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4.6 out of 5 stars
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
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334 of 341 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2004
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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124 of 129 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2001
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?
When McKee speaks of writers taking their craft to a place few ever go what he really is talking about is writers who are willing to think about what they are doing on a fundamental level.
While I did disagree with what he had to say at times (a lot of times) I did find that McKee made me understand my craft far better than most screenwriting books and teachers I've had. Combine this with Alternative Scriptwriting and/or Scriptwriting Updated, and all you need now is a great idea..
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242 of 257 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 1999
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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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
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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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
When I asked my agent to recommend one book he offered Syd Field's. After I read "Story" I told him to stop doing his clients a disservice and give them McKee's book. I am a professional screenwriter, paid and produced. Most of what I have learned has come from my own deconstruction of the films I watch. On the whole I am still not a proponent of screenwriting books but Mr. McKee's book is absolutely fantastic. For those who think it provides a formula, I believe they simply do not understand the way it all works- and I'm not talking about the Hollywood game (for the same people probably don't know how that works yet either), I'm talking about the mechanics of story. This book is not for coffee shop dilletantes who think that to talk about structure is to ruin their own precious ideas, it is for those who have an open mind to being taught. I cannot recommend it with greater enthusiasm.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2001
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is by far the best book on narrative writing that I've ever read, and is also more useful to me than the many writing courses I've taken over the years. I'm a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop (MFA) and also took many writing courses as an undergraduate -- this single book beats them all put together.
It's truly extraordinary how McKee is able to distill universal forms and principles from a huge variety of narrative writing (primarily screenplays, of course, but his insight extends beyond screenplays). One would think such an approach would be limiting and reductive, but the reverse is true: by helping the reader understand why and how effective narratives work, and how a writer should approach the creation of a screenplay, a universe of possibilities emerges.
The main problem with writing workshops is that they focus on a student's work and what's wrong with it -- it's a very negative approach, the opposite of a support group, that rarely results in genuine improvement. As McKee notes, a lot of writers go through endless revision cycles in the hope of salvaging what's good in their work. But the problem with most narrative writing seems to be in its elemental structure -- the story and its progression -- which occurs on a "pre-writing" level. Once a story is committed to novel or screenplay form, the battle to forge this elemental structure is almost lost. McKee teaches the principles that writers should follow in this critical pre-writing stage as they develop the progression of their narrative.
There's a lot of baloney being spewed in academia and elsewhere that creative writing can't be taught and that plot is relatively unimportant. McKee shows the lie in all this -- that narrative writing *can* be taught and that well-developed plot is critical. Save your money and time, skip the MFA programs, read this book and dedicate yourself to learning from it.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2003
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
On the surface, Robert Mckee appears to be one of those slick Hollywood types who trounces across the globe, charging hundreds of dollars a ticket for his seminars and rousing the masses into thinking that yes, they too can sell the next million dollar screenplay. I don't like those types.
Fortunately, I suspended my judgement long enough to read Robert Mckee's "Story," and I realized that this guy really seems to know his stuff. Moreover, I got the impression that he was holding nothing back in his attempt to help me, the reader, to write a better screenplay. "I've written Story," Mckee says, "to free you to express an original vision of life." The book goes a long way toward fulfilling this promise.
I've read several other screenplay books (Linda Seger, Lew Hunter, Ronald Tobias), and this is the clearest, most complete screenwriting guide that I've found. Unlike many of the others, this one spends the most time answering that most difficult question, "What makes a good story?"--and it answers it in ways that are entertaining and easy to follow.
You may be wary of the length (at 400+ pages, it's a hefty tome to lug), but I assure you--the length is a good thing. Mckee uses the space to explain each concept in great detail (the list of films he uses as examples takes up 33 pages at the end of the book), and in many cases this extra explanation makes a big difference. I had more "Ah-ha!" moments of understanding in this book than I've had in all other film books I've read combined.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It's a wonderful book, with tons of insight, and a great guide for the screewnwriter. I have read most of the books on this subject out there, and this one is not only one of the best at painting a clear picture of story structure and its importance to good storytelling, but it tells you why as well.
Is story structure (and this book's description of it) formulaic? To some degree, yes. It is certainly less formulaic than Syd Field's original books.
But "you have to know the rules before you can break them." These are the rules. Master them, understand them, realize how they came to be, and why they were made, and THEN break the rules.
This book recognizes, analyzes, and describes structure as it is practiced in Hollywood today, and has been for many years. If you want to sell to Hollywood, follow their rules, at least at first.
You cannot go wrong buying this book. Worth every penny. I took one of his seminars, and I have to say that though I really got something from the seminar, the book was even better (cheaper, too!).
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125 of 148 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Having taken Mr. McKee's course, and read the book, I give him only three stars here primarily because he writes in a way that will frustrate most beginners (I've seen this) and convince the gullible that he is the master of the story universe.
In fact, what he has here is fine, workable material. But it is presented more clearly elsewhere. I suspect he writes in such a prolix style to foster the impression that he sees what other do not. This, of course, is good marketing.
With regard to the oft mentioned Syd Field, he was there first, and with Chris Vogler you have stuff that is of equal or greater value, especially for the beginner.
I sold screenplays before I took McKee's course, and have written fiction bestsellers afterward. Of all the books I've read on the craft, his was the least accessible. I think I really only learned one thing from his course that I use (it is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but stands alone).
If you're an experienced writer, you might find something of value. If you're just getting started, I'd be very wary. Hollywood is filled with McKee acolytes. Be an original instead.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I've just returned from McKee's "Story" seminar in New York, which so far exceeded my expectations that I am speechless. I have a shelf full of screenwriting books at home and have been hurling myself at the keyboard for months while alternately trying to parse out some kind of writing process from the books I have already read. Now, after attending the seminar (worth every penny) and reading this book I feel like I have been rescued from my own mistakes hundreds of times over. McKee gets to the heart of storytelling, while explaining principles that ring so true that I can't help but see all stories in a new light, including the one that I was about to pitch into the trash. I'm not knocking film school as a training ground for writers, but if that's not in the cards for you, then McKee is the way to go. This book is a great investment.
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