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Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

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Robert McKee's screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all fl Robert McKee's screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all flock to his lecture series, praising it as a mesmerizing and intense learning experience. In Story, McKee expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen. No one better understands how all the elements of a screenplay fit together, and no one is better qualified to explain the "magic" of story construction and the relationship between structure and character than Robert McKee.


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Robert McKee's screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all fl Robert McKee's screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all flock to his lecture series, praising it as a mesmerizing and intense learning experience. In Story, McKee expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen. No one better understands how all the elements of a screenplay fit together, and no one is better qualified to explain the "magic" of story construction and the relationship between structure and character than Robert McKee.

30 review for Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. A superb book that illuminates the purpose of writing stories and the most effective approach to penning tales that transcend the ordinary. Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. A superb book that illuminates the purpose of writing stories and the most effective approach to penning tales that transcend the ordinary.

  2. 4 out of 5

    A.J.

    I think this is the first time where I read a book solely based off a scene in a movie. The scene can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VseQe... Lines like, "You cannot have a protagonist without desire! It doesn't make sense! ANY. F****NG. SENSE!" and "WHY THE F*** WOULD YOU WASTE MY TWO PRECIOUS HOURS WITH YOUR MOVIE? I DON'T HAVE ANY USE FOR IT! ANY. BLOODY. USE FOR IT!" more or less had me drooling. For those of you who don't know anything about Robert McKee, he's the writing tea I think this is the first time where I read a book solely based off a scene in a movie. The scene can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VseQe... Lines like, "You cannot have a protagonist without desire! It doesn't make sense! ANY. F****NG. SENSE!" and "WHY THE F*** WOULD YOU WASTE MY TWO PRECIOUS HOURS WITH YOUR MOVIE? I DON'T HAVE ANY USE FOR IT! ANY. BLOODY. USE FOR IT!" more or less had me drooling. For those of you who don't know anything about Robert McKee, he's the writing teacher you wished you had all those years when you were sitting around listening to some other flaccid asshole mumble nonsense about Freudian tropes and postmodern deconstructionism when all you wanted to know was why the hell you were reading a thirty-page story about a guy counting raindrops on a window. Successful playwrights, screenwriters, and novelists across the globe have made him a fascinating staple of the fiction community. His premise is pretty simple: storytelling has gone to hell for a number of reasons, but one of them is that we no longer teach the fundamentals of story construction. We learn about books from the outside in, never the inside out. There's a reason works like Hamlet, Casablanca, and Star Wars all have an endearing quality. They all have something in common. And that something is story. But at risk of sounding like a cultist, I'll forego summarizing his whole approach and simply mention a few things. If you're looking for the answer to the question of What makes good writing, keep looking, because it isn't here. McKee doesn't claim he can polish a turd into Dune, but he can provide you with a very practical way to examine your own work, and a way to think about your story that puts things in perspective. If you happen to be in the editing stages of a project and just can't seem to figure out what's missing, you might find some useful tools here to see your way through. Whether or not you buy into McKee's 'system,' you can't argue his passion. This is a book filled to the brim with insight, heart, and common sense. McKee talks Story from the heights of Shakespeare to the grit of Reservoir Dogs, discussing what works for every form of storytelling, why it works that way, and how a prospective writing talent can tap into forms, not formulas, that have worked for centuries. And he loves it all, what's more. I can't claim any sort of midnight conversion. I haven't given my heart to McKee. But I sure as hell would shake his hand and say, Thank you, sir, for being one of few people who talks about the single, unarguable, undeniable, Lord-on-high most important part of writing: telling a story. A good one. A very useful book. If you give a hoot about storytelling, I'd suggest you give it a glance.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    YES! It took me six months, but I finally, finished this bitch. The reason it took me six months was that Story is incredibly dense, and in the best possible way. If you want to understand what makes for a good story, and how and why they work, this is the book to read. But you'll need to read it slow because this is the kind of dense where you'll want to stop and think about what you just read after every few pages to make sure it really sinks in. Though oriented primarily towards screenwriting, YES! It took me six months, but I finally, finished this bitch. The reason it took me six months was that Story is incredibly dense, and in the best possible way. If you want to understand what makes for a good story, and how and why they work, this is the book to read. But you'll need to read it slow because this is the kind of dense where you'll want to stop and think about what you just read after every few pages to make sure it really sinks in. Though oriented primarily towards screenwriting, the material is universal enough to address other storytelling mediums as well. In fact, I actually think it covers stagewriting more effectively than a lot of other books I've read about writing for the stage. Or maybe that's just because Mr. McKee says all the same things I said back to my professors when they critiqued my plays in stupid ways. But whateva. Read it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Spencer Orey

