Monday, October 27, 2008

Savoring Ayn Rand's "Red Pawn"

Savoring Ayn Rand's "Red Pawn" by Dina Schein is an excellent literary analysis of a great story that is little known. It's one of the best stories I have ever read, which is remarkable because it is not a novel or a short story or a script, but a treatment Ayn Rand wrote to sell the story to Hollywood. It was her first sale.

The movie was never made because it takes place in Soviet Russia and, although politics is not the subject of the story, Rand portrays communism honestly. An honest movie about communism was not possible in the 1930's, Hollywood's "red decade." Almost 80 years later, the Soviet Union no longer exists, but the movie still has not been made. Now the problem is more likely to be that filmmakers in our present culture would not know what to do with a great romantic story. In the '30's MGM, with its stable of glamorous stars and great directors, might have done the story justice; one cringes at what today's Hollywood would do to this story.

It would be criminal to spoil the plot here, so I won't say a thing about it, except that it is great drama. Rand follows her own teaching in The Art of Fiction to create an intense value-conflict that builds to stunning climax. You can read the story in The Early Ayn Rand. Certainly, you should read it before you consider listening to Dina Schein's lectures.

Dr. Schein analyzes the plot, characters and theme of "Red Pawn." She looks at how to analyze fiction, so the listener learns not just about "Red Pawn," but also about how to think about fiction in general. The course is especially useful to fiction writers, as Dr. Schein looks at Ayn Rand's fiction writing process. There are also some excellent tips for screenwriters.

I sometimes think of Ayn Rand's teachings on fiction writing as my secret weapon that most writers know nothing about. After a century of naturalism, writers have forgotten how to use value-conflicts to build a suspenseful plot that culminates in a climax. They know about conflict, but they give it little thought beyond something like, "the bad guy wants to destroy the world and the good guy wants to stop him." And it would be the better ones, who want to write an exciting plot, who think that much. Without a conscious understanding of value-conflicts, it's easy for a plot writer to get bogged down in trivia or sidetracked by nonessential matters.


madmax said...

"I sometimes think of Ayn Rand's teachings on fiction writing as my secret weapon that most writers know nothing about."

You would think that Ayn Rand's aesthetics would provide such advantages to today's writers that everyone would use them. But none do. Why?

My guess is Naturalism -- and now Nihilism -- is so dominant that most of today's writers would look at Rand's theories and think they were unrealistic and thus useless, if not out-right ridiculous. And any aspiring screenwriter would never acquire work if he was public about his use of Rand's techniques. At best, the aspiring screenwriter would have to smuggle them in wherever he could.

Chuck said...

It's been a while since I read Red Pawn, but I remember liking it. I think it had a lot of similarities with We the Living.

But once again I recommend Dae Jang Geum if you are looking for a story with a lot of Romantic style value conflicts. A story that is allowed to be told in 54 episodes is capable of remarkable development, and this Korean series takes full advantage of the possibilities.

Can you imagine how well the story of Atlas Shrugged could be told, if you had 54 one hour episodes in which to tell it? Dae Jang Geum is basically a full novel on the screen.