I was watching the movie Logan on TV last night. Do you know it? It’s one of the X-Men flicks, starring Hugh Jackman as “the Wolverine,” though in this story he’s the more human-ish version of that character, called “Logan.”

Hugh Jackman as the pulp hero in “Logan”

I’ve actually watched this movie about ten times. A lot of writers would turn up their noses at this species of pulp-y fare, but I really love it … and I learn a lot because these are the kinds of stories that work.

The heroes work.

The villains work.

The stories work.

I was studying the character of Logan/Wolverine. It was crystal-clear that he was drawn in the tradition of dozens of other male/adventure leads—Bogart in Casablanca, Han Solo in Star Wars, Clint Eastwood in anything, not to mention the male leads in Seven Samurai, Shane, The Searchers, The Wild Bunch, Paper Moon, True Grit, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Book of Eli, every Bourne movie, etc.

Each of these protagonists is dealing with a split in his interior nature—a division that, as I see it, is common maybe not to real-life males in every culture but certainly to most in Western societies, particularly our own good ol’ U.S.A.

The split is between darkness and light, between wariness of and self-distancing from others and opening one’s heart to love.

Dafne Keen as Laura in “Logan”

If I had the Logan script in front of me, I could scroll down and pick out at least a dozen places where the character of Logan articulates some version of

LOGAN

Leave me alone, I can’t help you

or

LOGAN

It’s none of my business, get the hell outa here

or Bogey’s character of Rick Blaine in Casablanca declaring, “I stick my neck out for nobody” or “I’m the only cause I’m fighting for.” Etc., etc.

The male protagonists in virtually all the stories cited above and ten thousand others have all undergone painful, deeply disillusioning experiences of life. Maybe in childhood, maybe in love, maybe in war. They’ve all arrived at some form of solitary gunslinger persona.

Then there’s the other half of their character.

The “good” half.

In almost every such tale, a “B” story character, often female, but sometimes a child (as in Paper Moon or True Grit) or a helpless person or persons in need (the prostitutes of Big Whiskey, Wyoming in Unforgiven, the villagers in Seven Samurai) crosses paths with our detached, remote hero.

The question each story asks is, “Will our hero stand up only for himself? Or will he open his heart to another?”

Why do these stories all work?

Because in many ways this question is the dilemma we all face.

Is the world a Hobbesian, zero-sum nightmare, a war of all against all, in which the only realistic course is to look out for Number One?

Or is love and compassion for the Other the truly brave and noble choice in a world where the forces of darkness and self-interest seem to be everywhere ascendant?

In Logan, the “love interest” is a young mutant girl named Laura, who shares with Logan the Wolverine claws (not to mention his DNA).

The character of Logan goes from rejecting her and distancing himself from her predicament (she’s in life-and-death danger) to … well, I won’t ruin it for you.

The heroes in all the stories above take Choice #2.

I don’t think it’s just a pulp choice.

I think it’s the human choice, whether the protagonist is Jesus of Nazareth or the 300 Spartans or Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

The hero chooses love.

He chooses to sacrifice his own selfish needs for the good of the Other.

 

 

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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21 Comments

  1. Joe Jansen on June 19, 2019 at 6:42 am

    I just watched a good one on Netflix that demonstrates the question of: “Will our hero stand up only for himself or herself?”

    “I Am Mother” is a pretty smart sci-fi story. The plot is that the world has experienced an extinction event, and a sealed facility has been prepped in advance to enable repopulation of the earth, shepherded by an AI. I don’t want to give anything away, because it’s an intriguing story to follow, try and figure who is benevolent and who is malevolent, what are the relationships between the characters, and to see the theme reveal itself. Is that enough of a tease without dropping any spoilers? Any of you all seen that one?

    • Katie Goidich on June 19, 2019 at 7:07 am

      That movie is on my watchlist for this weekend so I’m gratified to hear it’s smart scifi (my favorite kind of story). I’ll be watching for the good-others/evil-self question when I watch it. It’ll be interesting to see how this “human choice” plays out with all female characters.

    • Joe on June 19, 2019 at 7:53 am

      Come back and share what you thought, Katie. It’s one that I might even watch again, just to see what breadcrumbs or foreshadowings I might have missed the first time.

  2. Simon T on June 19, 2019 at 6:44 am

    Ahhh, so the villain looks out for himself and doesn’t change, and the hero looks out for himself, initially, but does change. Faced with all the nastiness that life throws at them, one makes the ‘wrong’ choice, the other the ‘right’ choice (eventually).

  3. Jule Kucera on June 19, 2019 at 6:59 am

    Steve, usually I read your posts and walk away educated. This time I’ve got tears over the truth of the human choice. The hero choses love. Jesus and Logan and Schindler and Han.
    Thank you.

