- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 6 hours and 12 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Abridged
- Publisher: HarperAudio
- Audible.com Release Date: January 12, 2006
- Language: English
- ASIN: B000E6TVNW
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting Audible Audiobook – Abridged
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If you're an aspiring writer, _Story_ may be extremely helpful for you (as evidenced by the many glowing reviews here), but it might also be problematic in ways you don't expect. It's from this perspective that I'm writing this review. Writing fiction is an incredibly personal experience, so to be clear I'm not saying that people who love this book as a writing how-to are wrong. I think if you have a certain mindset or approach to writing, this book will be extremely helpful to you. But if you don't, you may want to approach _Story_ with some caution (which I'll explain in a minute).
Some fiction writers employ a very methodical, intellectual approach, putting stories together like watchmakers carefully constructing a complex timepiece, creating detailed outlines first and using them as blueprints to build their stories. This is a completely valid way to work -- in fact, I'm envious of such writers and wish it worked for me. If you already know that you are this sort of writer, you should just order _Story_ right now, because you almost certainly are gonna love it and find it incredibly useful.
Some writers employ a more organic, intuitive approach, where creating a story is an unstructured process of discovery (the so-called "pantsers", because they work from "the seat of their pants"). In my view this is also a perfectly valid way to work, not inherently better or worse than being a dedicated outliner. If you know that you're this sort of writer, you may find _Story_ intellectually compelling (because it surely is), but it might also mess with your head (see below).
I personally am neither a hardcore outliner nor a committed pantser. I am finding that I produce my best, most satisfying work when I bounce back and forth between the two approaches. I can't go full organic because I get lost in the work and find that I constantly have 16 ideas that I can't choose between, and each one of those leads to 16 other ideas, and so on. On the other hand, for me employing a rigorous outlining approach is too intellect-driven. I feel I lose the creative spark and fascination that made me want to write the story in the fist place. Instead, deliberately or not, I find myself "solving" my story structure like a sudoku puzzle, overtaken with concern about hitting the right points in the right way at the right time, and things like, losing control of my story that way.
Which brings me back to _Story_. As someone else here said, McKee isn't telling you, "These are rules! You must follow them!" He's describing principles of storytelling he's developed over years and years of experience and analysis. The thing is, his approach is extremely methodical and intellect-driven, it has a gravity that's going to pull you in that direction. It's so intellectually appealing it's like your brain can't let go of it. Like I said earlier, if your writing mindset and approach are on the same wavelength as what McKee teaches, this is gonna be awesome for you and you're going to love it. If you're not, this can really mess with your head and your writing for a bit.
That said, this is good material even for someone like me, and I am glad I read it. There are useful ideas here, and it's good to be aware of them even if you're not going to go about building stories the way McKee teaches. But if you go about putting McKee's tools into practice and it just doesn't work for you, or you're simply not that kind of writer to begin with, don't panic if it feels like your brain has been taken over by McKee for a while. :-) This too shall pass, and afterwards you will probably feel like you have learned things that will be useful to you at some point down the road.
Out of a dozen or so books on writing, I found McKee's "Story" thoroughly enlightening.
It can be a challenge to comprehend in places - but worth the extra effort!
In terms of characters driving narrative, review chapter 7 and examine writing w/in "the gap".
I found it easier to grasp McKee by writing one paragraph summaries of each chapter as I progressed.
It may be helpful to think of each chapter as a separate vignette of knowledge.
I suggest reading the chapters in this order: 1-3, 8, 4, 7, 5-6, 15, 9, 10-11, 14, 18, 12-13, 16-17
(the above order was suggested to me in fact by L.S.)
Also, try reading "Save the Cat", contrast/compare w/ "Story" and refer to the "Bible" by Trottier.
On a side note, the slip cover is absolutely awful. Throw it away.
The hardcover book w/out the slip cover is a tasteful blue-purple w/ STORY and McKee in gold print.
(see attached photo)
The discipline to write is NOT taught in this book, so it's not going to make you a better screenwriter. Only trail and error can do that.
McKee's seminal text can do is help you focus and give structure to how you compile your screenplay; his central notion that plot is character and character is plot (although he's not the first to suggest this) is the heart of what he's conveying, and you can learn from this or whole-heartedly disagree. Unfortunately, no one really cares about that debate; what they care about is: can you write a compelling and engaging screenplay. Don't bore us, surprise us when and where you can, but learn to tell us a satisfying story that resonates.
Otherwise, you fail.
This book is sort of like a riveting coach for a Division One NCAA athlete; although, you better have some raw ability to begin with, otherwise, what are you doing?
The way this book is broken down and its terminology is helpful for any writer's journey, but it's not a panacea or quick-fix, as McKee is points out, writing is hard work and if you're not willing to be in the chair time and time observing life, then nothing in here is going to solve any mysteries you might think there are to success in the film industry.
His bias against the avant-garde was shocking to me at first and it took time to get past that, but I forgave him. He does include meta and anti-novel type structures, at least.
I recommend this book to my fiction students all the time. What a gem.