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

What It Takes

What It Takes

Nonfiction Points of View

By Shawn Coyne
Published: August 18, 2017

In my last post, I reviewed controlling idea/theme as it applies to the Big Idea book.  Now let’s take a look at how to best present the Big Idea to the reader. The following is an edited adaptation of a previous post I wrote over at www.storygrid.com.

Just as in fiction, the choices the nonfiction writer makes about Point of View in Big Idea Nonfiction are make or break decisions.
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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Every Story Has a Shape

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 23, 2017

 

 

I’ve always been a believer that our stories exist before we write them. Our job as writers, once we stumble upon these tales, is to bring them up into the sunlight in such a way that their best and most truly intended contour is revealed.

Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen and James Caan as Sonny in "The Godfather"

Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen and James Caan as Sonny in “The Godfather”

What has screwed me up on my current project—the subject of this “Report from the Trenches” series—is that I excavated the story wrong the first time around. If we think of the tale as a giant dinosaur fossil, I inadvertently chopped off the legs and dug so deep under the skull that the whole damn thing collapsed.

The process of readjudicating a story that we’ve written once and that has crashed and burned is kinda like digging up that dinosaur all over again, only revealing the true beast this time.

I said last week that, though I’d been through this process over and over on previous books, I’ve never really watched myself as I did it. I’ve never taken notes on what the hell I’ve done, or if it worked or not.

But I noticed a couple of things last week.

You could call them “tricks of the trade.” (I prefer the term “storytelling techniques.”)

Here’s one that really helped:

 

Give Character “A” scenes with “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E.” And so on.

 

If we’ve got a character named Michael, make sure he has scenes with the Don, with Sonny, with Clemenza, with Kay, with Fredo, and with Tom Hagen.

Likewise take Tom Hagen and put him in scenes with the Don, with Sonny, with Kay, and with Michael.

Why?

Because each scene acts like a laser beam scanning that as-yet-unearthed dinosaur.

Each scene reveals a new slice of the buried whole.

When we spitball a scene between Michael and Luca Brasi, even if that scene never makes it into the finished book or movie, it lights up an area that had previously been in shadow.

To write or even just to project this scene, we have to ask ourselves, “What would Michael talk about with Luca? What would Michael want? What would Luca want? What if Luca revealed something about the Don from their younger days, something that Michael did not know? Would that change the story? Could Luca betray Michael? Would Michael sell Luca out to another of the Five Families? Why? To gain what? What further scenes and sequences would this lead us to?”

See what I mean about “lighting up” the buried dinosaur?

I watched myself over the past few weeks’ work and I realize that I’ve been doing this unconsciously. I’m using this technique not just with one-on-one scenes but with scenes containing three, four, and five characters.

I’m mixing-and-matching and watching what happens.

And I’m projecting other scenes that this new scene might lead to.

I have two female characters in the story I’m struggling with. One is a detective, Dewey, the junior partner in the team with the protagonist, Manning. The other is the Mystery Woman, Rachel, whom both detectives believe holds the major clues they’re after.

I realized that I had no scenes with these two women together.

Wow. That’s no good.

“Steve, you gotta get these two females in the same room and see what happens.”

What came out was a scene where Rachel had been badly injured in a car chase and had to be taken to the hospital. I sent Dewey with her, to hold her in custody and to watch over her.

The scene opened up a whole sheaf of possibilities. It gave me a chance to see one character in a completely vulnerable position and to have the other, who up to that point had been hostile and antagonistic, find herself in the role of protector.

Sure enough, the two woman bonded—and that plugged in beautifully to the Act Three and Climax that already existed.

The other thing we gain when we mix-and-match characters and give them scenes together is that we tighten the universe of the story. If Tom Hagen has a way he relates to the Don and the Don has a way he relates to Sonny, then when we have a clash in a scene between Sonny and Tom …

 

SONNY

Goddamit, if I had a wartime consigliere, a Sicilian,

I wouldn’t be in this mess!

 

… the exchange is given added weight and dimension because of the other scenes that set it up and now illuminate it.

If Ophelia has had a scene with her father Polonius and her brother Laertes, both on the subject of her infatuation with the melancholy prince Hamlet (and his with her), those scenes add layers of interest when we put Hamlet and Ophelia in the same room and let them struggle to puzzle out their relationship. And when Laertes kills Hamlet in the climax because he believes his friend was the cause of the deaths of his father and sister (as we’ve witnessed in other scenes between and among them), the whole tragedy becomes a tightly-wound hand grenade, exploding with meaning.

