By Steven Pressfield
Published: January 18, 2017
A case could be made that many, many books and movies are about one thing and one thing only: getting Person X to say to Person Y, “I love you.”
The trick is our characters can never use those blatant, overt words. That wouldn’t be cool.
It wouldn’t ring true to life.
And it wouldn’t possess the power and the impact we want.
In fiction, “I love you” has to come in subtext, not text.
Here’s one of the ways William Goldman did it in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
It’s the final scene. The outlaws are shot up and bleeding in a cramped hideout in a town square somewhere in Bolivia. Surrounding them, outside, are hundreds of uniformed, rifle-toting Federales. The instant our two “bandidos yanquis” step out through the door … well, we all know what’s coming.
I got a great idea where we should go next.
Well I don’t wanna hear it.
You’ll change your mind once I tell you.
It was your great ideas that got us here in the first place. I never wanna hear another one of your great ideas.
Australia. I figured secretly you wanted to know so I told you: Australia.
What’s so great about Australia?
They speak English there.
BUTCH tells Sundance about the banks, the beaches, and the women Down Under.
It’s a long way, though, isn’t it?
Aw, everythings’s always gotta be perfect with you.
I just don’t wanna get there and find out it stinks, that’s all.
In Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, junior exec Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has been in love with elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine) for the whole movie. But Shirley is blind to Jack’s infatuation. Instead she’s in a doomed affair with married exec Mr. Sheldrake (Fred McMurray). When Shirley tries to poison herself after Sheldrake dumps her, Jack saves her life by getting her stomach pumped and sitting up all night with her playing cards. Next day he stands up to Sheldrake (who’s his boss), quits his job, etc., all the while believing Shirley still has no romantic interest in him.
In the final scene Shirley sees the light, races to Jack’s apartment just in time to catch him before he packs up and leaves town.
What’d you do with the cards?
Shirley gets the deck. sits beside Jack on the couch.
What about Mr. Shelkdrake?
We’ll send him a fruitbcake every Christmas. Cut.
He cuts a deuce, she cuts a ten.
I love you, Miss Kubilek
You got a two, I got a ten. I win.
Did you hear what I said, I absolutely adore you.
Shut up and deal.
Billy Wilder topped this of course with the last line of Some Like It Hot, when Jerry (Jack Lemmon), hiding out from the mob in drag with a girl band, explains to his zillionaire suitor Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) that he can’t marry him.
You don’t understand, Osgood. I’m a man!
Well, nobody’s perfect.
Subtext beats text every time.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
ADDITIONAL READING » ON WRITING
by Mamet, David
Technically this isn’t a book about writing. It’s about Tinseltown and David Mamet’s love-hate relationship with it. But, along with Mamet’s witty and cantankerous evisceration of show biz, Bambi vs. Godzilla delivers masterly and extremely useful insights on getting movies made, surviving criticism, paying the rent and in general surviving Hollywood while retaining some scrap of sanity and integrity. Mamet is not just any writer. When he takes on a subject, you get it in context succeeding context—commercial, aesthetic, moral, ethical, legal, Talmudic, Tantric and Vedic. It’s like reading Thucydides if he’d loaded his stuff into a ’65 Mustang and split for the Coast.
by Phillips, Larry W.
Papa never actually sat down and wrote a book about writing. Rather, editor Larry Phillips has compiled 140 pages of hard-core Hemingwayisms from the author’s books, stories, and letters. Great material, particularly the fragments of correspondence to Scott Fitzgerald.
by Lukeman, Noah
As an agent and editor, Noah Lukeman read thousands of manuscripts from aspiring writers. He got to where he could tell in the first five pages if a submission was worth his time. In this gem of a book, he tells you the most common mistakes writers make—and how to eradicate them from your manuscript.
by Williams, Nick
A no-nonsense how-to manual and psych-yourself-up kit, for those of us who sometimes need a swift kick in the butt to get us going.
by Steinbeck, John
When he was writing East of Eden, Steinbeck kept a journal—just a few pages each morning, which he’d scribble as a kind of warm-up before turning to the actual manuscript. Fascinating insights into the writer’s life, inside and outside the covers of a book.
by McKee, Robert
I always say that McKee is not only the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything. I’ve taken this three-day intensive course twice—and I’ll take it again. Yes, McKee has been spoofed (in the movie Adaptation) and lionized (in a New Yorker profile.) But that’s because he’s the best. Full disclosure: McKee and I are friends. McKee wrote the foreword for The War of Art. McKee teaches this class in cities all over the U.S. and Europe, even as far away as Israel and Singapore.
by McKee, Robert
This is the book that goes with Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Terrific for writers in all media, but take the “live” McKee first. You’ll get more out of the book if you’ve heard the man deliver his stuff in-person.