn't think about it at all until they've written the first draft that gets all the ideas down so there's something to work with in editing.)
Figuring out what's working and what isn't, and what you think needs to be taken out, rearranged, or added in order to fix problems and enhance the drama, is an absolutely essential filmmaking still. Another great benefit to this exercise is that by trying to troubleshoot someone else's film you begin to realize how difficult it can be to find solutions, which will teach you patience when it comes to analyzing and fixing your own stories.
But there are many other equally useful story and writing exercises out there that get you thinking about other neglected aspects of the craft. It seems a shame to limit it to this one, so here are some other enjoyable, useful exercises that will help you refine story skills :
- Open the newspaper and write a story about the first article you find. What things about the original article that grabbed your attention when they were real did you have to modify in order to make the dramatic fiction work?
- Take a movie you like, study a scene between your two favorite characters, and then write an entirely different scene between those two characters. In order to find each character's "voice" how much much did you have to pay attention to word choice, cadence, and tone, versus point of view and personality?
- Write down everything you think you know about your favorite character from your favorite movie. Then watch it and see where you learn that information: what's in the set-up, what is explicitly stated in dialog later, and what you've inferred from actions and "reading between the lines" of the dialog.
- Take a movie you DO like and try to improve it. What things don't you like that you forgive, but given the chance would remove or improve? More importantly, is there anything you LIKE that could be cut or reworked in order to make the story better?
- Stop a movie about 15 minutes in and write down all the things you see as negatives about the main character. Do most of them resolve into positives by the end of the film? If not, was it a struggle to enjoy the film -- and if not, why
- Take a movie you like, and re-outline it from another character's point of view. What changed, and what didn't? How much of the new POV character existed in the original, and how much did you have to make up? What did you do with the original protagonist?
The exercise in rule twenty, and the others I suggest above, are some of the best exercises that involve analyzing someone else's work. There are tons of other story exercises out there, not just analytical ones, but also various preparatory exercises involving exploring your own characters and world in order to get you ready for first and revision drafts.
You can find more exercises in various books and websites (though I personally recommend cherry picking ones you like from multiple sources rather than fully buying-into any "comprehensive" program of exercises and techniques whole-hog).