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Monday, May 28, 2007

McKee -- a final bit

I am going to end this short series on McKee by briefly going his principles of story design. This is the heart of the book and where he uses the most examples. He also explains things much better than I.
BUT what some people miss is the admonition at the start -- these are only tools to be uses AFTER you have your first draft, if the scene feels flat. They are not something you should be attempting to use consciously while you are writing the first draft of a scene.

When writing a story, the protagonist is a wilful being and has a conscious desire. He must also have the capacities to pursue this desire. In other words, he is proactive and has the chance of achieving the dream, He must be in end willing to pursue the dream in spite of all the obstacles and when the end comes, the audience must feel that this is truly the end. They can not imagine an action beyond it. In other words, at the end , your readers need to be satisfied with no real threads dangling. This does not mean that there will not be a sequel simply that there is an ending, there is closure.

Your reader may or may not find your protagonist sympathetic, but they must find the character empathetic. In short they must feel a bond of humanity with your main character. They do not have to like him or her very much at the start, but they do have to have that bond. That understanding. Likability is no guarantee of a bond. The reader identifies with deep character -- those qualities deep within the human psyche that only revealed when a character is forced to choose under pressure.

This is why the inciting incident -- the start of the story happens when the protagonist's life is thrown radically out of balance. When this happens, the protagonist must react to the incident. Her desire to restore the balance in her life makes it the spine of the story -- it a Romance the spine of the story is always the growth of the emotional relationship. If it is not, you don't have a romance as the main plot, you have it as a subplot. As I write romance, I have to make sure that the spine of the story is the romance, even if there are other major subplots and with the length of my books, there are always other major subplots. The spine is sometimes referred to as the monomyth or the quest. And here it is useful to have read Volger. Unlike Volger though he does not believe in three acts. he simply warns about the problems of having too many acts, as the climax of each act must surpass the act before it and too many climaxes can dull an audience.

After the Inciting Incident, the LAW of Conflict takes over: to wit NOTHING MOVES IN A STORY EXCEPT THROUGH CONFLICT. A turning point happens when a character is forced to make a choice -- a choice between good and evil or between right and wrong or black and white is no choice, even if it feels like one. True choice is dilemma. Things are not clear cut. Nothing is what it seems and everything has unexpected consequences.
The crisis moment needs to be a static moment.It freezes everything. It is the instant before the dam breaks. It must happen On Stage.

If a scene feels flat, then you can try to use scene analysis to discover the problem: 1.Define the conflict. 2. Note the opening value 3. Break the scene into beats 4. Note the closing value and compare with the opening value. It needs to be different (or else the scene has not moved the story forward) 5 Examine the beats and find the turning point. McKee then breaks down several movies including a scene from Casablanca (which happens to be one of my favourite movies)

Anyway, I think McKee is for those people who like to take apart rainbows, put them together and still believe in them. There is absolutely tons in the book. Little throw away comments, that make me go -- ahh, so that's why this and this has to happen. Hopefully I have convinced one or two to pick up the book and read it. However, writers' minds work in many different ways and what speaks to one writer will leave another scratching her head. And itf you can only take one thing, then take away this craft and the study of craft enhances talent. It does not diminish it.

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