Pride and Prejudice - The STORY GRID edition - Annotated by SHAWN COYNE

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Start With the Villain

By Steven Pressfield
Published: November 15, 2017

 

There’s an axiom among screenwriters:

 

Start at the end.

 

What they mean is, “Figure out your climax first (Ripley blasts the Alien into outer space; Moby Dick takes Ahab down to the depths), then work backwards to figure out what you need to make this climax work.

Don't you hate this guy? (Even Donald Sutherland hates this guy.)

Don’t you hate this guy? (Even Donald Sutherland hates this guy.)

I’m a big believer in this way of working—and its corollary:

 

Start with the villain.

 

Once we’ve got Anton Chighur (Javier Bardem in the movie), we’ve got No Country for Old Men licked. Once we’ve got Hannibal Lecter, we’re halfway home in The Silence of the Lambs.

It’s natural to want to start at the beginning and start with the hero. Let’s introduce Raskolnikov, we tell ourselves. Let’s intro Huck Finn. But all too often, this way of working runs out of gas halfway into Act Two. We find ourselves asking, “What did I think this story was about? Where were we going with this?”

Answer: identify the villain, then regroup around this axis.

In The Hunger Games, the villain is the corrupt, soulless “system,” embodied by Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), the commander of Panem.

Let’s start with him.

Pin his picture to the wall.

Place his index card above all our scenes and sequences.

Bad Guy Snow tells us what our heroes (even if we haven’t conceived them yet) must believe in, how they must act, what temptations they must face, and by what means they must fight him and overcome.

Whoever Snow is, our Good Guys are the opposite.

Whatever Snow stands for, our heroes stand for its antithesis.

When we start with the villain, we have a leg up on our climax as well (again, even if—especially if—we don’t know yet what that climax is.)

How does knowing our villain help? Because

  1. We know that the hero must duel the villain in the climax.
  2. We know that the climax must revolve around the story’s theme.
  3. We know that the villain embodies the counter-theme.

In the climax, our hero has to face Doc Ock, Immortan Joe, Bane, the Alien, the Predator, the Terminator.

  1. Hero and villain duel in the climax over the issue of the theme.

When we get our villain straight in our mind—when we know who he is, what he wants, what his powers and vulnerabilities are—we are working from firm, solid ground when he attack every other part of the story.

Start with the villain.


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Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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What It Takes

What It Takes

Getting to Zero

By Callie Oettinger | Published: November 17, 2017

Revisiting a post from almost four years ago, after Shawn’s What It Takes columns reminded me that I’d visited Gladwell in the past, too.

Do you know “scat” music’s tipping point—that moment just before it started spreading like wildfire?

The short version is that, though artists had been experimenting for years with the form, scat’s explosion in popularity followed the release of Louis Armstrong’s Heebie Jeebies. In the book Louis Armstrong, in His Own Words, he explained:

The day we recorded “Heebie Jeebies,” I dropped the paper with the lyrics—right in the middle of the tune . . . And I did not want to stop and spoil the record which was moving along so wonderfully . . . So when I dropped the paper, I immediately turned back into the horn and started to Scatting . . . Just as nothing had happened . . . When I finished the record I just knew the recording people would throw it out . . . And to my surprise they all came running out of the controlling booth and said – “Leave that in.”

Look it up online and you’ll find doubters of the story, one theory being that Armstrong invented the story to explain his scatting when the form wasn’t yet widely embraced.

Whatever the truth is, end story is that he did it—he tried something that wasn’t widely accepted and continued on the same path the rest of his life. Whether the walls he faced were built on racial prejudices or on personal hardships, he plowed forward, leaving them crumbling in his path.

What drove him?

Weapons of the Spirit


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What It Takes

What It Takes

The Context of No Context

By Shawn Coyne | Published: November 10, 2017

Before Malcolm Gladwell’s re-invigoration of the “Big Idea” work of nonfiction sprang from the pages of The New Yorker, the in house writer who owned the crown of putting forth a big think piece with aplomb was George W. S. Trow.  Here’s a post from www.storygrid.com about Trow’s prophetic distillation of what ails us today.

We’ve all had experiences like this.
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Posted in What It Takes | 9 Comments
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