Friday, May 25, 2007

Creative limitation: McKee

McKee is very good on creative limitation and its purposes. It is slightly counter intituive, so bare with me.

Many people think that creativity happens when you have a free reign. McKee argues (as does Twyla Tharp btw) that true creativity needs limitations. Just as every house must have a foundation and a framework, every story should have its limits. Without limits, your wheels spin. It is why writing genre frees the writer to be truly creative.
This means creating a small knowable world. According to McKee, every good story takes place within a limited word. Even stories that seem epic such as War and Peace concentrate on a few families and their struggles. Dr Strangelove has three sets and eight principal characters. Gone With The Wind again once you start actually the world is small. The cast of main characters number only a few. The main focus is on Scarlett and her relationships with Rhett Butler,AshleyWIlkes and really Melanie.
The key to writing a good story is to limit your world. This does not mean to create a trivial world, but one where you as the writer know everything about the world.Knowledge is power. The smaller the world, the more God like you as a writer become. As a writer you must know everything. The reader does not need to know everything, but you need to by the time you finish YOUR LAST DRAFT. Notice the emphasis. You do not needto know everything before you start writing the story, just by the time you finish.
Small means that the writer knows the laws and probablities of her world. Your story must follow its own internal logic. It is the relationship between coincidence and causality or how to avoid deus ex machina.
Small means you can explore the complexities of your characters and their interactions with each other. Every time you expand your speaking cast, you add complication but you sacrifice complexity. And the size of your cast is in part determined by what you want your story to do and what sort of genre you are using. For example an adventure film such as James Bond does not have a great of complexity. James Bond is shaken not stirred. He does not really change from film to film. The excitement is the complications that he faces. The cast of characters is large. On the other hand, romances are very much focused on the interpersonal relationships, and the characters do change and grow. You get to know them, you walk in their shoes. They are complex. Keep your cast size small forces the writer to increase the complexity of the relationships between the characters.
McKee also dissects the variuous different genres, explaining generally what each is about. It is very interesting and helped me to understand WHY pure detective stories do not make good romance. Clue it has to do with the passivity of the progtagonist.

IN short limitation is a good thing. It frees your creativity because it forces the writer to find new ways to say things. Because writers do have to try different ways, not everything will work. It is the getting it right in the LAST DRAFT that counts.
He also makes the point that no one has to see the 90% of a writer's work that is less than the best. When a reader reads the finished book, the reader does not know how many drafts you have written to get there. She only knows the feeling of satisfaction that she gets from reading your book.

Questions/ comments/ Have I convinced you to buy this book yet?


Unknown said...

You've certainly comforted me, Michelle. For the first time I find myself writing a book where I really don't yet know how the problems and conflicts are going to be resolved, and it's been bothering me to the point of obsession. I think from today I'll try just dealing with one incident at a time, and let each interaction between the characters decide what comes next. In the final draft I can polish and turn it into a book. I hope.

Thanks for taking the time to explain all this! I'm convinced!

Unknown said...

More great stuff Michelle thanks :-)

Donna Alward said...

"Every time you expand your speaking cast, you add complication but you sacrifice complexity."

That should be stamped on my monitor so I can see it all the time.

It's lined up in my wish list, I just have to put in the order! LOL

Michelle Styles said...

I am so pleased you all are enjoying this.

For me, it is wonderful to be able to explain WHY I find this book great.

Trish Wylie said...

Gosh there really is such a large amount of relevance in this book, isn't there???

I'm convinced. And the 90% they don't see part is very pertinent to the book I'm working on now - I just know it's going to go over the word count - but rather than obsessing about it I'm just telling the story and then I can edit like mad at the end to get the *best of it* - in theory...