Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Give a Star a Star Speech

By Steven Pressfield | Published: June 7, 2017


Actors will admit it, if you ask: the first time they read a script, some part of them is scanning it for a great speech they can deliver.

"Do ya feel lucky, punk?"

“Do ya feel lucky, punk?”

A star speech.

A speech that says, “This is my movie (or my book).”

It’s our job as writers, yours and mine, to give that star a star speech.

A star speech can be long.

I believe in the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curveball, high fiber, good Scotch … I believe that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

It can be a soliloquy.

To be or not to be, etc. etc.

A star speech can also be short.

“Go ahead, make my day.”

“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

A star speech doesn’t even have to be spoken by the star.

“You run away once, you got yourself one set of chains. You run away twice, you got yourself two sets. You ain’t gonna need no third set, ’cause you gonna get your mind right.”

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

Estelle Reiner referring to Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally"

Estelle Reiner referring to Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”

But a star speech has to be memorable. It has to articulate the star’s point of view/philosophy/dilemma. It has to be a line or lines that only the central character of the book or movie (or a supporting character referring to that central character) can legitimately deliver.

“What a dump.”

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

I know, I know. It ain’t easy to deliver lines like these on demand. I’ll bet the writers on Sudden Impact filled page after yellow page with candidates, answering Clint Eastwood’s directive, “Gimme a line people are gonna remember.” (Or, who knows, maybe Make my day appeared in the script organically.)

In any event, we want that line.

Our star wants it.

The audience/readers want it.

“She’s my sister. She’s my daughter … ”

"Third prize is you're fired." Alec Baldwin in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross

“Third prize is you’re fired.” Alec Baldwin in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross

“Greed is good.”

“Always Be Closing.”

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Oh, did I mention? Every one of these lines and speeches is on-theme.





Posted in Writing Wednesdays

8 Responses to “Give a Star a Star Speech”

  1. June 7, 2017 at 7:09 am

    This is a fun article, we forget about where do all those great lines come from. But they pop into the world they live forever.

  2. Mary Doyle
    June 7, 2017 at 9:00 am

    This is something I needed to be reminded of – thanks for a timely post!

  3. June 7, 2017 at 9:12 am

    “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was line brought about by serendipity. As the film crew had been complaining about the tight budget by saying they needed a bigger boat, the star picked it up.

    So, credit to neither writer nor actor for inventing the line, although Roy Scheider gets a pat on the back for saying it in the right spot.

    I wonder sometimes (often) while writing dialogue for a novel how much it needs to be different than what I’m used to hearing on the screen.

  4. Miri
    June 7, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Can any of Steves readers recommend a support group that helps with meeting resistance based challenges. I have a hard time waiting till Wednesday’s for my dose of support😐. Or any reading material that helped fight the self doubt and self sabotage would also help. Steve, I can’t thank you enough for all you have helped me so far with your books and articles. God bless you with health wealth and happiness!

  5. June 7, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    one of my favorites – “once again, things that could have been brought to my attention yesterday”

  6. June 7, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    This is such good advice. Excuse me, now. I have to go check my manuscript and see if there is a star line in it. :)

  7. June 7, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    This is so helpful right now. My first little book needs something like this. Thanks, Steven.

  8. Regina Holt
    June 8, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Knife to a gunfight… 😀