Are there rules in writing? We would be deluding ourselves to think that there aren’t. To write a good story, you don’t haphazardly throw some scenes together and call it a story.
You are following rules, if your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
You are following rules if you don’t introduce aliens to a ghost story, because that wouldn’t make sense in the world of your story where there are no aliens and only ghosts.
You are following rules, if your character faces a challenge, any kind of challenge, even the characters are Woody and David Grant from Nebraska.
You are following rules if you remain consistent in the story’s POV, regardless of the POV.
You follow rules, because you understand that they keep your audience engaged and grounded.
You understand that with every page they turn, your readers make an investment, and you want to make good on it. If you don’t engage your reader, then they don’t give a shit.
Steven Pressfield’s new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your S**t, has quite a few rules in it, rules that make it possible for readers to give a shit.
True to his direct and brutally honest form, Pressfield explains why nobody wants to read your shit:
“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…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?” (PG 26-27)
When you accept this mantra, you know what you don’t know. You avoid the horrifying mistake of misunderstanding your audience. You learn how to write from the reader’s perspective, how to hook them, how to keep them invested, and how to give them a payoff and make them remember you.
Pressfield takes us through his impressive writing career – failed fiction writer, copywriter, screenwriter, successful fiction writer, nonfiction writer, and self-help author – and synthesizes lessons he learned from each part.
He presents a foundation for understanding storytelling about what the beginning, middle, and end essentially are – the hook, the buildup, and the payoff.
It is not a new concept, but Pressfield presents it simply and concisely. He condenses the broader lessons we learned in our first creative writing class and puts them into frameworks that can be easily applied.
The lessons are just as good for the newbie, who wants the 101 version, or the experienced writer, who wants a refresher, or for anyone who feels stuck like Pressfield did in his failed fiction writer phase.
Do you have to use these frameworks? Of course not. Many talented writers pull off experimental work.
But you have to learn the rules before you can break them, understand what they are and how they can be broken. And for those of us who don’t experiment and prefer to stick with more traditional pieces of fiction and nonfiction, the frameworks are useful.
Pressfield’s wide array of experience provides a more profound perspective. Even the Hero’s Journey can be applied to advertising, and self-help authors can learn a thing or two from fiction writing.
But more importantly, Pressfield asks us to hold sacred the lessons we learned in our freshmen English classes, the lessons that we grew jaded of, because of how they were drilled into our heads: character, theme, structure, stakes, and story.
Some students dismiss those lessons the moment they fulfill their English credits. Writers don’t get off so easily. For a man who was an accomplished screenwriter, wrote 15 books and countless screenplays, and is the creative guru of our time, those lessons matter.
Order your copy here.