I. Brief Summary
A guide to the ins and out of writing, whether it’s a book, a screenplay or advertising material. Steven Pressfield is a best-selling writer who has worked in advertising, screenwriting and as an author of both fiction and nonfiction. A bit of self-help element to the book.
II. Big Ideas
- Nobody wants to read anything. It isn't that people are mean or cruel. They're just busy. What's the answer?
- Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to it simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.
- Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.
- Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.
- When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you. Principles learned in twenty-sever years working as a writer in other fields, i.e., writing ads, writing movies, writing unpublishable fiction.
- Every work must be about something. It must have a theme.
- Every work must have a concept, that is, a unique twist or slant or framing device.
- Every work must start with an Inciting Incident.
- Every work must be divided into three acts (or seven or eight or nine David Lean sequences).
- Every character must represent something greater than himself/herself.
- The protagonist embodies the theme.
- The antagonist personifies the counter-theme.
- The protagonist and antagonist clash in the climax around the issue of the theme.
- The climax resolves the clash between the theme and the counter-theme.
- Storytelling principles:
- Every story must have a concept. It must put a unique and original spin, twist or framing device upon the material.
- Every story must be about something. It must have a theme.
- Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Act One, Act Two, Act Three.
- Every story must have a hero.
- Every story must have a villain.
- Every story must start with an Inciting Incident, embedded within which is the story’s climax.
- Every story must escalate through Act Two in terms of energy, stakes, complication and significance/meaning as it progresses.
- Every story must build to a climax centered around a clash between the hero and the villain that pays off everything that came before and that pays off on-theme.
- What are the universal structural elements of all stories?
- This is the shape any story must take. That’s a novel, that’s a play, that’s a movie, that’s a joke, that’s a seduction, that’s a military campaign.
- A beginning that grabs the listener.
- A middle that escalates in tension, suspense, stakes, and excitement.
- An ending that brings it all home with a bang.
- A real writer (or artist or entrepreneur) has something to give. She has lived enough and suffered enough and thought deeply enough about her experience to be able to process it into something that is of value to others, even if only as entertainment. A fake writer (or artist or entrepreneur) is just trying to draw attention to himself. The word “fake” may be too unkind. Let’s say “young” or “evolving.”
- At the beginning, the author's writing was like a selfie: a disposable plea for attention that was all about him and his life. But since he hadn't done much living, there wasn't much substance.
- All of a sudden I understood why I was so moody, neurotic, simultaneously paranoid and megalomaniac, mistrustful, uneasy, driven by ambition but paralyzed by guilt about my ambition, horny, obsessive, compulsive, obsessive-compulsive, not to mention shy, withdrawn, and dandruff-ridden. I was creative. All creative people were like that!
- Like the monk and the mystic, the artist enters a mental space. He becomes a child. She becomes a vessel. They tune in to the Cosmic Radio Station and listen to whatever song is being broadcast specifically to them.
- We're believing that the universe has a gift that it is holding specifically for us and that, if we can learn to make ourselves available to it, it will deliver this gift into our hands.
Believe me, this is true.