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ARCHIVES OF January, 2018

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Give Your Villain a Great Villain Speech

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 31, 2018

 

I’m a huge fan of Villain Speeches. There’s nothing better in a book or a movie than the moment when the stage is cleared and Satan gets to say his piece.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street"

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”

 

GORDON GEKKO

I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.

 

A great Villain Speech should ring true. It should masterfully articulate a valid point of view. Here’s cattleman Rufe Ryker (played by the great character actor Emile Meyer) in Shane:

 

RUFE RYKER

Right? You in the right! Look, Starrett. When I come to this country, you weren’t much older than your boy there. We had rough times, me and other men that are mostly dead now. I got a bad shoulder yet from a Cheyenne arrowhead. We made this country. Found it and we made it. We worked with blood and empty bellies. The cattle we brought in were hazed off by Indians and rustlers. They don’t bother you much anymore because we handled ’em. We made a safe range out of this. Some of us died doin’ it but we made it. And then people move in who’ve never had to rawhide it through the old days. They fence off my range, and fence me off from water. Some of ’em like you plow ditches, take out irrigation water. And so the creek runs dry sometimes and I’ve got to move my stock because of it. And you say we have no right to the range. The men that did the work and ran the risks have no rights?

Emile Meyer as Ryker in "Shane"

Emile Meyer as Ryker in “Shane”

 

A great villain speech possesses three attributes.

First, it displays no repentance. The devil makes his case with full slash and swagger. His cause is just and he knows it.

Second, eloquence. A great villain speech possesses wit and style.

Third, impeccable logic. A villain speech must be convincing and compelling. Its foundation in rationality must be unimpeachable. When we hear a great villain speech, we should think, despite ourselves, “I gotta say: the dude makes sense.”

Here’s Wall Street CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons at his unrepentant best) after laying waste to the life savings of thousands in Margin Call.

Jeremy Irons as John Tuld in "Margin Call"

Jeremy Irons as John Tuld in “Margin Call”

 

JOHN TULD

So you think we might have put a few people out of business today? That it’s all for naught? You’ve been doing that everyday for almost forty years, Sam. And if this is all for naught, then so is everything out there. It’s just money; it’s made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on them, so we don’t have to kill each other just to get something to eat. It’s not wrong. And it’s certainly no different today than it’s ever been. 1637, 1797, 1819, ’37, ’57, ’84, 1901, ’07, ’29, 1937, 1974, 1987—Jesus, didn’t that one fuck me up good—’92, ’97, 2000, and whatever we want to call this. It’s all just the same thing over and over; we can’t help ourselves. And you and I can’t control it, or stop it, or even slow it. Or even ever-so-slightly alter it. We just react. And we make a lot of money if we get it right. And we get left by the side of the road if we get it wrong. And there have always been and there always will be the same percentage of winners and losers, happy foxes and sad sacks, fat cats and starving dogs in this world. Yeah, there may be more of us today than there’s ever been. But the percentages, they stay exactly the same.

 

How will we know your character is the villain if you don’t give him (or her) a great villain speech?

[Hats off to the writers of the above gems: J.C. Chandor for Margin Call; A.B. Guthrie, Jr. from a novel by Jack Schaefer for Shane; Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone for Wall Street.]

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Posted in Writing Wednesdays
17 Comments

What It Takes

What It Takes

The Key to It All

By Callie Oettinger | Published: January 26, 2018

Sherlock Holmes pays attention. His big details are the ones ignored as little. His knowledge of crimes and human nature come from his own experiences and from books and reports. He reads of wrongdoings, scandals, atrocities and the like, in reports from other countries, and he is a devoted reader of The Times’ “Agony” column.

Holmes is fiction, but what he observes is not—nor are his sources.

The Times did have an “Agony” column. It’s an aged rabbit hole worth diving into. The personal advertisements that ran in it aren’t so far from what’s found in this online world of ours. (Read a compilation of selected ads in the 1881 book The Agony Column of the “Times” 1800-1870 via Archive.org)

Here’s a clip of one ad, dated Wednesday, July 15, 1801:

From The Agony Column of the "Times" 1800-1870. TO ELIZA.—It is with deep regret the Person feels himself again called upon publicly to address ELIZA on the subject of her very unpleasant Letters, after repeated solicitations to discontinue them. He is perfectly satisfied in his own mind to have acted honourably towards her, for her peace of mind sake has candidly and unreservedly made known to her his situation, consequently she well knows he cannot in honour, even if he were disposed, accede to her wishes. It is useless for her therefore to trouble him with more, or to write elsewhere, as she may rest assured, from him they will meet with the fate of the two last, which were committed to the flames unopened, and likewise in the other quarter, the contempt they justly merit.

From The Agony Column of the “Times” 1800-1870

Go deeper into the “Agony” column’s ads and you’ll find more of what was on the minds of Holmes’ clients, and neighbors, and the random passersby. You’ll find themes. The same story played out over and over—and on and on into this century. Two hundred and some years later, the ads of the “Agony” column sit well with online posts of today.

They speak to experiences and plotlines that outlast all of us.

At the end of the world, it will be the cockroaches and these plotlines hanging together.

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Posted in What It Takes
9 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Ask Yourself, “What Does the Villain Want?”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 24, 2018

 

For James Bond villains, the answer is easy: world domination.

The Night King and the Army of the Dead. When we know what these suckers want, we can write the next season of "Game of Thrones"

The Night King and the Army of the Dead. When we know what these suckers want, we can write the next season of “Game of Thrones”

That’s a pretty good want.

Here are a few others:

 

  1. To eat your brain.
  2. To eat your liver.
  3. To eat you, period.

 

Or even better:

 

  1. To destroy your soul.
  2. To destroy your soul and laugh about it.

 

If you’re keeping score, the answers to the above (among others) are 1. All zombie stories, 2. Hannibal Lecter, 3. The shark, the Alien, the Thing, etc., 4. the Body Snatchers, 5. the devil in The Exorcist.

Why is Hillary Clinton such an inexhaustible object of hate to the Right? Because she, in their view, wants all five of the above.

(For the same notion from the Left, see Donald Trump.)

The hero’s “want” often changes over the course of the story. She may start out in Act One wanting her marriage to succeed, only to evolve by the end of Act Three into wanting to come into her own as an individual.

But the villain’s “want” remains the same from start to finish.

Identify it.

Be able to articulate it in one sentence or less.

Then build your story around it.

If we know what the Army of the Dead want, we know what our heroes in Game of Thrones’ next season are up against and what they have to do to combat it.

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
8 Comments
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