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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“This Might Not Work … “

By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 14, 2018

 

Stealing a phrase (above) from Seth Godin, I’m going to try something a little different over the next few weeks and maybe more.

I’m gonna serialize a book I’ve been working on.

Consider the course and contour of this artist’s journey …

The book is about writing.

I don’t have a title yet but the premise is that there’s such a thing as “the artist’s journey.”

The artist’s journey is different from “the hero’s journey.”

The artist’s journey is the process we embark upon once we’ve found our calling, once we know we’re writers but we don’t know yet exactly what we’ll write or how we’ll write it.

These posts will be a bit longer than normal, just because that’s how chapters in a book fall. I don’t wanna post truncated versions that are so short they don’t make sense, just because that’s where chapters happen to break.

Please let me know if you hate this.

I’ll stop if it’s not worth our readers’ time or if our friends find the material boring.

That said, let’s kick it off.

Starting with the epigraph, here’s the beginning of this so-far-untitled book:

 

 

 

I found that what I had desired all my life was not to live—if what others are doing is called living—but to express myself. I realized that I had never had the least interest in living, but only in this which I am doing now, something which is parallel to life, of it at the same time, and beyond it. What is true interests me scarcely at all, nor even what is real; only that interests me which I imagine to be, that which I had stifled every day in order to live.

Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

 

 

B    O    O   K         O    N   E

 

 T     H     E       H     E     R     O’     S       J     O     U     R     N     E     Y

 

A   N   D       T   H   E     A   R   T   I   S   T’   S       J   O   U   R   N   E   Y

 

 

  1. THE SHAPE OF THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY

 

 

Consider the course and contour of this artist’s journey:

 

          Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

          The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle

          Born to Run

          Darkness on the Edge of Town

          The River

          Nebraska

          Born in the U.S.A.

          Tunnel of Love

          Human Touch

          Lucky Town

          The Ghost of Tom Joad

          Working on a Dream

          Wrecking Ball

          High Hopes

 

Or this artist’s:

 

       Goodbye, Columbus

       Portnoy’s Complaint

       The Great American Novel

       My Life as a Man

       The Professor of Desire

       Zuckerman Unbound

       The Anatomy Lesson

       The Counterlife

       Sabbath’s Theater

       American Pastoral

       The Human Stain

       The Plot Against America

       Indignation

       Nemesis

 

Or this artist’s:

 

          Clouds

          Ladies of the Canyon

          Blue

          For the Roses

          Court and Spark

          The Hissing of Summer Lawns

          Hejira

          Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter

          Wild Things Run Fast

          Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm

          Night Ride Home

          Turbulent Indigo

 

Clearly there is a unity (of theme, of voice, of intention) to each of these writers’ bodies of work.

There’s a progression too, isn’t there? The works, considered in sequence, feel like a journey that is moving in a specific direction.

 

          Bob Dylan

          The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

          The Times They Are a-Changin’

          Highway 61 Revisited

          Blonde on Blonde

          Bringing It All Back Home

          Blood on the Tracks

          Desire

          John Wesley Harding

          Street-legal

          Nashville Skyline

          Slow Train Coming

          Hard Rain

          Time Out of Mind

          Tempest

          Shadows in the Night

 

A strong case could be made that the bodies of work cited above (and those of every other artist on the planet) comprise a “hero’s journey,” in the classic Joseph Campbell/C.G. Jung sense.

I have a different interpretation.

I think they represent another journey.

I think they represent “the artist’s journey.”

 

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
60 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

How Steven Spielberg Handles his Villains

By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 7, 2018

 

Steven Spielberg loves to tease us with his villains.

It's twice as scary when you DON'T see the shark

It’s twice as scary when you DON’T see the shark

He shows them only indirectly.

In the audience we see the effects of the Bad Guys’ actions, but we rarely see the malefactors themselves.

This is tremendously powerful because it makes us imagine what the forces of evil look like, and that’s always scarier than actually seeing them in blinding daylight.

Remember the scene in Jaws with the three yellow barrels? Our heroes in their boat (Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw) harpoon the shark with cables linked to three huge yellow air-tank-like barrels. The barrels float on the ocean surface, enabling our hunters (and us) to see the shark’s movements from the boat even when the finned menace is submerged.

The great cinematic moment is when the three barrels go churning across the surface at high speed toward the boat, then dive under and come up on the other side.

We never see the shark.

But wow, how we imagine him.

That dude, we can’t help but say to ourselves, must be HUGE!

Likewise Spielberg doesn’t really show us the Meanies pursuing E.T. We see only their flashlight beams searching for the little guy, or their keys jangling on their work belts as they close in on him.

The giant spaceship wasn’t really the villain in Close Encounters but it felt like at least an ominous, unknown force at the start. Again, Spielberg withheld for most of the movie all direct sight of this entity.

We saw headlights and amber lights behind Richard Dreyfuss’s pickup truck. We saw screws mysteriously jiggling out of their sockets on Melinda Dillon’s floor and crazy lights flashing under her door jamb. The whole house shook. Electric toy cars began scooting across the floor. Melinda’s little son became mesmerized by the lights appearing outside.

Melinda Dillon as the mom in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

Melinda Dillon as the mom in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

But we never saw the space ship.

Ridley Scott worked the same magic in the original Alien. We saw the nasty little bugger (the Alien, not Mr. Scott) burst out of John Hurt’s chest and flee into the darkness of the huge space vessel. But after that, the scares all came from shadows and images on search screens, mixed with the odd Holy Crap pop-up of the monster, followed by an instantaneous cut-away.

You and I could profit by stealing this trick from these great scare-meisters.

Keep the villain present and aggressive in the effects he produces, but show him overtly as little as possible.

 

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
8 Comments

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.]

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
17 Comments
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