Thursday, November 15, 2007

Story Values -- a McKee reprise

Alice commented yesterday about a few posts I had done in May on McKee's Story. In particular, she asked about the term story value. But I still can't grasp exactly what a story value is. Is it an emotion? An attitude? A state of mind. All of these?
The short answer is all of these.

Right, I suspect it is a case of not understanding the terminology used. Or the way the concept is described. It is one of the reasons why it is sometimes useful to read several books on craft. Not everyone gets the concepts in the same fashion. Both authors may be explaining the same thing but one makes you scratch your head and the other makes you have a light bulb moment. Swain in Techniques of The Selling Writer is very useful on the subject. My problem with Swain is his bigoted view of women's books, but it doesn't mean the concepts that he writes about are any less valid. On concept, he is brilliant. It is one of the reasons that his book remains in print.

Deep Breath.

A story are made up of events but ultimately a story is a method of communicating feelings. Storys are all about emtion.
Events have no meaning or change their meaning depending on whose POV you are in. In that POV, the character will have values (feelings, motivations etc). These values will be particular to that character and the story -- hence the name story values. They may or may not be values that the author holds.
An event or happening without a value assigned to it is uninteresting, neutral. The reader wants to know how it affects the character. Is a rainstorm a tragedy or a blessing? Is a family birthday party where a toddler is given a wrapped present a happy occasion full of love and laughter or one fraught with tension? The answer is it denpends on the characters and the meaning they assign to it. The filter if you like through which the reader views the scene. It is the values of the character that assign the meaning to the event.
If these values do not in some way change during the scene, what is the point of the scene from that character's POV? Why is it necessary for this character to change?

It can be helpful when revising to make a note of the opening and closing values (feelings, emotions, motivations) of the POV character in a scene that feels flat. Have they changed? If not, this could be a reason why the pace feels off. the changes can either be huge or they can be the very turn of the tide, but they will have changed.

If the value do not change, you will often experience a lack of tension.

In other words, every scene must drive the story forward in someway. Stories only move forward with conflict and conflict implies change of some sort. Without the grit of change and conflict, the writer is spinning her wheels.

Some of the revision that I have been doing has involved making sure the relationship progresses with each scene. This does not always mean that it progresses forward. It simply means that there is some sort of change.

Does this make sense or do I need to take another stab at it?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Michelle! It makes a lot of sense. So when I ask myself how my characters are feeling now at the beginning of each new scene...that's a good thing :-)Yay, I'm doing something right.

Sue - back online :-)

Alice said...

Thank you, Michelle.

From now on I'll think of the story value as the viewpoint character's emotion. Then make sure it changes from what it was at the beginning of the scene. Postive to negative or negative to positive --- Hope to despair, amusement to anger, self confidence to defeat (or vice versa)

Michelle Styles said...

Oh good I am glad that I helped.

A useful eercise can sometimes to list all the movitations and feeling that a character might be feeling at the beginning of the scene, and then choose the last one to be the dominate emotion as you begin the scene.
Is the emotion you thought you were going to use actually the correct one to use there?

YOu can see I am doing my revisions and keep asking myself questions like these.

Alice said...

"choose the last one"

Because the last one will be the least predictable? (That Donald Maas thing of reverse motivation but applied to emotion too)

Thanks, again, Michelle I'll try that.