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

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ARCHIVES OF July, 2015

What It Takes

What It Takes

Horse Sense: “Lay a Little Heavy on the Business Side” Revisited

By Callie Oettinger | Published: July 31, 2015

Conductor Zubin Mehta laughs with singers Dolly Parton and William "Smokey" Robinson during a reception for the Kennedy Center honorees in the East Room Sunday, Dec. 3, 2006. Photo Credit: Eric Draper. Caption Credit: The White House.

(This post first ran July 4th of last year. I’m revisiting it now on the heels of a visit with a young artist who I hope stands his ground and fights for a fair deal.)

Would you have said no to Elvis Presley?

Imagine Elvis calling you back in the day.

He loves a song you’ve written, wants to record it—and even invites you down to the recording session.

You’re excited and start telling your friends the news—and then (and this is a big AND THEN), a few days before the session, Colonel Tom Parker (a.k.a. Elvis’ manager) calls you up and says:

“Now, you do know that Elvis is recordin’ your song. And you do know that Elvis don’t record anything that he don’t publish or at least get half the publishin’ on.”

Would you give him at least half the rights? It’s Elvis after all and working with him would be a good thing, right?

If you were Dolly Parton and the song was I Will Always Love You, you would have replied:

“I can’t do that. This song’s already been a hit with me. And this is in my publishing company. And obviously this is gonna be one of my most important copyrights. And I can’t give you half the publishing, ’cause that’s stuff that I’m leavin’ for my family.”

And then decades later, you’d still be receiving payment for that song, right on through Whitney Houston’s recording of it becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.

(more…)

Posted in What It Takes
7 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Blake Snyder’s Fun and Games

By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 29, 2015

Have you heard of Blake Snyder? He was a screenwriter and writer of several terrific books about screenwriting (tragically he died in 2009 at fifty-one) including Save The Cat! (23 printings so far) and Save the Cat Goes To The Movies. Highly recommended.

Blake Snyder

Blake Snyder was famous for his “beat sheet.” This was his original, funny, idiosyncratic (and very insightful) way of breaking down a story into its constituent elements. There are fifteen beats in the Blake Snyder beat sheet, starting with “Opening Image” and continuing through “Set-up,” “Catalyst,” “B Story,” “Bad Guys Close In,” “Dark Night of the Soul,” etc.

Number Eight is “Fun and Games.”

Here [writes Blake] we forget plot and enjoy “set pieces” and “trailer moments” and revel in the “promise of the premise.”

The Fun and Games part of the story, according to Blake Snyder, begins around the start of Act Two in a movie (for books, say simply “the middle”) and can continue most of the way to Act Three.

What exactly are Fun and Games?

They’re what we go to a specific movie (or read a specific book) for.

We go to a Terminator movie to see Arnold Schwarzenegger destroy things. We go to a Hitchcock flick for the scares and the Icy Blonde in Jeopardy scenes. We read Philip Roth for upscale Jewish angst (and sex) and we pick up Malcolm Gladwell for quirky but profound insights into common but often-overlooked phenomena.

The Fun and Games of a historical romance are the bodice-ripping love scenes. The Fun and Games of a musical are the songs. The Fun and Games of a French restaurant are the gorgeous veggies, the meats and fish roasted with pounds of butter, and the impeccable complementary wines.

A case could be made that the plot of any novel or drama or epic saga, back as far as Beowulf and the Iliad, is nothing grander than a vehicle to deliver the Fun and Games.

And that the writer’s first job, before the application of any and all literary pretensions, is simply to make the Fun and Games work.

Consider Begin Again, the Keira Knightley-Mark Ruffalo-Adam Levine movie I was talking about in a post a couple of weeks ago. Begin Again is (more or less) a musical. The Fun and Games are the songs. Writer-director John Carney had, I don’t know, eight or ten tunes that he had to weave into the story. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t sit down with a notebook and ask himself:

1. How am I going to work each of these songs into the film?

2. Which characters sing them? And why?

3. How can I make each song serve and advance the story?

4. How can I make each song serve the story differently from every other?

5. In what order do I put the songs?

In other words, John Carney began with the Fun and Games. His task was to make them work in the story.

I gotta say, he did a tremendous job. For one song he had Keira Knightley, sitting alone at night in a New York apartment, open her laptop and watch a private video of herself singing for Adam Levine (her boyfriend in the movie) a song she had just written, asking him if he liked it, if he thought it was a good song. Tone of scene: wistful, romantic. Message: she loves him.

In another scene, Carney had Adam Levine play back a song for Keira on his iPhone (a song he had just written during a week out of town.) Twist: Keira realizes as she’s listening to the song that Adam wrote it for another girl. Upshot: she slaps his face and bolts.

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
18 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Learning the Craft

By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 22, 2015

If you and I want to be taken seriously as writers, it goes without saying that we have to study the craft. However we do it (read Aristotle, enroll in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, study McKee and Coyne and Stephen King), we must learn the timeless principles of storytelling with the same thoroughness that a brain surgeon applies (we hope) before he starts drilling into our skulls.

Jackson Pollock. That's the fun of it, isn't it?

That’s the craft.

But there’s another, even more important element to this enterprise.

Our craft.

What I mean by “our craft” are those stylistic and storytelling instincts that are unique to you and me alone and that constitute our voice.

Hemingway. Faulkner. Chekhov. Toni Morrison. Tom Wolfe. Each of their styles is unique. Each possesses a perspective that is his or hers alone, and each has a way of telling a story that is unmistakable, one of a kind.

What’s your style? Can you define your voice? Can we pick a sentence out of something you wrote and say of it, “This could only have been written by you?”

If you and I want to take ourselves seriously as writers, we have to ask ourselves not just, “Am I studying the craft?” but “Am I studying my craft?”

I’ve written before in this space about my friend Paul and his struggles coming to grips with his gifts as a writer.

Right out of the gate, Paul had a distinct voice and a strong instinctive style.

1. His characters were dark. Very dark.

2. They were violent. Beyond-Tarantino violent.

3. Paul had no patience with “backstory.” You know the scene(s) that seems to be required in every novel or movie, where the protagonist reveals (or another device is employed to reveal) the “reason why” she or he does what they do? Paul’s instinct has also been to blow those scenes off. He doesn’t care why people do what they do. Or rather, he believes that the untold answer is more powerful than the told.

4. He hates “private moments.” These are scenes (often without dialogue) when the character is alone or in a non-public venue and, by some act or gesture that he or she believes no other human will witness, reveals some key aspect of their character. An estranged lover, for example, may call up on her Smartphone a saved text from her lost love, revealing by this act that she still cares.

Paul hates those moments too. He will never give you one.

5. He refuses to show any of his characters except in their in-action personas.

6. He refuses to “explain” or “ground” any of his characters’ actions.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Paul has instincts as a writer. These instincts are not the craft. But they’re his craft.

If Paul is going to realize his potential as a writer, he has to master both.

(These instincts may be wrong, by the way. They may be crazy or misguided or just plain dumb. But they also may be the seeds of a unique and unforgettable voice.)

Each of us has a natural style, just as Charles Bukowski did, or Eudora Welty or Hunter Thompson or Jean Rhys. Each of us has a view of life that’s ours alone—and an ear for dialogue and a style of storytelling that belongs to no one but us. Again, that’s not the craft. It’s our craft. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
22 Comments
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