Saturday, November 18, 2006

McKee's Story

I am interrupting my bit on Myer-Briggs to speak about Robert McKee's Story. Ally Blake confessed on The PHS to not understanding it and the bit she posted showed that she did indeed have problems.
Personally I love and adore the book. I am very glad my editor recommended it to me. I think it is better than Donald Maass's Writing the Break out Novel and is absolutely crammed full of techniques.
But it is not an easy read, and it is not a *How to* book in the sense of follow the bouncing ball. It is a course in form so that the writer can go back apply the techniques when something is not working. It is not about giving formulas. It is a book I am constantly dipping in and out of. It is a book that provides insight to the careful reader. But it does take some getting to grips with -- a university or even post-grad level course rather than a high school level. Maass covers much of the same ground btw.

He most emphatically does not recommend the three act structure as some fondly imagine. Instead he says a story is a series of acts that build to a last act climax or story climax which brings about absolute and irreversible change. One technique he suggests for a sagging middle where there are few subplots is to add more acts. The climax of each act needs to be greater than previous one, building to that last critical moment. And if you put in too many climatic scenes, the reader can have overload. If there is not progression, the reader loses interest and throws the book against the wall.

Act is simply a term for a series of related scenes. Each scene should contain an event or change, and a scene is built from a series of beats. Beats are made up of actions and reactions from various characters.

He believes in essence all stories boil down to one simple tale -- The Quest. Basically the progtagonist's life is thrown out of balance, making im have a conscious or unconscious desire to restore that balance and harmony to his life. The protagonist goes on a quest to achieve his Object of Desire is pitted against various forces until he achieves the desire or does not achieve it, depending on the type of outcome the story teller wants.
In Romance -- the ending is upbeat and the protagonist eventually achieves a HEA.

The best thing about McKee is that he isn ot providing a formula, but rather giving forms. In other words, the writer reads the book, absorbs it, writes his story and when the Crows of Doubt are circling has powerful tools in her toolbox to actually scare them away. His scene analysis should NOT be used to create scenes but to FIX scenes that feel flat. It is about understanding the building blocks, so that you can create, rather than slavishly following some prescribed formula. Form not formula.

One of the more interesting discussions he has is on character. True character v characterization. Characterization is things like hair color, mode of transport, clothing, etc. True character is what emerges when the protagonist is put under pressure. What choices does he/she make and why? What risks is s/he willing to take? How much is s/he willing to risk and why? Which brings me neatly back to Myer-Briggs as Myer-Briggs is all about true character rather than characterization.


Janet Ch said...

Here's a link to an excerpt from 'Story'

Janet Ch said...

Hmm. That link was to long to show up properly. it missed a 4 off the end.

I'll try again as it shows 2 excepts and both worth reading.

Here it is in two parts.(No space between them)