October 8, 2009

3 Questions for Steven Pressfield (part 1 of 3)

Through a fortuitous connection via Twitter, I was given the opportunity to ask author and historian Steven Pressfield three questions about the writing process. I am going to post one question/answer per week, starting today. Read below for his thoughts on navigating form and genre. I have been grappling with this issue a lot lately with regards to story ideas and how to decide on the manner in which they should be told. Apparently I am not alone, as Pressfield reassures me in his answer below.

MS: Considering that you work in multiple genres, do you ever have trouble deciding what form a particular idea/story should take?

SP: I ALWAYS have trouble deciding what form a particular/idea story should take. In many ways, that's the hardest part. What's the theme? What's the point of view? If it's first-person, who's the person? If it's not, what angle is the story being told from? How does it start? How does it end? What's the tone of voice? What's the "voice," period?

I have no method for answering these questions. I just trust my instincts. I try to "feel" the story and let it tell me how it wants to be told. I'm not sure why, but for me a lot of the time I use intermediate characters--like young Hardy in "Bagger Vance" or Xeo in "Gates of Fire." Someone who is relatable-to by the reader and can serve as a "way into the story." But not always.

I'm not sure this answer is helping too much. Bottom line: each story is different, for all of us, and each one demands a response all its own. I don't think it ever gets easier.

Well, my fellow writers, let's keep asking those questions until the story reveals its nature and form to us. Stay tuned for question #2 next week! Pressfield will discuss the nature of a writer's workday and strategies for time and project management. Best on your words until then ...


  1. Very nice. Way to reach out to a mentor.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I have observed this also that the story does tell itself, and characters do things that our surprising and difficult for the author at the time.

  3. Great post and great blog. I'm a devotee of The War of Art. I think Barbara Ehrenreich (BrightSided: how positive thinking is undermining America)would even like it. Look forward to next installments.