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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Files I Work With

By Steven Pressfield
Published: April 22, 2015

A week from now is the official launch of Shawn’s terrific and much-anticipated new book, The Story Grid. I’m gonna use today’s post to describe one way that I employ Shawn’s principles when I work.

"Wanna know what happens to nosy people? Huh? Huh? They lose their noses."

Right now I’m on the sixth draft of a fiction project. (In other words, NOT the first draft, which goes by completely different rules.) When I start to work each morning I open onscreen five files:

1. The actual draft I’m working on.

2. A file I call Scene By Scene.

3. Culls (meaning everything I’ve cut).

4. A file I call MissingMissingMissing.

5. Conventions of the Genre.

I’ll go into these files in detail in subsequent posts, but let’s talk about #5 now because it comes straight out of The Story Grid.

One of Shawn’s inviolable principles (with which I agree completely) is

The Writer Must Know the Genre She’s Working In—and Must Adhere to its Conventions.

Okay. What does that mean for me as I’m working? The genre I’m working in is the Detective Story. So …

In File #5 above, I have written out my own version of the conventions of a detective story. (I’ll include this document at the end of this post, but don’t quote me on it; it’s just my own demented version.)

I’ll keep this file top-of-mind throughout the drafting process. I’ll refer to it all the time. I’ll tweak it. I’ll add stuff as I think of it, etc.

How did I arrive at this list of conventions? As far as I know, there’s no reference work. So I just looked at a bunch of detective stories (Chinatown, The Big Lebowski, Blade Runner, The Maltese Falcon) and made my own list.

Shawn goes into great detail about genre in The Story Grid. He believes it’s so important that he named his own management company Genre Management. He talks about internal genres and external genres, all kinds of deep stuff.

It’s key to keep in mind, I’ve found, that you and I in our stories are probably working simultaneously in multiple genres. We’ve probably got a Love Story mixed in with our Historical Fiction or Sci-Fi, possibly a Coming Of Age Story, and so forth. We’re gonna have to keep track of all of ‘em, but for now let’s stick with only the Detective Story as an example.

How do I use this list of conventions?

I make it my bible.

For example, in every detective story there’s at least one scene—i.e., a convention—where the private eye (even if he’s “the Dude” in The Big Lebowski) gets the crap beaten out of him by the Bad Guys. Think Jake Gittes getting his nose sliced open in Chinatown, then nearly having his back broken by the farmers in the orange grove, or Harrison Ford getting hammered by replicant Brion Jones in Blade Runner, not to mention the pasting he receives from other replicants Rutger Hauer and even Daryl Hannah.
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Posted in Writing Wednesdays

What It Takes

What It Takes

Protect Yourself: The Contract

By Callie Oettinger | Published: April 24, 2015

Would you do this without a net? Photo credit: George E. Curtis image of Maria Spelterini crossing Niagara Falls. Source: Wikipedia.

Working without a contract is like walking a tightrope without a net. Doable, but risky—with the potential to do real harm if you slip (depending on the height at which you’re walking and the conditions awaiting below).

Working with a contract you don’t understand is just as risky. There’s an ever-growing list of bankrupt artists with wealthy publishing/recording/etc houses, of artists who have lost ownership of their work because they didn’t understand what they were signing, or who went unpaid because their contract didn’t protect them/their work.

For the above reasons, my advice to young artists, particularly those slogging through BFA’s/MFA’s, is to balance their art courses with business and law classes—and if they’re not in school, pick up a few books.

This side of the creative coin is the one that often sends artists into hiding, but the reality is that even if you have someone who can handle legal/business for you, you’re putting yourself at risk by not learning the basics. Would you know if you were receiving a fair shake? Or how to protect your work?

When I opened my own shop almost 15 years ago, one of my first investments was in a contract. Hands-down, its provided the greatest return to date. I wanted something that was fair for my clients, but also something that would protect me/my work. Based on experiences with previous staff jobs, the items at the top of my contract list were:

• Signing Fee
• Kill Fee
• The Unexpected
• The Rights

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Posted in What It Takes | 9 Comments

What It Takes

What It Takes

Readers First

By Shawn Coyne | Published: April 17, 2015

Greg Mistler's well travelled copy of Gates of Fire

[Join to read more of Shawn’s Stuff]

Here’s something I think is true.

It’s a riff on my 10,000-reader rule, which I think is the magic number of readers per title a publisher must reach before she can be satisfied that she’d done all that she could.  After exposing 10,000 interested people to a book, she’ll either concede defeat (for whatever reason the book just didn’t generate enough word of mouth to survive) or she’ll start reaping revenue from the title year after year.

What’s important isn’t selling 10,000.  What’s important is having 10,000 people read the book!

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Posted in What It Takes | 8 Comments
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