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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Files I Work With

By Steven Pressfield
Published: April 22, 2015

A week from now is the official launch of Shawn’s terrific and much-anticipated new book, The Story Grid. I’m gonna use today’s post to describe one way that I employ Shawn’s principles when I work.

"Wanna know what happens to nosy people? Huh? Huh? They lose their noses."

Right now I’m on the sixth draft of a fiction project. (In other words, NOT the first draft, which goes by completely different rules.) When I start to work each morning I open onscreen five files:

1. The actual draft I’m working on.

2. A file I call Scene By Scene.

3. Culls (meaning everything I’ve cut).

4. A file I call MissingMissingMissing.

5. Conventions of the Genre.

I’ll go into these files in detail in subsequent posts, but let’s talk about #5 now because it comes straight out of The Story Grid.

One of Shawn’s inviolable principles (with which I agree completely) is

The Writer Must Know the Genre She’s Working In—and Must Adhere to its Conventions.

Okay. What does that mean for me as I’m working? The genre I’m working in is the Detective Story. So …

In File #5 above, I have written out my own version of the conventions of a detective story. (I’ll include this document at the end of this post, but don’t quote me on it; it’s just my own demented version.)

I’ll keep this file top-of-mind throughout the drafting process. I’ll refer to it all the time. I’ll tweak it. I’ll add stuff as I think of it, etc.

How did I arrive at this list of conventions? As far as I know, there’s no reference work. So I just looked at a bunch of detective stories (Chinatown, The Big Lebowski, Blade Runner, The Maltese Falcon) and made my own list.

Shawn goes into great detail about genre in The Story Grid. He believes it’s so important that he named his own management company Genre Management. He talks about internal genres and external genres, all kinds of deep stuff.

It’s key to keep in mind, I’ve found, that you and I in our stories are probably working simultaneously in multiple genres. We’ve probably got a Love Story mixed in with our Historical Fiction or Sci-Fi, possibly a Coming Of Age Story, and so forth. We’re gonna have to keep track of all of ‘em, but for now let’s stick with only the Detective Story as an example.

How do I use this list of conventions?

I make it my bible.

For example, in every detective story there’s at least one scene—i.e., a convention—where the private eye (even if he’s “the Dude” in The Big Lebowski) gets the crap beaten out of him by the Bad Guys. Think Jake Gittes getting his nose sliced open in Chinatown, then nearly having his back broken by the farmers in the orange grove, or Harrison Ford getting hammered by replicant Brion Jones in Blade Runner, not to mention the pasting he receives from other replicants Rutger Hauer and even Daryl Hannah.
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Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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