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

SEARCH

Search

SUBSCRIBE

Subscribe RSS

Subscribe to SPO.

ARCHIVES OF August, 2017

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Last Report from the Trenches

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 30, 2017

 

My sense is that maybe it’s time to dial down our “Reports from the Trenches.”

"You picked your feet in Poughkeepsie!"

“You picked your feet in Poughkeepsie!”

The big takeaway of the series actually came in the first week:

 

Even long-time successful writers crash and burn. It happens to me just like it happens to everybody.

 

I hope the follow-up posts have been helpful. But my sense is that we may have reached the point of diminishing returns. The last thing I want to do is bore anybody.

So …

Lemme try to wrap up today with a quick “lessons learned” post.

Aside from the acknowledgment that EVERY WRITER screws up and EVERY ARTIST sometimes has to go back to Square One, I reprise here three tricks of the trade from previous posts in this series.

The object of all three is to GET AT THE STORY, when the story is hiding from us and remains half-buried like a dinosaur fossil.

I’ve been using all three techniques myself throughout the process I’ve been reporting on from the trenches. They all work. They all help.

  1. Go back to conventions of the genre.

If we’re writing The French Connection and the story is stuck, there’s no shame in pulling out “Conventions of the Police Procedural” (ah, if only there were such a book!) and following this precept:

 

 You must have at least one foot chase.

 

Bingo! How about having Popeye Doyle and his partner Cloudy chase a dope dealer through New York’s mean streets—and for a giggle have Popeye (Gene Hackman) wearing a Santa Claus suit? The cops run down the dude in a vacant lot and pin him against a wall.

 

POPEYE

Still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie?

 

DEALER

(scared)

What?

 

POPEYE

Don’t lie to me! You were in Poughkeepsie, you sat down

on the edge of the bed. You took off your shoes and you

picked your feet!

 

DEALER

Whatever you say, man!

 

I know, I know. It’s formula. But it helps. It gives us a great scene. It displays Popeye’s wild and crazy charisma. And when the dealer reveals in the climactic beat that a new shipment of heroin is coming into the city soon, this new scene advances the story.

  1. Go back to Timeless Storytelling Principles.

Zero in on our stalled story. Ask the questions Aristotle (or Shawn) would ask:

What is the theme? Does the hero embody it?

Does the villain embody the counter-theme?

Does every character represent something greater than him or herself?

Do all supporting characters embody aspects of the theme?

Do hero and villain clash in the climax over the issue of the theme?

Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray in "Chinatown"

Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray in “Chinatown”

Yeah, yeah … this stuff is elementary, I know. But out of this exercise can come

 

EVELYN MULWRAY

She’s my sister! She’s my daughter!

 

(The theme: unspeakable evil lies just beneath the placid surface of society, invisible to us all until it is exposed.)

And this:

 

WALSH

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

 

  1. Give every key character scenes with every other key character.

    Ah! The scene we've been waiting for!

    Ah! The scene we’ve been waiting for!

You won’t keep them all. But explore the possibilities. Speck out a scene (or more) between Tyrion and Cersei, between Sansa Stark and Cersei, between Daenerys and Jon Snow. How about one between the Night King and a dragon? (If one of the characters is dead, don’t let that stop you. Use his or her ghost. Have the character appear in a flashback. Or have the scene happen in a dream.)

To recap:

The three techniques above are some I’ve been using myself during this “Reports from the Trenches” period to bust up the story logjam in my brain.

If one of them produces even one good scene, the technique is a winner. Because that scene may lead to another, or something a character says or does may shed light on their dilemma and open up new scenes and sequences to come.

One last thought before putting this series to bed:

 

Any and all of these techniques can be used when we’re STARTING a story or just working it out in our heads. We don’t have to wait till the tale implodes before using them.

 

Good luck to all of us!

 

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
30 Comments

What It Takes

What It Takes

The Definition of Crazy

By Callie Oettinger | Published: August 25, 2017

It’s back to school time, which means I’m back to yelling at my wall because I don’t like yelling at people.

Every August, as freshman start moving into dormitories, the last minute phone calls and e-mails from campus bookstores start flying into Black Irish Books. (more…)

Posted in What It Takes
16 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Every Story Has a Shape

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 23, 2017

I’ve always been a believer that our stories exist before we write them. Our job as writers, once we stumble upon these tales, is to bring them up into the sunlight in such a way that their best and most truly intended contour is revealed.

What has screwed me up on my current project—the subject of this “Report from the Trenches” series—is that I excavated the story wrong the first time around. If we think of the tale as a giant dinosaur fossil, I inadvertently chopped off the legs and dug so deep under the skull that the whole damn thing collapsed.

The process of readjudicating a story that we’ve written once and that has crashed and burned is kinda like digging up that dinosaur all over again, only revealing the true beast this time.

I said last week that, though I’d been through this process over and over on previous books, I’ve never really watched myself as I did it. I’ve never taken notes on what the hell I’ve done, or if it worked or not.

But I noticed a couple of things last week.

You could call them “tricks of the trade.” (I prefer the term “storytelling techniques.”)

Here’s one that really helped:

Give Character “A” scenes with “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E.” And so on.

If we’ve got a character named Michael, make sure he has scenes with the Don, with Sonny, with Clemenza, with Kay, with Fredo, and with Tom Hagen.

Likewise take Tom Hagen and put him in scenes with the Don, with Sonny, with Kay, and with Michael.

Why?

Because each scene acts like a laser beam scanning that as-yet-unearthed dinosaur.

Each scene reveals a new slice of the buried whole.

When we spitball a scene between Michael and Luca Brasi, even if that scene never makes it into the finished book or movie, it lights up an area that had previously been in shadow.

To write or even just to project this scene, we have to ask ourselves, “What would Michael talk about with Luca? What would Michael want? What would Luca want? What if Luca revealed something about the Don from their younger days, something that Michael did not know? Would that change the story? Could Luca betray Michael? Would Michael sell Luca out to another of the Five Families? Why? To gain what? What further scenes and sequences would this lead us to?”

See what I mean about “lighting up” the buried dinosaur?

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
15 Comments
Sign up for first look access.

Enter your email to get free access to every new thing I do.

No spam, I promise!

Gates of Fire
The War of Art
The Knowledge
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t
The Authentic Swing
The Lion's Gate
Turning Pro
The Profession
The Warrior Ethos
Do The Work
Tides of War
The Afghan Campaign
The Virtues of War
Killing Rommel
Last of the Amazons
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Additional Reading
Video Blog