The book gives a very interesting account of what Steven learned from a 50+ years career performing all forms of writing, including ad writing, Hollywood script-writing, novels, and nonfiction. The first chapter lays down the most important lesson Steven has learned: "Nobody wants to read your shit", and the rest of the book talks about what you can do about it. In a nutshell, you must streamline your message (staying on theme), and make its expression fun (organizing around an interesting concept).
Steven lists these as the universal principles of story telling:
- 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 (that grabs the listener), a middle (that escalates in tension, suspense, stakes, and excitement), and an end (that brings it all home with a bang). 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 it off on-theme.
The book is an easy and fun read. It feels like Steven is having a heart-to-heart conversation with you and coaching you about how you can become a better writer. While there were many gems, I was particularly intrigued by this passage:
I will do between 10 and 15 drafts of every book I write. Most writers do.
This is a positive, not a negative.
If I screw up in Draft #1, I'll attack it again in Draft #2.
"You can't fix everything in one draft."
Thinking in multiple drafts takes the pressure off.