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

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Elements of a Great Villain

By Steven Pressfield
Published: June 21, 2017

The shark in Jaws first surfaced in Peter Benchley’s novel in 1974. It’s still scaring the crap out of swimmers from Jones Beach to the Banzai Pipeline. The Alien first burst from John Hurt’s chest in 1979. The Terminator landed in 1984. And how about the Furies (Part Three of Aeschylus’s Oresteia) from 458 BCE?

John Hurt having a bad moment in the 1979 "Alien"

John Hurt having a bad moment in the 1979 “Alien”

What qualities do these Hall of Fame antagonists have in common?

  1. They cannot be reasoned with (Okay, the Furies did have a bit of a soft spot).
  2. They cannot be appealed to on the basis of justice, fair play, or the idea of right and wrong.
  3. They are internally, relentlessly driven to achieve their ends. Nothing can stop them except their own annihilation.
  4. Their intention is the destruction of the hero.



What we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine that is a miracle of evolution. It swims and eats and makes little baby sharks, that’s it.


Why is the Thing such a terrifying villain, or the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or the nuclear-mutated ants in Them?



Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop …ever, until you are dead!

Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn on the run in "The Terminator"

Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn on the run in “The Terminator”


So far these examples are all external villains. They exist in physical form. Their province lies outside the hero’s mind.

What about antagonists who reside inside the hero’s head?

Even they, even great societal and internal villains, share the qualities listed above.

Racism in Huckleberry Finn, Beloved, and The Help.

Greed in Wall Street, Margin Call and Bonfire of the Vanities.



What have I told you since the first day you stepped into my office? There are three ways to make a living in this business. Be first, be smarter, or cheat. Now I don’t cheat. And although I like to think we have some pretty smart people in this building, it sure is a helluva lot easier to just be first.


Sell it all. Today.

Jeremy Irons tells it like it is in "Margin Call"

Jeremy Irons tells it like it is in “Margin Call”


Ahab’s rage for vengeance in Moby Dick is an internal villain. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel remorse, or pity, or fear. And it will not stop until it has killed its enemy or its host.

The insanity of war in Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and All Quiet on the Western Front.

Jay Gatsby’s belief that he can recreate the past.

All these villains are relentless, indefatigable forces that heed no warnings, respond to no appeals, and will not stop until they themselves are destroyed.

A villain can be human. A villain should be human. He or she should have quirks and weaknesses and internal contradictions, like all of us.

But for you and me as writers, if we’re going to get down on paper a really memorable Bad Dude or Dudette, we’d better make sure that that villain passes muster on Points One to Four above.

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Posted in Writing Wednesdays

What It Takes

What It Takes

The Magic Pill

By Shawn Coyne | Published: June 23, 2017

[Today’s “What It Takes” is from the vault, coming to you via July 24, 2015]

If there is one question that I get asked again and again and again, it’s this:

Until these guys win the inner war for us, we're useless

Is there a resource available that lists all of the conventions and obligatory scenes of each and every genre?

The short answer to this is “not that I’m aware of.”

I have a theory about why we all want such a Story “cheat sheet” which I’ll get into later.

But I can absolutely understand why ambitious writers at the start of their careers (and those who’ve been mining the Micro worlds of writing for their respective 10,000 hours too) would appreciate such a resource.
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What It Takes

What It Takes

Thank You General Sam

By Callie Oettinger | Published: June 15, 2017

(In 2010 we ran the interview below with General Samuel Vaughan Wilson. In the years that followed, I found myself sitting on General Sam’s front porch, listening to his stories and wandering through the fields and woods surrounding his home. His obituary in the Washington Post this past week shared highlights of his military and intel career. While I spent days listening to stories from those periods of his life, to me he will always be more teacher than soldier or “spymaster.” He believed in, and devoted his life to, his country, and then gave every lesson he learned to the generations that followed. I was never surprised to find people, particularly previous students from Hampden-Sydney College dropping in unannounced. He taught through story, something we talk about here all the time. In his case he had some extraordinary stories to tell, all with lessons of leadership and hard work, and doing what’s right over what’s easy. He also cared. He gave so much of his life to others. I’m blessed to have been gifted even a minute of that life. I miss him, but I see him clear as day in my memory. He’ll always be on his front porch, sitting in his rocker, with his beloved German Shepherd Max at his side.  His work isn’t done – it’s simply in the care of others. Thank you General Sam. ~Callie) 

General Sam Wilson has accomplished more in his lifetime than many of us dare to dream about. He served as a reconnaissance officer with Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, during WWII; as a CIA spy-ring operator in Berlin, uncovering Soviet secrets; as a director of instruction at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School; as a civilian working with USAID in Vietnam and then in the personal rank of minister at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; and then back in the military, as a Special Forces Group Commander, followed by an assignment as the Assistant Commandant at the U.S. Army’s JFK Institute for Military Assistance (now the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School); then Assistant Division Commander for Operations in the 82nd Airborne Division; as chief defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; as a director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; as Deputy to the Director Central Intelligence for the Intelligence Community; as one of the founders of the U.S. Special Operations forces and one of the creators of the Army’s Delta Force; and as a teacher and ultimately president of Hampden-Sydney College.

SP: One of the questions that I’ve been asked as a writer, and which I’ve asked others is: Where do your ideas come from? Often, people say that their ideas come via experiences leading them to a certain point, or a Muse or other source. When I read about your career—that you joined the military at 16, and that you were teaching counter-insurgency by 19, I wondered about where your ideas came from. A hallmark of your career, indeed your life, is outside-the-box thinking. How did a 16 year-old, three years later, find himself creating and teaching strategies with which today’s senior leaders still struggle?

SW: The most important influence on my thinking processes came from my parents during my growing up period. I was born and raised on a 150 acre farm—tobacco, corn, wheat—in Southside Virginia (hard by the Saylers Creek Battleground, where the Army of Northern fought its last fight.) My parents were readers, and they imbued us Wilson children with a deep love of books. My mother had been a public school teacher, and she saw to it that I—along with my older sister and three brothers—took the business of learning seriously, including what we learned in Sunday school and church, where she was my first Sunday school teacher. She taught us Wilson children discipline, self-control and how to think logically.

My father, on the other hand, fired our imaginations with his stories, songs and poetry, and helped us see things in life and in our environment in general that we otherwise would surely have missed. From an early age, we worked with him in the fields and woods, and around the farmyard, and he kept our morale up and our spirits high with his jingles and stories, many of them made up on the spot right out of the thin air. In a draft for my memoirs, titled Galahad II: A Country Boy Goes to War, I wrote:

“His mastery of ad-lib storytelling was legendary around the community. Boys from the neighborhood would frequently drop in for free haircuts—he was an expert barber. As often as not, they would be accompanied by buddies who had come along for the tale telling that came with the shearing. The whole group would sit there open-mouthed, mesmerized by the colorful nature tales of foxes, ‘possums, coon dogs, stories of hunting and fishing, of goblins and ‘hants, watermelon heists, red-tailed hawks, and river owls calling at night along the Appomattox. He gave distinct personalities to birds and animals and made them come alive. He could create more tension and drama than anyone I have ever listened to out of such subjects as a creaking door in an abandoned old farm house or strange footprints on a river sandbar in the pre-dawn mist. We would sit entranced for hours on the front porch on moonlit summer nights or by a glowing fireside during the cold of winter, listening as he spun yarn after yarn, making up his stories as he went along…”

There is no question but that my own ability, such as it is, to see things that are not there and then picture them for others to see is greatly aided by the heritage of my father.

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