  4. Jule Kucera on June 19, 2019 at 7:02 am

    Wait! Now I have a question… if the hero chooses love (blaming the previous typo on tears) then what does the villian choose? Hate? Annilihation of the hero? If all heros choose one thing (love) then all villians must also choose one thing, yes?

    • Joe on June 19, 2019 at 7:45 am

      Jule, I think of the villain as choosing power (in whatever forms: control, money, land, possessions). Ultimately choosing himself or herself over others, and I suppose that elevation of oneself over others is another form of power. And it’s interesting, too, to consider how villains are heroes in their own minds, in their own stories. I’m not deep into the comic world, but doesn’t Thanos believe he’s saving the human race by wiping out half? He’s the hero in his narrative.

      • Jule Kucera on June 19, 2019 at 8:22 am

        Joe, thank you. If heroes choose others (love) then it makes sense that villians would choose self. And I really need to slow down before I post (but I get so excited!) because Steve did that whole series on villains, so I’m going to go back and take a look at those posts.

        Agree, Thanos, the Alien, Hanibal Lecter, Goldfinger are all the hero in their own narrative. I suppose we all are.

    • Joe on June 19, 2019 at 9:18 am

      I know that when I’m a jerk, I usually think I’m right. (At least for a little while.) These are the things we draw on, right? 😉

  5. Kim on June 19, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    This is beautiful. Thank you. You’re so cool.

  6. Andy Krause on June 19, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Not exactly on topic, but I had a dream about Resistance last Thursday night I wanted to share openly. In the last while, I’ve had to put my laptop and guitars into pawn not knowing when I’d get them out. Thursday, I found a financial situation that allowed me to get them out so I could write and practice my music again. Then I had this dream:

    I watched Aragorn and the Fellowship of the Ring stand on the steps to the entrance of the Dark Lord Sauron’s castle. Aragorn held a wizard staff. Atop the staff and held in place by twigs, a crystal ball. Aragorn spoke his incantations, reversing Lord Sauron’s magic. With each incantation, Lord Sauron winced backward. The darkness was lifted. His minions were freed. Lord Sauron retreated into his lair.

    Aragorn moved forward into the castle, staff in hand. With every step, daylight and spring meadows appeared. From around the corner, Lord Sauron made his final attack. A shadow clad in thick armor. Two jagged broadswords in each hand. Aragorn rolled backward to duck the blow. He drew his sword and fought the Dark Lord with his staff and steel.

    He countered a blow with his staff opening a way to Sauron’s unguarded chest. He lunged his sword and thrust it into the heart of the shadow. The war was finally won.

  7. Sean Crawford on June 19, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    Most of my dreams are either the usual jumble, or the usual-for-me ones. A few ore the figuratively no-pants-on ones.
    But a precious few are the heroic ones. Maybe I’m not normally a hero to myself, but maybe my muse knows something I don’t. Such dreams, or at least the lingering idea of my higher self, are something I deserve to cling to down the years. It can make me a stronger artist.

    • Andy Krause on June 26, 2019 at 4:58 pm

      My dreams are often a jumble as well.

  8. Jule Kucera on June 19, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    I’ve been reading the back posts related to villains. This, from the post, “Start With the Villain,”—11/15/17– helped me with my current work: “In The Hunger Games, the villain is the corrupt, soulless “system,” embodied by Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), the commander of Panem.” My villain needs to be a more complete embodiment, needs to be more relentless, needs to fight the hero to the death. Steve is right, get the villain figured out and a whole lot of other stuff falls into place. And just as I was wishing I could refer to the villain posts more easily, I noticed that the next two (two!) JABs are all about the bad guys. Perfect timing!

  9. Bane on June 20, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Logan is legit! And as I face this very choice this very day I thank you for this post.

  10. Terry Weaver on June 20, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    I love this one Steven. The War of Art is outstanding, it fueled me through writing my book…. Thank you!

  11. Sandra on June 20, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    As always, beautiful and enlightening.

  12. Julia on June 21, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    Your words are my best therapy. I am one of those that goes around thinking, “God, I hate people!”. So when people tell me I’m one of the nicest people they know, I think they just don’t know me. But now I see that, when needed, I do step forward – however grudgingly. I’m no hero, but I do need to sleep at night.

  13. No one in particular on June 21, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    Living an authentic life..now that would be a challenge for a true hero.

  14. evonn gibbs on June 25, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Just wanted to say thank you for all the free advice! This one I took the liberty to copy & paste so I could read it at home. Is that okay? I hope so. I really appreciate your dedication to helping us who love to write. Have a great day, etc.!

  15. Mishack Motshweni on September 21, 2019 at 4:28 am

    Thanks a million for the advices.

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