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

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ARCHIVES OF January, 2013

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

All Breakthroughs come with a Fever

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 30, 2013

I first came upon this concept in the writings of Laurens van der Post, the great South African. Are you familiar with him? He wrote one of my favorite books, The Seed and the Sower. The following comes from The Lost World of the Kalahari:

Laurens

Laurens van der Post

It has sometimes appeared to me that fever is designed, in part, to magnify reality, so that the imponderable contribution of the spirit to the malaise which produces fever, can become visible. There seems to be deep within it a rounding-up process of time which brings past, present, and future all lucidly together in the focus of a single symbol.

Van der Post believed that before the brain could assimilate as permanent some fresh personal advance or breakthrough, it had to recalibrate itself chemically. That was what the fever was doing. It was physically consolidating a spiritual change.

Van der Post was a friend of Carl Jung. He was deeply influenced by Jungian thinking and even made a couple of documentaries about Jung. But the bottom line for you and me as artists and entrepreneurs is this concept:

Every breakthrough is accompanied by a fever.

Which brings me to an episode that happened a couple of days ago with my friend Paul. You may remember Paul from several previous blog posts, tracking his struggles and progress as a writer.

Paul had a fever. Actually it wasn’t a fever; it was more like a nervous breakdown. His Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown. I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the idea. A nervous breakdown is a writer’s form of fever. It’s how we freak out, crap out, bust out, and blow out.

What was happening underneath it all was that Paul had made a breakthrough. He was getting better as a writer, becoming more of a pro. He had teamed up on a project with an established film-maker, and their work together was going great.

So he freaked out.

This fever expressed itself in two ways. First, Paul became convinced that everything he had written was garbage. He hated himself. He hated his work. I believe his phrase was “steaming turd.”

That was Symptom #1. Symptom #2 was expressed as a litany of furious and bitter grievances. I can relate to this myself. When I freak out, I do the same thing. Paul ran down the list of friends, family, etc. This one was screwing him. That one took him for granted. The third one didn’t appreciate him.

This was the form Paul’s fever took. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
21 Comments

What It Takes

What It Takes

No One Cares

By Shawn Coyne | Published: January 25, 2013

Genre "Slot" Westerns once paid Elmore "Dutch" Leonard's bills

The other night at dinner, I was asked how one might become a writer who makes his living with a big six publisher. Not a flavor of the month big deal first novel writer, nor a blockbuster bestselling novelist, but a blue collar, book a year, kind of writer. Writers that used to be referred to derogatorily as “midlist.” The ones who once were a vital part of the business.

I stumbled around the question and didn’t really answer it.

Like anyone else, I like to think of my world and career in very stable terms. Keep your eye on the ball, focus on storytelling, work on your craft and the rest will take care of itself kind of thinking. While there is a great deal of truth to that philosophy, it’s also extremely Pollyannaish. Especially when spouted to those trying to make a living now…not in 10,000 hours.

I have over twenty years of publishing experience inside my noggin, with great successes and abysmal failures sloshing around in there, informing every decision I make. The “just work hard on your craft” line is not very helpful for people twenty years younger than I…like the ambitious guys who were buying me dinner.

When I was in their position, a structure was in place to burn youthful ambition and convert it to competence. Sometimes even expertise. There is a structure now too, but it is a lot less efficient and requires far more energy. And there is no corporate ATM paying for it. Which sucks to some degree, but the thankless grind sure weeds out the dilettantes.

The “how do writers feed themselves without working at Starbucks” question hit me in the solar plexus because I couldn’t run away from the facts of big publishing today versus big publishing when I came online as an editor. Editors in my day were facilitators, modest money wells that working writers could tap without waiting on a slew of higher up approvals. (more…)

Posted in What It Takes
14 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 23, 2013

We were talking last week about stakes and jeopardy. It is critical in any story, I was saying, that the stakes for all characters be as high as possible—preferably life and death. There’s a further aspect to stakes/jeopardy that might be worth exploring this week.

chinatown

Jack Nicholson gets nosey with Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown"

The stakes in a story should always be on-theme.

Lemme digress for a minute. As I’m writing this, I’m wondering, “Is this subject of interest?” It is to me, but I’m wondering if getting into such nuts-and-bolts detail about storytelling is only tedious to readers who log onto this blog.

Am I boring you with this stuff?

Please let me know in the Comments section. I’ll stop if this is a drag.

Where were we?

Oh yeah … the stakes being “on-theme.”

What do I mean by that?

One way to raise the stakes in a movie or book is to increase the jeopardy to the characters. If a serial killer suddenly appears and starts whacking people’s heads off, that will up the ante nicely. But such escalation can also destroy the story’s integrity. We can’t start throwing around dead bodies just to add drama.

There has to be a purpose to this carnage (or to whatever other means we employ to raise the stakes), and that purpose has to fit in with what the story’s about.

Robert Towne’s Chinatown is about secrecy. It’s about things seeming to be one thing on the surface—and turning out to be completely different underneath. Chinatown is about duplicity and deception.

Therefore the stakes and jeopardy must be about secrets. Their drama must be played out on a landscape of deception.

What the characters must fear most is being exposed.

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
39 Comments
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