Once upon a time… A great planning method and our first competition.

Once upon a time story planNote: Thanks to all writers who entered our first Story Planner competition. Well done to  Anna Fusté, the winner who wrote an atmospheric plan for her story, ‘The Cure.’ Our latest contest has now launched and seeks a screenplay plan, check the details here screenwriters! 

We’re going to offer regular competitions at Story Planner. We feel the planning stage of writing a novel or story is important, so we’ll be offering many small, free, competitions for writer’s using the plans at the site. The first will be a competition for the best plan using the Pixar ‘Once upon a Time’ plan. This is my new favourite plan. I think this planning method is so easy that it works even if you don’t think of yourself as a ‘planner,’ or have no interest in story structure. The Pixar story  spine is a ‘fill in the blanks’ way to outline basic structure. It’s based on a formula that’s stood the test of time and can be seen in the structure of many classic stories.

It goes like this…

Once upon a time_____  And every day_____ Until one day_____  And because of this_____ And because of this_____ Until finally_____ And ever since that day_____.

This is the shape of many a fairy tale, and follows traditional three act structure, although it’s presented in a way that avoids knowledge of turning points and acts. No one seems to know who first devised this story spine, but Pixar Story Artist Emma Coats tweeted it as one of 22 #storybasics storytelling tips from the studio. You can read the full list of Emma’s writing tips here. There is plenty of great advice in that list.

As a story structure geek I will explain how it fits three act structure, with those beginning, middle and  end acts. You don’t need to know this to use the plan well, but I think it shows why it successfully structures a story.

Act 1 : The set-up, the character at the start of the story.

Once upon a time…

And every day…

End of Act 1 : The turning point.

Until one day…

Act 2 : Complications on the character’s journey to reach a goal.

And because of this…

And because of this…

End of Act 2 : The turning point.

Until finally…

Act 3 : The resolution, the goal won or lost and the character changed.

And ever since that day…


I think this planning style works well for any story, from a short story to a novel, or a screenplay. That’s because it follows the character journey, and leads from one thing to the next in a satisfying way.

<img class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-122" src="http://blog.storyplanner.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-02-18-226×300.jpg" alt="Pixar story spine" width="226" height="300" srcset="http://blog.storyplanner cialis online.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-02-18-226×300.jpg 226w, http://blog.storyplanner.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-02-18.jpg 253w” sizes=”(max-width: 226px) 100vw, 226px” />So all you need to do to enter our competition is to write a story plan using the Pixar Once Upon A Time template. You can use it for a novel, screenplay, or short story, either one you know well, or try to use it to develop a new idea. Or you can try a few, there is no limit on the number you can enter.  Save and edit the plan as much as you like, and when you’re ready to enter the competition choose ‘Export’ and ‘Email’ and send the plan to the email address competitions@storyplanner.com. The deadline for entries is March 13th.

There will be a prize of a copy of the Pixar Storytelling for the winner, plus a year’s free subscription to Story Planner.  I will be very honest, the site is new so we’re not expecting  too many entries… BUT if you think this a good plan, or like the competition, we’d appreciate you sharing news of it on social media. If we get ten tweets or facebook posts about the competition then we’ll be able to give away three prizes not just one.

So, what are you waiting for…? To find the Pixar Once Upon A Time plan click here. 


There are just a few rules and ‘small print’ details.

  1. A Once Upon A Time story plan must be submitted to competitions@storyplanner.com before midnight GMT on March 15th 2016.
  2. The prize of a Pixar Storytelling book plus year’s subscription to Story Planner will be given to the best entry in the opinion of the judges. Two additional prizes will be added for every ten social media shares spreading news of this competition and/or the Once Upon A Time writing plan.
  3. We will not publish any of the created plans unless the author gives permission for this, and like every plan devised on the site the full copyright for the idea remains with the author.
  4. There is no minimum or maximum word length, but entrants should bear in mind that this plan is devised to showcase a story’s structure in a brief format.
  5. Writers can submit as many competition entries as they wish.
  6. The judges decision is final. (And if you don’t win we hope you find it a useful exercise to think about your story with this planning method.)

Happy writing, and good luck!


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