Month: March 2016

Analyze Your Novel Like a Dream

By Steven Pressfield | 11 Comments

    “Help, I can’t find my theme!” We talked about this a couple of weeks ago. What if you discover yourself in this situation: You’re three-quarters of the way through your novel (or maybe you finished it three weeks ago) and somebody asks you, “What’s it about? What’s the theme?” — and you find yourself staring blankly. How do you identify your theme if you still don’t know it even after you’ve finished the book? (Trust me, I’ve been there too. More than once.) Here’s one way: think of your book as a dream. I mean really. Imagine it’s…

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How To Pitch, Part II

By Callie Oettinger | 28 Comments

I left a few pieces out of my last post, “How to Pitch.” What follows is a round-up of items that should have made a showing in that first round. Research the Individual You’re Pitching Check the individual’s status. A few years ago I managed a history web site. Three years after the gig ended, publicists were still sending me books — and I’m still receiving e-mail pitches. When you research that individual, make sure they’re still doing what you think they’re doing. Don’t rely on the Internet. Pick up the phone. The receptionists at news outlets won’t always put…

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The Hero Embodies the Theme

By Steven Pressfield | 22 Comments

  We’re now eight posts into our series on Theme. I confess I have the queasy feeling that our concept remains slippery and elusive. So let’s attack it from a different angle—from the idea that the protagonist embodies the theme. Rocky. The theme is “A bum can become a champ if he’s just given the chance.” See how the character of Rocky embodies that? Casablanca. Theme: “It’s better to act for the greater good than for our own selfish ends.” Bogie’s character, Rick Blaine, embodies the clash between self-interest and self-sacrifice. When he acts in the climax, his actions become…

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What’s in a Title?

By Shawn Coyne | 9 Comments

[To read more of Shawn’s stuff, visit] Here’s the second in my series of posts about book packaging…  A well known and mostly contented writer I know refuses to reveal the title of his novels before he completes them. He creates no title page for his drafts, nor does he utter the words to confidants until the thing is locked and loaded and already in his publisher’s sales materials. Kind of like the way actors speak of Shakespeare’s Scottish play.

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Is Theme Important in Nonfiction too?

By Steven Pressfield | 17 Comments

  [This is the seventh post in our series on Theme. Special thanks to Joe Fontenot, who asked the question above.]   Answer: Absolutely. Maybe even more so. Lemme offer an answer based on my own process in structuring and writing The Lion’s Gate. The Lion’s Gate was published by Sentinel/Penguin in 2014. It’s a narrative nonfiction book about the Arab-Israeli war of 1967—the Six Day War. Theme was everything in my process, not just in researching and writing the book but also in writing the Book Proposal. A book proposal is that essential 50-page document that agent and writer…

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“Help! I Can’t Find My Theme!”

By Steven Pressfield | 15 Comments

Don’t worry, it happens to me all the time. It took me ten years to figure out the theme of The Legend of Bagger Vance, and five before I could articulate what Gates of Fire was about. It’s a running joke between me and Shawn, in his role as my editor, that he’s the one who has to explain my stuff to me. “Oh!” I inevitably exclaim, “so that’s what it’s about.” Then he gives me eight more pages of things I’ve got to fix because I was flying blind and operating entirely on instinct. That’s what great editors do.…

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Critical Questions

By Shawn Coyne | 10 Comments

[To read more of Shawn’s stuff, check out] How can you best package your work? That is, how do you come up with a great title, follow it up with a dynamic idea for a book jacket, and extend the gestalt of the exterior design of the cover into the page-by-page interior design? And even more importantly, how do you execute the entire vision?

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Tell Us What Your Story is About

By Steven Pressfield | 7 Comments

  [Continuing our series on Theme in fiction, nonfiction, and movies … ]   I’m a big fan of Blake Snyder. If you haven’t read Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, please rectify that oversight at once. One of Blake’s lasting legacies (he died tragically in 2009 at age fifty-one) is what he called BS2, the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. The beat sheet is an all-purpose template for writing a screenplay. It breaks down a movie story into fifteen structural beats, e.g. Catalyst, Debate, Break Into Two, Midpoint, All Is Lost, etc. Number Three, following…

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