Written by Steven Pressfield, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t is a book that will serve both as a writing guide and a “kick up your ass”.
Having written advertising copy, screenplays, fiction and non-fiction, Steven Pressfield dispenses the tips and lessons he has learnt from these different styles of writing.
It’s a practical book that offers tons of how-tos on improving your writing.
Here are my book notes.
Sometimes young writers acquire the idea from their years in school that the world is waiting to read what they’ve written. They get this idea because their teachers had to read their essays or terms papers or dissertations.
In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written. Sight unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why?
Because they might have to actually read it.
Nobody wants to read anything.
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.
When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire the skills that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs — the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer to the point of view of your reader. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?
From a single campaign concept, if it’s strong enough, can come dozens of individual ads and commercials. Each one works as part of the broader concept and each reinforces the overall theme.
What is a concept?
- A concept takes a conventional claim and puts a spin on it.
- A concept establishes a frame of reference that is greater than the product itself.
- A concept sets the product in a context that makes the viewer behold the product with fresh eyes—and perceive it in a positive, compelling light.
- A concept frames or re-frames the issue entirely.
- A good concept makes the audience see your product from a very specific, sympathetic point of view and by its logic (or faux logic) renders all other points of view and all competing products moot and impotent.
In advertising, you think of assignments as “problems”. Your job is to come up with a solution.
Problems seeking solutions. That is a very powerful way of thinking about the creative process. Implicit in this point of view is the idea that the answer already exists within the question, that the solution is embedded within the problem.
If your job is to find the solution, the first step is to define the problem.
The Inciting Incident is the event that makes the story start.
How can you tell when you’ve got a good Inciting Incident? When the movie’s climax is embedded within it.
Every character must represent something greater than himself.
Get your characters in danger as quickly as possible and keep ratcheting up that jeopardy throughout the story.
Don’t be afraid to make your hero suffer.
Your job as a writer is to give your hero the deepest, darkest, most hellacious All is Lost moment possible — then find a way out for her.
A classic Villain Speech must accomplish at least two objects:
- It must allow the antagonist to state his or her point of view as clearly and powerfully as possible.
- It must be so rationally stated and so compelling in its logic that we in the audience (or at least a part of us) find ourselves thinking, “Hmm, this villain is evil as hell—but we have to admit, he/she’s got a good point.”
The greater and more interesting the villain, the greater and more interesting the hero — and the more satisfying his or her triumph over the foe.
Remember, the antagonist carries the counter-theme.
Universal 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 centred around a clash between the hero and the villain that pays off everything that came before and that pays off on-theme.