    Excellent. Aimed at aspiring screenwriters but with a ton for everyone else too. It makes a strong argument about an approach to writing that's really clear and seems possible. There's a slightly dated tone that comes across as kind of art bro'y, but if you can get past that there's some gold here. It's also the rare writing book where I learned something major in every chapter. I almost wish there was a companion volume of other writers talking about this book. Seems like it warrants some big dis Excellent. Aimed at aspiring screenwriters but with a ton for everyone else too. It makes a strong argument about an approach to writing that's really clear and seems possible. There's a slightly dated tone that comes across as kind of art bro'y, but if you can get past that there's some gold here. It's also the rare writing book where I learned something major in every chapter. I almost wish there was a companion volume of other writers talking about this book. Seems like it warrants some big discussions.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    In a past life I did a professional writing degree for my undergraduate BA – half of which was in script writing. I wish we had been taught the stuff that is contained in this book. This is such a good book it is hard to praise it too highly. The advice is clear and all of it good. From avoiding adverbs and adjectives in your treatment to the psychology of interesting characters this book has many very important things to say to anyone thinking about writing a screenplay (or anything else, if yo In a past life I did a professional writing degree for my undergraduate BA – half of which was in script writing. I wish we had been taught the stuff that is contained in this book. This is such a good book it is hard to praise it too highly. The advice is clear and all of it good. From avoiding adverbs and adjectives in your treatment to the psychology of interesting characters this book has many very important things to say to anyone thinking about writing a screenplay (or anything else, if you ask me). The best of this is a quote from Hitchcock about his finishing writing the script for a film and then putting in the dialogue. Hitchcock was fairly obsessed with this idea, saying somewhere that a good film is one where the sound could be turned off and you would still know what the film was about. Film is about images. Perhaps this is going a little too far (although, too far is hardly far enough sometimes). This book is at its best when it explains how scenes need to have beats and that these beats need to be the natural beats of emotion between characters in conflict and in change. He explains this with reference to a number of films (including one of my all time favourite films, China Town). He also uses Kramer Vs Kramer (one of the least impressive films I’ve ever seen) discussing the French toast scene (sort of slapstick masquerading as drama) and even the ‘Use the force, Luke’ scene from Star Wars. Beats is a really interesting way to think about drama and I will use this stuff when teaching. There is also wonderful stuff about writing films from the inside out – that is, get the story right before you get the scenes or dialogue right. His point being that those ‘great scenes’ you have written will stop you being able to write a great film. Why? Because great films are so much more than great scenes. A great film is a whole and all of it works to build that whole. This guy knows his Hegel (even talks about the negation of the negation at one point, and qualitative and quantitative change). Change is the key here, change that leads to completeness. I know that is sounding vague, but his point is that you should know the end of your film before you start writing and then write the film to get to the end. Everything in the film should lead, of necessity, to that end – but the paradox is that the end should also come as a surprise. He suggests you do this by focusing on two fantastic questions. The first is, what is the worst of all possible things that could happen to my central character – and yet at the same time how could this end up being the best thing that could have happened to them? And the second is, what is the best thing my character could hope for and then, when achieved, how could that end up being the worst of all possible things? The other fantastic advice he offers is to not have any ‘bad guys’ in your films. Like every character in Shakespeare (except possibly Iago) every character must be real – must make decisions based on what is real to them and in their own best interests. As he says, you have to like all of your characters. By liking them you allow them to have wants and needs and if you drive the action of the film by expressions of these characters’ wants and needs – how could you possibly go wrong? He also has a wonderful metaphor of a film as solar system - based on a central star and other characters being like planets around the star and minor characters revolving around the planets like moons. But the best advice is – if you can say it without dialogue, then do. This is actually great advice for any kind of writing. It is the ‘show, don’t tell’ advice with some substance added to it. Because sometimes you can’t show – sometimes you do need to use dialogue – but you never need to ‘just tell’, there is always a better way. This is a text well worth reading, not just if you think you have a film in you, but also if you want to enjoy film more or you just want to write better in general. The advice that 90% of what you write is written to be thrown away is the best advice on writing you are ever likely to read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    K.M. Weiland

