Writing Wednesdays

Unseen Forces

By Steven Pressfield | 20 Comments

  The tragedies that have come down to us from the ancient Athenian stage often feature as prominent players gods and demi-gods … and such unseen forces as Fate and Destiny. Prophecies are a frequent device, as they are in the Bible. Even in real-life, oracles such as Apollo’s at Delphi made pronouncements that the Greeks took with deadly seriousness—and many in fact proved true.   The wooden wall alone shall preserve you.   Either Sparta will fall or she will lose a king.   In other words, the Greeks believed (and the Book of Ecclesiastes concurs) that man was…

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The Understory

By Steven Pressfield | 10 Comments

  Editors call it “narrative drive.” Writers want it. Readers need it. How do you get it? One way is by skillful use of an Understory. One of my favorite scenes in movies of the past few years is the Frozen Park Bench scene in the first of the Jason Bourne movies—The Bourne Identity. To refresh your memory:   It’s early in the story. We’ve met Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and learned that he is a young man who has lost his memory. He doesn’t know who he is. He’s an American on his own in Europe, specifically Zurich (where…

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Harvey Keitel’s Villain Speech in “Cop Land”

By Steven Pressfield | 10 Comments

Have you seen the movie Cop Land? It’s a vastly underappreciated 1997 film written and directed by James Mangold, who also did Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line, and 3:10 to Yuma. The script for Cop Land was good enough to attract Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Anabella Sciorra. It even got Edie Falco (before she became Carmela in The Sopranos) in a no-dialogue, ten-second cameo. But what I like most about it is the Villain Speech. An NYPD cop named Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) is the Bad Guy in Cop Land. The story revolves around the…

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“The Moment” with Brian Koppelman

By Steven Pressfield | 17 Comments

I almost never do interviews. But I went out of my way to do three, in New York, over the past ten days. I’m gonna take this post to talk about the first one, with Brian Koppelman, on his podcast, “The Moment.” Here’s the link via Stitcher (though you can listen in other ways too.) Have you heard of Brian? He’s one of the co-creators (as well as a showrunner and writer) of Billions, in its fourth season on Showtime. He’s also a screenwriter and director, a former music industry exec and producer, and a lot of other stuff. He…

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The Villain and the Shadow

By Steven Pressfield | 17 Comments

“Shadow” is a term used most commonly in Jungian therapy and inner work. It means that part of our psyche that we have repressed, usually out of shame and the refusal to admit that such elements (the regret that we had children, say, or the rage we carry against “good” or honorable entities) are part of us. We’re ashamed of our shadow. We don’t want to see it. We reject it. We deny its existence. We banish it from our self-conception. “Shadow work” in the Jungian sense is the introspection that shines a light on these repressed parts of ourselves and allows…

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Introducing Shane

By Steven Pressfield | 17 Comments

  I love the movie Shane. In my opinion it’s the greatest Western ever, surpassing even The Searchers and The Wild Bunch and High Noon, not to mention Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Unforgiven. I’m aware that many reading this post have not seen Shane, or may not have even heard of it. The film did come out in 1953, which is, I admit, a few years ago. So I understand. Nonetheless, if you’ll forgive me, let me make a pitch here and now for Shane, the classic Western starring Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Brandon deWilde…

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The Villain Adapts, but Does Not Change

By Steven Pressfield | 15 Comments

  Consider the Alien. It adapts but does not change. It starts out (I’m thinking of the 1979 Alien, directed by Ridley Scott) as an egg. OMG, it springs onto the visor of Kane’s (John Hurt) space helmet! Wait … now it’s an ugly, tentacled blob attached to his face. Hold on—it just leapt out of his chest and scurried out of the room! It’s medium-sized … It’s bleeding acid-blood! It’s huge! The villain adapts. It comes after the hero in protean forms, from all directions, using all kinds of ploys and stratagems. The Thing. Species. Human villains too keep…

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Kurosawa on Villains

By Steven Pressfield | 23 Comments

  We were talking last week about how the villain never changes. The hero does. But never the Bad Guy. Here’s Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, not to mention Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, etc.) quoted in a 1991 article in the L.A. Times: “(Akira) Kurosawa, the greatest director who ever lived, said that villains have arrived at what they’re going to be . . . that’s their flaw, but that heroes evolve–they’re open to change and growth.” Kasdan in this context was referring to his own aspirations as a moviemaker.…

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The Villain Doesn’t Change

By Steven Pressfield | 17 Comments

  The craziest working arrangement I ever had in the screenwriting biz was when I worked for a producer I’ll call Joan Stark. Joan insisted that I write in her office. I had to come in every day. Joan gave me a little cubbyhole beside the photocopy machine. I’d work on pages all morning and half the afternoon. Then we’d meet and Joan would go over the day’s work and give me corrections. Every day she had problems with the same character—the villain. She kept making me rewrite his scenes. One day I asked why. What mistake was I making?…

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The “B” Story Rides to the Rescue of the “A” Story

By Steven Pressfield | 7 Comments

We touched briefly in last week’s post upon the idea that the “B” story “rides to the rescue” of the “A” story, usually at the start of Act Three. Let’s examine this principle in more detail.

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