 


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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Report from the Trenches #7

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 16, 2017

 

I said in last week’s post that, watching myself wrestle with this rewrite, I realize I’m attacking the problem on three levels. Level One (which we talked about last week) was about genre—making sure I knew what genre I was working in, and then re-hammering the narrative so that it lined up with the conventions and obligatory scenes of that genre.

The second level of this work, what we’re gonna talk about today, is going back in the global sense to Basic Storytelling Principles.

Sylvester Stallone and Butkus from the first "Rocky"

Sylvester Stallone and Butkus from the first “Rocky”

Specifically:

  1. A story must be about something. It must have a theme.
  2. The hero embodies the theme.
  3. The villain embodies the counter-theme.
  4. Every supporting character embodies an aspect of the theme.
  5. In the climax, hero and villain clash over the issue of the theme.

I have 57 files in the greater folder for this project and 22 for the re-work. Some of the titles of these files are Tuff Middle, Rachel Hunts Instancer, Second Act Belongs to Villain.

If I were working with a partner, the pair of us would talk this stuff out aloud. “What does the Villain want?” But because I’m working alone, I use these files as a way of talking to myself. I just sit down and start spewing.

 

I have no idea where this section goes, or if we have room for it at all, but the question is, “What has Rachel been doing since Instancer dumped her? Has she hunted him, and if so how, since when, and what happened?”

LETS SAY she first suffered with no proof (only a crazy suspicion) that Instancer was supernatural. Still she thought she might be losing her mind, as any woman might after the “ghosted” end of a passionate affair. Then came the “herem.” Excommunication. Family abandoned Rachel, jobs dried up. Etc.

 

At this stage I’m not thinking in scenes or dialog.

My thinking is architectural.

If we were building a suspension bridge, we’d first establish the footings and the anchoring points on each shore. Then we’d calculate where the towers should go and how much stress the steel could take, etc. In other words, design.

We’ll worry about actually building the bridge later.

That’s what I’m trying to do with the story at this stage.

The tension that drives the narrative will be the clash between the hero and the villain, just like in a bridge it will be the weight of the roadway versus the strength of the supporting towers and the suspension cables.

So I’m pounding away at another talking-to-myself file, “Manning (hero) versus Instancer (villain)”, asking myself how are these two characters different, how are they alike, what does Manning want, what does Instancer want? Are they mirrors for each other? How? What does that prove? Are they dependent on each other? How? What does that prove?

I don’t know any of the answers going in. I’m free-associating.

 

If we think of Alien or Predator or Jaws, the heroes spend a big part of the movie trying to figure out how to stop the unstoppable, kill the unkillable. Our story demands the same.

What would Manning think along these lines?

  1. Instancer is physical, at least in this world. He can’t be shot but he can be grappled with. He’s very strong but not superhumanly strong. He can’t lift buildings.
  2. If he can be ‘conducted’ into this world, can he be conducted out?” That’s the key. We have to figure this out. Etc.

 

What I want to have at the end of this exercise is a schematic of the story, one that hangs together dramatically and architecturally like the Golden Gate Bridge or the screenplay for Rocky.

I want a hero whose problems, aspirations, wants and needs are as clearly defined and as emotionally involving as those of Rocky Balboa.

I want an antagonist like Apollo Creed, whose emotional surface reflects Rocky’s and works beautifully against it, yin versus yang.

I want supporting characters like Adrian and Mick and Pauly, each of whom represents an aspect of the theme.

And I want a crystal-clear, powerful theme

 

            A bum can be a champ if he’s just given the chance

 

that plays in every scene of the story and is paid off in the climax, not just for the protagonist but for the supporting characters as well. And of course for the reader.

I don’t need scenes at this point.

I don’t need dialogue.

I don’t need sequences.

Level Two is about structure.

It’s about architecture.

By the way, this process that I’m going through now after the collapse of Draft #11 is the process I SHOULD HAVE been doing from Draft #1.

I was lazy.

I was scared.

I didn’t push myself far enough.

That’s why #11 crashed.

That’s what I’m back to Square One, reverting to basics.

That’s okay.

It happens to everybody.

So to recap …

Last week we talked about the first level (for me, at least) of a Ground Up Rewrite.

That level was about genre.

It involved identifying the genre we’re working in (again, a task we SHOULD HAVE done in Draft #1 and even earlier) and defining for ourselves the conventions and obligatory scenes of that genre … then reworking our story to align with those principles.

Level Two, what we’re talking about today, is about doing the same thing, not for Genre, but for Universal Storytelling Principles.

We go back to basics.

We remind ourselves of the timeless principles (and believe me, Homer and Shakespeare had to do this shit too) that balladeers and rhapsodes and puppeteers, not to mention Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino,  have been using forever.

And we go back to those basics ourselves.

Next week, the fun part: Actually WRITING the freakin’ thing.


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