By Shawn Coyne
Published: October 17, 2014
[Join www.storygrid.com to read more of Shawn’s Story Philosophy]
How do you choose what kind of story you want to tell?
Maybe you do it by thinking up a “What if” Event—what if terrorists attacked in the middle of the Super Bowl*?
Maybe you do it thinking of a “What if” Protagonist—what if the hero of my story is an inanimate object**?
Obviously, you can’t have a story without events and protagonists. But is there another way to goose yourself into a feverish writing jag? One that can sustain you for an entire first draft?
My advice to anyone tinkering in their heads about a big Story is to put both Events and Protagonists aside. Especially in the primordial stage. You’ll have no shortage of anguish with those two elements in the future, but for now—when you’re just doing internal spit balling—forget about them.
Instead go dark.
The most important element in any story is the force/s of antagonism. If you create incredibly specific forces of antagonism that you want to explore, the choice of genre to expose that darkness becomes crystal clear.
Posted in What It Takes
By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 22, 2014
I learned this from Randall Wallace (Braveheart), who learned it from Steve Cannell, the maestro of a million plotlines from The Rockford Files to Baretta to 21 Jump Street:
Keep the antagonist front-and-center in the middle of your story.
Why does this work? Because it energizes the narrative. Think about these all-time mega-hits—Jaws, Alien, the first Terminator. The villains were everywhere in those movies and, more importantly, the protagonists were aware of and terrified of them at every moment. Still don’t believe me? Four words: Star Wars, Darth Vader.
I was watching a movie called A Single Shot on TV the other night. Sam Rockwell was the star. I’m a huge Sam Rockwell fan so I vowed to stick with it all the way.
It wasn’t easy.
Why? Because the villains disappeared in Act Two.
A Single Shot is about a hunter (Sam R.) who discovers a stash of money in the woods. The Bad Guys are the dudes who lost the cash and now want it back. They should be coming after Sam big-time. But they don’t. Or they don’t come scarily enough or often enough. The result is the air goes out of the movie.
Compare this to No Country For Old Men, a book and film with a very similar premise. But in No Country, the villain Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) turns up everywhere, making corpses out of half the population of Texas as he pursues the hunter Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who has his money. The result: the movie (at least the middle part) nails you to your seat.
This principle—The Second Act Belongs to the Villain—works for abstract villains as well, like the looming market crash in Margin Call. The filmmakers go back to this monster again and again and every time the story gets tauter and the audience gets sucked in deeper.
Or if you believe that the real villain of Margin Call is the impending moral catastrophe embodied in the decision by the company executives to blow up the world economy in order to save themselves and their company (yes, I believe that too), then the filmmakers have answered that as well. Every scene in the second act vibrates with this looming decision and the moral calamity it implies.
The villain in Silver Linings Playbook is not a person or an abstraction. It’s Bradley Cooper’s obsession with getting back together with his wife Nikki.
In other words, it’s an interior antagonist.
David O. Russell, the film’s writer and director, keeps this villain up front throughout Act Two, and it works like gangbusters.
Let’s take a minute and examine how he does it.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays | 11 Comments
By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 15, 2014
Readers who follow this blog will have already guessed what today’s post is going to be about:
The Oakland Raiders are an example of an institutional culture. The Raiders are the poster child for a losing culture. No matter what players the Raiders draft or acquire in free agency, no matter what coach they hire or what new quarterback they install, they still stink. (Yes, I am a Raiders fan.) The losing culture is so entrenched and so powerful that it cannot be overcome. At least not yet. (Jon Gruden, are you listening?)
But let’s get back to ourselves as artists and entrepreneurs. We too have cultures.
Internal personal cultures.
These cultures are identical to institutional cultures except they’re one-person versions, and they exist entirely within our own heads.
Like institutional cultures these personal cultures consist of our histories; our records of success or failure; our assumptions about ourselves and the world; our expectations, fears, and hopes; our methodologies, our skills, and so forth.
One element is common however to all cultures, personal and institutional.
That element is Resistance.
Cultures evolve in response to Resistance.
Successful cultures overcome Resistance. Unsuccessful cultures are overcome by Resistance.
Where do cultures come from?
We breathe them in from birth—our national culture, our religious culture, our ethnic culture. These form our baseline. Over these, specific and unique organizational and personal cultures become overlain.
If you were born and raised in the American consumer society you have already, whether you realize it or not, imbibed and internalized an extremely insidious, pernicious, and toxic personal culture.
Where did this Toxic Culture come from? From well-meaning parents and positively-intentioned teachers, from traditional role models such as Congress, the President, the Supreme Court (stop me if you’ve heard this before). This toxic culture consists of consumerism, conformity, faux “liberation” and the affectation of self-conscious “irony,” from the values implicit in the prescription of Adderal and Ritalin; from political correctness; gangsta and wannabe-gangsta self-conception and presentation; from “self-esteem;” narcissism, shallowness, laziness, lack of work ethic, pursuit of external stimulation; from entitlement, worship of celebrity, instant gratification, nerd culture, self-indulgence, flight from adversity, pursuit of third-party validation, etc.
This is the mass culture that you and I inhale from movies, TV, pop music, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s the sea we swim in. We can see it no more than a flounder can see the Pacific Ocean.
This culture has to go. It must be eradicated by you and me and replaced, component by component, by an internally-originated, self-generated and self-approved personal culture.