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What It Takes

What It Takes

The Victim, the Perpetrator and the Rescuer

By Shawn Coyne | Published: April 11, 2014

An Oldie but Goodie for the "On Writing" Shelf

As we all know, there is no story without conflict. There is no beat to a scene, no scene, no sequence, no act and no global story without a dump truck full of conflict.

But diving into our vast personal experiences of conflict is not exactly the first pool of creative energy any of us wants to explore. It’s sludgy and unpretty. It gets our heart beating faster than we’d like and it makes us irritable.

Even boxers don’t rush into a prizefight throwing one roundhouse after another. They need to get a feel for the opponent first. Test out their strengths and weaknesses before they attack with combinations.

So what to do?

Take yourself out of the equation and focus on the imaginary people you’ve invented. Think about how each one of them would play one of these three roles when faced with a direct conflict.

How would he play the victim of someone else or a power out of his personal control?

How would he become the perpetrator, the character that loses his composure and unloads a bucket of bile on another character?

How would he play the rescuer, the character that steps in between these two combative forces and sides with the victim?

For example, say you have to set up a love affair for your global story. And you need to dramatize a married couple’s rift. After running down a long list of possibilities (a having a baby scene, a purchasing a house scene, an applying for a loan scene, a wrapping Christmas presents scene…) you decide to write a domestic dinner scene.

How do you do it without using cheesy conflict behavior—having dishes thrown or spewing on the nose “you’re a terrible husband” dialogue?

Start with a VPR analysis. (more…)

Posted in What It Takes

What It Takes

What It Takes

Did You Like It Or So Many Other Things’d It?

By Callie Oettinger | Published: April 4, 2014

I didn’t like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it, yet some five years later, his short stories still drift into my head.

They arrive with Sadness and Inspiration and, in their wake, leave me struggling with the reality of the fiction.

I didn’t like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it. Instead, I so many other things’d Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it—and learned from it.

In 2006 I helped share the documentary The War Tapes.

After watching a screener I sent him, a long-retired veteran relayed his plans to share the film with others.

My reply?

I’m glad you like it.

Without pause, he said:

I didn’t say I liked it. We need to learn from it.

In the years that followed, like grew with Facebook, as a popular way to nod our heads toward a book, an article, a movie, a quote, a picture, and so on – thus making like a stand-in for hate, love, amazing, tragic, astonishing, silly, wonderful, moronic, intolerable, and numerous other descriptives.

With Facebook’s watering down of like and the comments of the veteran in mind, my response to “Did you like it?” today often arrives in two parts.


Posted in What It Takes

What It Takes

What It Takes


By Shawn Coyne | Published: March 28, 2014

I face this conundrum a lot and I’ve had the good fortune to work with the expert on Resistance to ask for help. Here it is:

“How do you know when the voice in your head has been hijacked by Resistance? That you’re essentially acting on advice from a force out to distract and keep you from the important work you were put on earth to do?”

Steve’s response to this question is “the very act of questioning the motives of your internal chatterbox tells you that it’s Resistance.” And he’s absolutely right.

But what if the voice tells you that your devotion to your muse is denying your six-year-old daughter a connected, loving and giving father? It’s no secret that great writers/artists were/are often terrible at relationships. Maybe that’s the price you’ll have to pay to get that Clio award.

Posted in What It Takes
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