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

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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Start With the Villain

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 15, 2017

 

There’s an axiom among screenwriters:

 

Start at the end.

 

What they mean is, “Figure out your climax first (Ripley blasts the Alien into outer space; Moby Dick takes Ahab down to the depths), then work backwards to figure out what you need to make this climax work.

Don't you hate this guy? (Even Donald Sutherland hates this guy.)

Don’t you hate this guy? (Even Donald Sutherland hates this guy.)

I’m a big believer in this way of working—and its corollary:

 

Start with the villain.

 

Once we’ve got Anton Chighur (Javier Bardem in the movie), we’ve got No Country for Old Men licked. Once we’ve got Hannibal Lecter, we’re halfway home in The Silence of the Lambs.

It’s natural to want to start at the beginning and start with the hero. Let’s introduce Raskolnikov, we tell ourselves. Let’s intro Huck Finn. But all too often, this way of working runs out of gas halfway into Act Two. We find ourselves asking, “What did I think this story was about? Where were we going with this?”

Answer: identify the villain, then regroup around this axis.

In The Hunger Games, the villain is the corrupt, soulless “system,” embodied by Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), the commander of Panem.

Let’s start with him.

Pin his picture to the wall.

Place his index card above all our scenes and sequences.

Bad Guy Snow tells us what our heroes (even if we haven’t conceived them yet) must believe in, how they must act, what temptations they must face, and by what means they must fight him and overcome.

Whoever Snow is, our Good Guys are the opposite.

Whatever Snow stands for, our heroes stand for its antithesis.

When we start with the villain, we have a leg up on our climax as well (again, even if—especially if—we don’t know yet what that climax is.)

How does knowing our villain help? Because

  1. We know that the hero must duel the villain in the climax.
  2. We know that the climax must revolve around the story’s theme.
  3. We know that the villain embodies the counter-theme.

In the climax, our hero has to face Doc Ock, Immortan Joe, Bane, the Alien, the Predator, the Terminator.

  1. Hero and villain duel in the climax over the issue of the theme.

When we get our villain straight in our mind—when we know who he is, what he wants, what his powers and vulnerabilities are—we are working from firm, solid ground when he attack every other part of the story.

Start with the villain.

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Everybody Loves the Bad Guy

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 8, 2017

 

Shakespeare, Milton and Dante all understood villains. They loved villains. Their villains are their greatest creations.

The Bible is loaded with spectacular villains, as are all cultural myths from the Mahabharata to the Epic of Gilgamesh to the saga of Siegfried.

Is he the greatest villain ever?

Is he the greatest villain ever?

Great villains eclipse even the heroes who vanquish them.

Flash Gordon was a pale shadow alongside Ming the Merciless.

Clarice Starling was cool, but who could forget Hannibal Lecter?

The villain not only steals Paradise Lost but walks off with the most unforgettable line.

 

SATAN

Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

 

Film directors relish villains because villains light up the screen. Actors love to play Bad Guys. What onscreen outrage could be more memorable than crushing a half-grapefruit into your wife’s face, as James Cagney did to Mae Clark in Public Enemy, or, as Richard Widmark’s unforgettable act of villainy in Kiss of Death, pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs?

Wait, what about him?

Wait, what about this guy?

James Bond always goes up against diabolical villains, as do Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man. How many franchises (Alien, Terminator, Jaws, Predator) are driven not by heroes but by villains?

The more years I labor in the storytelling racket, the more I appreciate the value of a great antagonist.

For you and me as writers, our bad guys may be more important even than our heroes.

[For the next few weeks we’re going to return to our series on Bad Guys, which we started a while ago and then moved off from for our “Reports from the Trenches.” More on villains next week.] (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Nothing New After Act Two

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 1, 2017

 

One of story checkmarks you learn writing for the movies is

 

Every main character should be introduced in Act One.

Though Harrison Ford wasn't onscreen early in "Blade Runner 2049," he was in our minds from the original "Blade Runner"

Though Harrison Ford wasn’t onscreen early in “Blade Runner 2049,” he was in our minds from the original “Blade Runner”

 

This precept is probably not as critical for novels, where we have more time for the story to unfold and for new faces to appear. But it still seems to me a good rule.

Get everybody onstage early.

(Including key props and concepts like the ’66 Ford Thunderbird convertible that Thelma and Louise will have their adventures in and the Tyrell Corporation’s invention of the latest series of replicants.)

The last thing we want is for some important character to wander onto the scene on page 286. It feels like a cheat. The reader, remember, is solving the story puzzle along with us as she reads. She’s asking herself, “Will Elizabeth Bennet wind up with Mr. Darcy?” If we, the writers, hold back some important character—say, a possible rival for Liz’s hand—the reader will feel we’re not playing fair with her.

Likewise, and for the same reason, we risk alienating the reader if we bring in ANYTHING new in Act Three.

Act Three, as we said last week, is the ninth inning. In the third act, we put the pedal to the metal and highball into the climax.

In the story I’ve been working on (the “Reports from the Trenches” story), I kept a file I called Stuff We Need to Get In. In it were four or five of what I thought were really cool concepts or insights that the reader would like and that would really enhance the story.

Then I got to Act Three.

Get that T-bird onstage early.

Get that T-bird onstage early.

Each time I thought to myself, “Ah, here’s a spot we can get in Thought #1,” I realized it was too late. The story was rolling too fast toward the climax. If I paused, even for a single extra paragraph, the momentum would stall. So …

Cut.

Cut.

Cut.

One by one, my cool little notions bit the dust.

The good news: when I looked back, I realized I didn’t miss them.

Momentum is everything in Act Three.

Once Luke and his buddies are closing in on the Death Star, there’s no time for backstory about Chewbacca.

Once Ahab learns that Moby Dick is just beyond the horizon, it’s, “Set all sails, ye lubbers!”

Nothing new after Act Two.

(more…)

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