Writing Wednesdays

What is “Female?”

By Steven Pressfield | 19 Comments

In the past two posts we’ve been exploring the story idea that “the female carries the mystery.” But what exactly does “female” mean? Our reader Amber in an August 7 comment said Then I understood that it wasn’t female as a gender, but female as the concept. The feminine pull vs the masculine push. In this instance, the female “hide” vs the masculine “seek”. Andrea Reiman added something equally interesting. The feminine is chaos, the masculine is order. Mountains are masculine, water is feminine, etc. But [“the] female carries the mystery” is a more nuanced understanding of chaos. Well, she…

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The Female Protects the Mystery

By Steven Pressfield | 10 Comments

We said in last week’s post, speaking of novels or films with characters of both sexes, that The female carries the mystery. This principle, true as it is, is not enough to make a story work. In addition The female protects the mystery. Every story has a secret. Every tale has a meaning, an interpretation of depth. The protagonist’s role (either a male, or a female acting in a “male” capacity) is to uncover that secret. In Robert Towne’s script of Chinatown, the protagonist is private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson). His role in the drama is to get to…

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The Female Carries the Mystery

By Steven Pressfield | 20 Comments

I’ve got a new book coming from W.W. Norton in November. It’s a novel called 36 Righteous Men. If you followed last year the series on this blog called “Report from the Trenches,” you know the details of the huge crash this book took, midstream in its writing, and of my six months of nonstop hell trying to regroup, restructure, and reanimate it. The concept that saved the day came from Shawn Coyne’s editorial notes: The female carries the mystery. This is a helluva deep subject and one that, even now, I have only the sketchiest and most tenuous handle…

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The Villain Doesn’t Change, Part Two

By Steven Pressfield | 17 Comments

It’s unfortunate that the term “McGuffin”—meaning that thing that the Villain wants—sounds so dopey. Unfortunate because there’s a lot of meat to this idea. I suspect Alfred Hitchcock, the person we associate most with the term McGuffin, wanted the name to sound silly. In his mind it didn’t matter what the McGuffin was—the nuclear codes, the letters of transit, the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. All that mattered for him was that the villain wanted it. But the idea that the villain wants something—that he or she has an object of desire—is a topic worth examining in greater detail. We’ve said in…

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The Kind of Crazy We Want

By Steven Pressfield | 15 Comments

We said in a previous post, “Pick the idea that’s craziest.” But what exactly do we mean by “crazy?” Here’s what we DON’T mean: We don’t mean pick a prospective project that’s ridiculous or absurd or so weird or personal or self-indulgent that there’s no chance of it finding an audience. What we do mean is,   Free your thinking from conventionality. Don’t second-guess your potential readers, and especially don’t think down to them. Don’t pick the idea you imagine they’ll like, or believe they’ll respond to. Pick the idea you like, even if (especially if) it doesn’t seem commercial. By “crazy,”…

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The Life We’ve Chosen

By Steven Pressfield | 15 Comments

I’m gonna take a tiny break from our mini-series about Villains to share a blog post from my friend Seth Godin. Why? Because I think Seth has described in a few short lines the Writer’s Life (or any artist’s life) in a way that nails it like nothing I’ve ever seen. Seth’s blog, by the way, is my go-to. It’s the first one I read every morning. I can’t recommend it highly enough.   THE SOLO MARATHON The usual marathons, the popular ones, are done in a group. They have a start time. A finish line. A way to qualify. A route.…

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The Non-Zero-Sum Character

By Steven Pressfield | 19 Comments

  Here, in no particular order, is a sampling of real-life non-zero-sum characters. Jesus of Nazareth The 300 Spartans at Thermopylae

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The Villain Speech in “Vice”

By Steven Pressfield | 12 Comments

We said in last week’s post that the Villain sees the world as a zero-sum game. This is a corollary to another aspect of the classic antagonist’s view of life as a war of all-against-all. To re-quote Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) from Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men: COLONEL JESSUP Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? … I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the…

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To the Villain, It’s a Zero-Sum Game

By Steven Pressfield | 13 Comments

The definition of a zero-sum game is if one side wins, the other side loses. Whatever proportion of goodies Player A takes, by that exact amount is Player B’s stake diminished. In a zero-sum equation, if I take a slice of the pie, there’s that much less for you. This is the how the Villain in our stories sees the world. In Margin Call, written and directed by J.C. Chandor, the executives at a major investment bank realize, over one long dramatic night, that their trading model is fatally flawed. The instant “the Street” gets word of this, the firm…

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Pulp Heroes

By Steven Pressfield | 20 Comments

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.” 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…

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