The Principles of Storytelling (Hint: It’s Not All About You)

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Good morning!

Today’s book recommendation is a good one (as if I’d ever steer you wrong!). It’s called Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit, by Steven Pressfield.

Pressfield is famous for writing about The Resistance, which is the insidious, destructive internal forces that conspire against us when we attempt to produce our finest work.

I’ve read 5 or 6 of his books, and they’re all spectacular.

In this one, he talks about the universal structure of effective storytelling, more about The Resistance, how to be interesting, and how to create something that other people will want to bother reading / watching.

A sample of my notes is below, and then we’ll get into a little discussion.

Let’s get started!

Today’s Book on Amazon: Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit, by Steven Pressfield

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In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you have written

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People who read what you have written have given you some of their time and attention, which are supremely valuable. In exchange, you, the writer, have to give them back something just as valuable.

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Define the problem and you’re already halfway to the solution

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The pace of consumption is different for books and movies though, with books being something that the reader can put down and pick up many times before they finish it, whereas with a moviegoer, they are going to see it all in one shot.

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Different genres each have their own unbreakable conventions

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Three-Act Structure + Hero’s Journey = Story

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“Again, this is not formula. This is a principle of storytelling.”

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Every character must represent something greater than himself

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“Have you ever watched a movie with the sound off? The great ones stand up completely.”

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Start with the end. Figure out where you want to finish. Then work backward to set up everything you need to get you there.

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Raise the stakes as high as possible in your story

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The main character has to undergo a radical transformation from beginning to end

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“You’re playing with dynamite when you type: Chapter One”.

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When we know that we are going to do 15 drafts before we are done, we don’t stress out when draft number 6 is still a mess

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Nature cannot be tricked or cheated. She will give up to you the object of your struggles only after you have paid her price.

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In writing self-help, you need to have enough success to be credible, and enough failure to be relatable

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“The artist enters the Void with nothing and comes back with something.”


There seem to be some divergences of opinion regarding whether or not our lives are journeys or not.

As usual, I see the merits of both, and don’t really commit to a single side over the other. Certainly, it’s true that the past doesn’t exist and the future, by definition, will never exist.

We will simply never see the future, because when the future arrives and becomes the present, there will be another future ahead of us that hasn’t yet materialized. And just as well, because of course we should be focusing on what is right in front of us, strengthening our awareness, and living in the Now that is all there ever will be.

So, all this talk about our lives being a “journey” from “here” to some other place called “there” has always rung a little bit hollow for me.

And yet…

Yet I can’t help but think that journeys are terribly exciting! Going on a journey seems like a lot more fun than just sitting around here. I’m just sitting at home in comfortable clothes, drinking coffee, banging away at the keys! There’s so much more out there!

In short, we can apply the principles of storytelling to make our own lives more vivid and enticing, so that the “present” that we experience in the Now becomes more Vibrant and Real.

We can design our own lives AS IF they were journeys, and make sure that we include all the most important features of a good story:

Call to Adventure: You wake up living a life that’s not yours. This is not how you pictured it to be. You decide to do something, to shake things up.

Finding a Mentor: Someone arrives in your life who knows lots of things you don’t, and who genuinely wants the best for you. They guide you on your adventure. Sometimes you have to seek these people out.

Overcoming Obstacles: You get turned down for a job that would have changed your life. You decide to upgrade your skills, widen your horizons, get a bigger life, so that you’re ready when the next opportunity comes.

The Climax: You’ve done everything you possibly could to improve. You’ve done the work, you’ve pushed past failure, you’ve slapped the nay-sayers in the f***ing face, and you’re now ready to take your shot. The opportunity you’ve been waiting for comes…and you rise to the occasion. You absolutely kill it, and you know that your life will never, ever be the same.

The Return: You come back and teach others how you did it. You teach what you’ve learned, thus giving you the chance to learn it twice. This sets you up for the next, even bigger adventure.


The key to all of it is simply: Don’t be boring! Make something interesting of your life, if nothing else. Make good use of your time. And, I might add, that making someone else’s life better is NEVER a waste of time.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

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