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

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Make Your Hero Suffer

By Steven Pressfield
Published: April 26, 2017

[Today’s post is a revised and updated version of a favorite of mine that ran earlier in the blog’s cycle. It’s #1 in a new series starting today.]

 

There’s a story about Elvis:

He was about to make his first movie (“Love Me Tender”) and he was getting a little nervous. He phoned the director and asked to speak with him privately.

Elvis was worried that he'd have to smile.

Elvis was worried that he’d have to smile.

“What is it, Elvis?” the director asked when they got together. “You look upset. Is there anything you want to ask me?”

“Yes,” said Elvis. “Am I gonna be asked to smile in this movie?”

The director was momentarily taken aback. No actor, he said, had ever asked him that question. “Why do ask that, Elvis?”

“I’ve been watching the movies of James Dean and Marlon Brando, and I notice that they never smile. I don’t wanna smile either.”

Have you ever noticed how the most emotionally involving books and movies all have heroes that go through hell? Cool Hand Luke, The Grapes of Wrath, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Mildred in Mildred Pierce, Sethe in Beloved, even Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind.

One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read is The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer. It’s the true story of the German retreat before the Russians on the Eastern front in WWII. Talk about suffering. You read it and you’re actually feeling sorry for the Nazis.

As writers, you and I may sometimes be tempted to go easy on our protagonists. After all, we like them. We’re rooting for them. They’re our heroes. Sometimes they’re even thinly-veiled versions of ourselves.

But giving our heroes a break is the worst thing we can do.

Instead, pour on the misery. Afflict them like Job.

Beat them up like Karl Malden did to Brando in One-Eye Jacks or Gene Hackman did to Clint Eastwood (not to mention Morgan Freeman) in Unforgiven. Torture them emotionally like Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven or Still Alice. Break their hearts like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (or any, or all, of her other movies.)

Readers will love it.

Audiences will love it.

Think of your lead character as if he or she were an actor. Actors love to suffer. They win Oscars for it. Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. Tom Hanks for Philadelphia. Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.

Luke Skywalker suffers.

Rocket Raccoon suffers.

Even James Bond suffers.

The trick for us writers is knowing how to make our heroes suffer.

In the upcoming posts we’ll examine the storytelling principles that apply to this precept.

Principle #1:

The hero’s suffering must be on-theme.


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What It Takes

What It Takes

Ethos, Logos, Pathos

By Shawn Coyne | Published: April 28, 2017

This is the fourth post in my Story Gridding Nonfiction series.  To read the first, click here.  To read the second, click here. To read the third, click here.

We’ve been exploring Story Grid as it relates to nonfiction. And we’ve come up with four big categories/genres of nonfiction: Academic, How-To, Narrative Nonfiction and the Big Idea Book. As the Big Idea Book, at its best, is an elaborate combination plate of the other three, let’s pick it apart a bit more and see if we can suss out its secrets.

Where did the nonfiction Big Idea Book come from? That is, from what form did it emerge? What’s the tadpole version that has the potential to morph into a complex frog?
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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

A Master Class with Shawn

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 19, 2017

 

There’s a term Shawn uses that I had never heard before:

Story nerd.

(He claims proudly to be one himself.)

Seth Godin, me and Shawn at Shawn's STORY GRID event in New York this February

Three amigos. Seth Godin, me and Shawn at Shawn’s STORY GRID event in New York this February.

A story nerd, as I understand it, is someone who loves to get into the geeky details and “inside baseball” mechanics of storytelling. A story nerd knows what a Value Shift is. She’s intimate with concepts like “beats” and “reveals.” She knows the Five Commandments of Storytelling. A story nerd is kinda like a Trekkie except she doesn’t wear Vulcan ears or appear in public dressed as a Klingon.

Me, I’d use a different term:

Professional writer.

Anyway, there were about forty of us story nerds/professional writers gathered in Soho in New York this February for a three-day Story Grid event starring my partner, Shawn Coyne. (If you weren’t there, don’t worry. A 10-hour plus set of tapes will be available soon.)

For three all-day sessions Shawn broke down Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice into its constituent elements and put them all back together again.

He was teaching us how to write a love story.

[By the way, you can order Shawn’s paperback breakdown of P&P here.]

Shawn took us through the saga of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Collins, Lydia, and Lady Catherine. He showed us why P&P still sells 400,000 copies a year, 204 years after it was published.PandP cover for Steve

I was there. Seth Godin showed up. We had a great Q&A on Day Three.

And we all came away with notebooks groaning from everything we had learned listening to Shawn.

(Click here for Shawn’s free mini-course on How to Outline a Novel. Or, as he subtitles it, “How to turn a 50,000-word problem into 266 bite-sized challenges.”)

 

In these three lessons [Shawn says] I teach how to tackle a huge problem—figuring out how to write a new novel. By using examples including my inadequacies assembling an above ground pool for my kids, seminal Parkinson’s disease research, and the classic Knock Knock Banana joke, I’ll break down the 50,000-word goal into manageable units of story assembly. To top it off, at the end of the course, I’ll give you a scene-by-scene spreadsheet template to track your progress. Micro-step by micro-step, you’ll build your next novel in 30 days. Plan the work…and then work the plan!

 

But back to Shawn’s New York event.

It was his first. He had never done this before. I flew in for moral support—and because after all these years I remain fascinated by how a big-time editor dissects and analyzes a story, how he assesses what works and what doesn’t work, and how he figures out how to fix it.

I had expected the audience to be young writers, or artists in other fields just starting out. I was wildly wrong. The average age of the attendees was (I’m guessing) around forty. Several were in their sixties. A number were published authors. Everyone I talked to was an honest-to-God story nerd. They were deep into their first or sixth or seventeenth novel. They knew their stuff and they wanted to learn more.

They took the game seriously.

They were in it for keeps.

It was pretty cool to see the desks spread with laptops and notebooks and hear the really smart questions being asked. You could see as Shawn elucidated each storytelling principle that the attending writers were incorporating it on the spot into their own works in progress.

I was doing the same.

I had more than one “Aha!” or “Holy sh*t!” moment when I found myself furiously scribbling notes to myself. “Go back to Chapter X and fix such-and-such.”

As I said, this February get-together was dedicated to the genre of Love Story only. But Shawn is planning a series of such events for all the other genres, including nonfiction. (Yes, the principles of storytelling apply to “true” material too.)

If you’re not yet a subscriber to Shawn’s site, www.storygrid.com, I highly recommend that you sign up ASAP.

And click the link above for his free mini-course on story outlining.

I’ve already clicked it myself.


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