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Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting Hardcover – November 25, 1997

4.6 out of 5 stars 464 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Writing for the screen is quirky business. A writer must labor meticulously over his or her prose, yet very little of that prose is ever heard by filmgoers. The few words that do reach the audience, in the form of the characters' dialogue, are, according to Robert McKee, best left to last in the writing process. ("As Alfred Hitchcock once remarked, 'When the screenplay has been written and the dialogue has been added, we're ready to shoot.' ") In Story, McKee puts into book form what he has been teaching screenwriters for years in his seminar on story structure, which is considered by many to be a prerequisite to the film biz. (The long list of film and television projects that McKee's students have written, directed, or produced includes Air Force One, The Deer Hunter, E.R., A Fish Called Wanda, Forrest Gump, NYPD Blue, and Sleepless in Seattle.) Legions of writers flock to Hollywood in search of easy money, calculating the best way to get rich quick. This book is not for them. McKee is passionate about the art of screenwriting. "No one needs yet another recipe book on how to reheat Hollywood leftovers," he writes. "We need a rediscovery of the underlying tenets of our art, the guiding principles that liberate talent." Story is a true path to just such a rediscovery. In it, McKee offers so much sound advice, drawing from sources as wide ranging as Aristotle and Casablanca, Stanislavski and Chinatown, that it is impossible not to come away feeling immeasurably better equipped to write a screenplay and infinitely more inspired to write a brilliant one.--Jane Steinberg


"... stimulating, innovative, refreshingly practical." -- -- Lawrence Kasdan, Director

"...the best guide on writing you can find." -- Laurence Chollet, The Record, Northern New Jersey

"In difficult periods of writing, I often turn to Robert McKee's wonderful book for guidance" -- -- Dominick Dunne, Novelist

"McKee is the Stanislavski of writing." -- -- Dennis Dugan, Writer, NYPD Blue

"[Story is]an excellent instruction manual on the craft of storytelling." -- Austin American-Statesman

"to the people who write, direct and produce for Hollywood - or desperately wish they did - Bob McKee is a cross between E. F. Hutton and Sun Myung Moon. The man speaks, and people start to take furious notes - he is now the undisputed screenwriting king... for the legendary screenwriting boot camp that he runs. Thirty-thousand aspiring screenwriters have already taken McKee's 30-hour, three-day course..." -- Newsday


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: ReganBooks; 1 edition (November 25, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060391685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060391683
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (464 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert McKee teaches his 3Story Structure2 class annually to sold out auditoriums in Los Angeles, New York, London and film capitals throughout the world. A Fulbright Scholar, this award-winning film and television writer has also served as project and talent development consultant to major production companies such as Tri-Star and Golden Harvest Films. He lives in Los Angeles and Cornwall, England.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a novelist, I long resisted the suggestion of a film director friend to read this book. After all, what could a screenwriting book tell me about the novel form? Well...I was wrong. Story offers sound concepts that can save any storyteller hours of frustration. Story is simply first rate as a tool for diagnosing that horrible sinking feeling we all get when we know something isn't quite right with our tale...but we just can't figure out what.
I was so impressed with the book, I signed up for the seminar. McKee is entertaining, sure. But as I sat there with my well-marked copy of the book in hand (shocked, by the way, at how few others had bothered to read the [$$$] book before forking over at least ten times more for the seminar...I mean these are writers, right...and writers supposedly read?), it became painfully clear that McKee was simply marching through the text, page by page, using exactly the same examples, usually verbatim. If you are intelligent enough and sufficiently committed to your craft to read Story closely (and I mean closely, with a pen and highlighter), the seminar is a waste of time and money. Other than a scene-by-scene analysis of Casablanca and McKee's personal thoughts on politics and religion, it simply does not go beyond the book in any meaningful way.
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Format: Hardcover
There are many good works on screenwriting available. I have read several, including those by Field, Seger, and others. They have all been helpful and offer something valuable. By reading several of these books, I have gained much more than reading just one. At the very least I understand the different approaches to story, structure, etc., and am better equipped to employ my own style and method.
That said, Story by Robert McKee is the cream of the crop. The book is beautifully written, tremendously insightful. I have gleaned more from this book than any of the others. Anyone with a pen and paper or typewriter can write a screenplay. For those who wish to create a masterwork with feeling characters in compelling situations, this book is a must read. It explains the why and the how, and reveals what we as screenwriters struggle toward: a good story, well told. My only gripe was that I didn't want it to end. So I have started reading it again. My work is decidedly better thanks to Robert McKee's book. Now I fear that any books I read from this point will pale in comparison. I hope that I find another gem, and am proven wrong, but to save others from this fate, I urge you to read this book last!
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Format: Hardcover
I've read many books on screenwriting, and Story is certainly one of the best. Its conservative, to be sure, espousing all the tenets of Classical Hollywood Narrative: Three act structure, strong active protagonists, inciting incidents, causal chain, action not words - y'know the drill.
McKee, however, is not a member of the Syd Field school. Field gives writers rules; McKee offers principles. This is a critical difference. McKee believes in the craft and art of screenwriting above all else. Consequently, Story has a different tone to Field's Screenplay . If you look beneath the surface of Story, you'll find that McKee's principles and views are far more flexible than anything Vogler or Field has offered the screenwriter.
While primarily focusing on what he calls Arch-Plot (Classical Hollywood Narrative) he also accepts the existence of other, alternative, forms. He also hails the greatness of those alternative narrative films throughout the book. These alternative narratives are not, however, the focus in Story. McKee believes that an aspiring writing needs to master the classical story form before adventuring elsewhere. His goal in the sheer bulk of Story is to educate, not indoctrinate, the reader about all aspects of Classical Narrative.
For many readers this will come across as a conventional approach to screenwriting. That it is. Unlike many other (traditional) screenwriting books, though, this is underpinned by McKee's belief in the craft above all else. He doesn't want you to just absorb, but rather think. about what he is saying. If you don't understand how a traditional story works, and how to tell one well, what chance in hell do you have of telling your multi-passive-protoganist, anti-plot, 2-act, time-jumping magnum work?
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Format: Audio Cassette
I bought this book at the suggestion of a friend who recently signed a six figure book contract. He told me he's taken McKee's workshop three times. I've made my living as a full time writer for national publications, and now write part time. This book is a world treasure. McKee should get a combination Nobel and Pulitzer-- a Nobel, because he has elucidated a science of story creation. A Pulitzer, because it is a literary work with the potential to influence so many. It not only serves as a tremendous help to the story teller, but I detect in it deep insights into the human condition that could be used as the foundations for new models of psychology and philosophy. This man is deep, yet so plain speaking, the book reads very smoothly. My copy is marked up with tons of notes, underlines and asterisks in the columns. It's one book I know I will be referring back to again and again. I bought it with the hopes of moving past a plateau I had reached on a novel I started 10 years ago. As I read on, page after page, chapter after chapter I kept saying to myself "Omigod," as his observations and rules led me to new insights into how to improve my story, my characters, my scenes, settings, and so much more. By the time I'd finished the book I knew I could finish my story. I don't have the story climax yet, but I know, that by using his techniques, it will come to me. And I know that my story, which already passed his most important test, is 1000% better.
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