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

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.


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Do The Work

Steven Pressfield is the author of the most important book you've never read: The War of Art. It will help you understand why you're stuck, it will kick you in the pants, and it will get you moving. You should, no, you must buy a copy as soon as you finish reading this.

In this manifesto, Steve gets practical, direct, and personal. Read it fast; then read it again and take notes. Then buy a copy for everyone else who's stuck and push them to get to work as well.

—From the Foreword to Do The Work by Seth Godin

Do The Work isn't so much a follow-up to The War of Art as it is an action guide that gets down and dirty in the trenches. Say you've got a book, a screenplay or a startup in your head but you're stuck or scared or just don't know how to begin, how to break through or how to finish. Do The Work takes you step-by-step from the project's inception to its ship date, hitting each predictable 'Resistance point' along the way and giving techniques and drills for overcoming each obstacle. There's even a section called 'Belly of the Beast' that goes into detail about dealing with the inevitable moment in any artistic or entrepreneurial venture when you hit the wall and just want to cry 'HELP!'

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