Writing Wednesdays

The Villain Never Says He’s Sorry

By Steven Pressfield | 0 Comments

In the classic Western Shane there’s a character named Chris Calloway (played by Ben Johnson, who later won an Oscar for his role as “Sam the Lion” in The Last Picture Show.) Chris Calloway is the original bully in Shane. He’s the first of the Bad Cattlemen to humiliate Shane (Alan Ladd) in the bar room at Grafton’s, calling him “Sody Pop” and slinging a shot of whisky into his face. Chris brawls with Shane and in general shows himself to be a world-class sonofabitch. But later in the film when Chris learns that his boss, Rufe Ryker, plans to dry-gulch…

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The Mystery Makes the Hero Choose

By Steven Pressfield | 9 Comments

Let’s stay with Blade Runner in this post, but let’s go back to the 1982 original starring Harrison Ford and Sean Young and directed by Ridley Scott (screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples.) If indeed, as we’ve been positing in previous posts, The female carries the mystery and The male’s role is to uncover the mystery, then what happens when he (remember, the “male” can be a female too, as long as she acts in the archetypal rational/assertive/aggressive style of a male) does uncover the mystery? Answer: he is thrust into a moral crisis. He is forced to…

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Male and Female in “Blade Runner 2049”

By Steven Pressfield | 7 Comments

I’m going to generalize wildly in this post so please bear with me. Many exceptions could be cited legitimately to the principle I’m about to put forward (and maybe the principle itself is completely wrong). But it’s thought-provoking and its exploration, I hope, will give us all something to chew on. If, as we have proposed in earlier posts in this series, The female carries the mystery, then what is the male’s role? (Bear in mind that the “male” in our story could be a female, e.g. Diana in Wonder Woman or Sara Paretsky’s tough private eye V.I. Warshawski or…

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Male and Female in “Lawrence of Arabia”

By Steven Pressfield | 10 Comments

  The movie Lawrence of Arabia, like The Wild Bunch or Seven Samurai or Moby Dick, is a story without any primary female characters. How, then, can it follow the principle we’ve been exploring in the past three posts: The female carries the mystery. The answer, I think, is that Lawrence himself (Peter O’Toole) is the female element. Lawrence is the female element and the male element. The primary issue posed by David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia (or at least one of several primary issues) is, to my mind, How can an individual reconcile his own authentic greatness with the…

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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 | 16 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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