    I can't believe it's taken me so long to read this book. I expected more of the same: structure, story elements, character tips. And those are certainly there. But Story actually deserves its tremendously broad title, because that's exactly what this book is: a discussion of *story.* It's theory and practicality all wrapped up into one module. McKee presents ideas I've never seen elsewhere, backed up by solid example after solid example and all in an extremely engaging and absorbing way. This is I can't believe it's taken me so long to read this book. I expected more of the same: structure, story elements, character tips. And those are certainly there. But Story actually deserves its tremendously broad title, because that's exactly what this book is: a discussion of *story.* It's theory and practicality all wrapped up into one module. McKee presents ideas I've never seen elsewhere, backed up by solid example after solid example and all in an extremely engaging and absorbing way. This is deep stuff, but McKee makes it thrilling.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Graeme Rodaughan

    Putting this re-read aside - other priorities - still an excellent book. This is the most useful book in my writing library. I literally read and reread this book until I had absorbed it's messages into the marrow of my bones. An endlessly valuable resource that informs the basic structures both large and small of the stories that I write. Worth reading even if you have no ambition to write for the insights that it will give you into the nature of story and narrative. Written to support the developm Putting this re-read aside - other priorities - still an excellent book. This is the most useful book in my writing library. I literally read and reread this book until I had absorbed it's messages into the marrow of my bones. An endlessly valuable resource that informs the basic structures both large and small of the stories that I write. Worth reading even if you have no ambition to write for the insights that it will give you into the nature of story and narrative. Written to support the development of screenplays, but also completely adaptable to the Novel.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jerilyn Marler

    As a freelance editor of any type of writing, I am always searching for insight, wisdom, guidance, illumination about the many forms of writing that cross my desk. I'd heard about McKee's "Story" but shied away because screenwriting is so far removed from my usual work. Or so I thought. I bought the digital version on a whim thinking that it might prove useful someday as a reference book. I was immediately hooked and read it straight through. Then I went back and highlighted many passages for fu As a freelance editor of any type of writing, I am always searching for insight, wisdom, guidance, illumination about the many forms of writing that cross my desk. I'd heard about McKee's "Story" but shied away because screenwriting is so far removed from my usual work. Or so I thought. I bought the digital version on a whim thinking that it might prove useful someday as a reference book. I was immediately hooked and read it straight through. Then I went back and highlighted many passages for future pondering. It's densely written. You won't find this one tagged "light reading." Your commitment will be highly rewarded. McKee sets your expectations with these section heads in the Introduction. "Story is about principles, not rules." "Story is about eternal, universal forms, not formulas." "Story is about archetypes, not stereotypes." "Story is about thoroughness, not shortcuts." "Story is about the realities, not the mysteries of writing." "Story is about mastering the art, not second-guessing the marketplace." "Story is about respect, not disdain, for the audience." "Story is about originality, not duplication." All true. These tenants apply to screenwriting, novels, non-fiction, poetry, short stories. McKee explains it all with the passion of a true believer who is also an expert.. I reveled in his diverse examples of movies that got it right and added some to my "gotta see" list. I was fascinated by the line-by-line analysis of a pivotal scene from Chinatown. I watch movies differently and enjoy my heightened awareness of why something is working. Or not. I'm a better writer and a more discerning reader because of this book. I bought it thinking that it could be a useful reference for screenwriting specifically. I now know it is a valuable reference for writing anything.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ksenia Anske

    This is not a book. This is like a school in a book. A master's degree. The amount of notes I took got out of hand, so I decided to just outright buy it, to have it handy. The best parts are the scene analysis chapters, which are pretty much the same for novel writing and screenwriting. Seeing a scene broken down into manageable bits has made it clear for me how to rewrite my scenes to make them better. Because if I can't write excellent scenes, I can't write an excellent book, period. So glad I This is not a book. This is like a school in a book. A master's degree. The amount of notes I took got out of hand, so I decided to just outright buy it, to have it handy. The best parts are the scene analysis chapters, which are pretty much the same for novel writing and screenwriting. Seeing a scene broken down into manageable bits has made it clear for me how to rewrite my scenes to make them better. Because if I can't write excellent scenes, I can't write an excellent book, period. So glad I have revisited this book. It was like reading a guide to self-critique that doesn't sound like a guide but rather like a friend. And in the end it moved me to tears—the truth of it was overwhelming.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Mach und Dach: "Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting" by Robert McKee (Original review, 1997-11-30) Aristotle's observations of drama, is very far from the early dramaturgy as 18th century Lessing for instance. In the twenties when dramaturgy started to become a subject on its own in Central Europe (where it started) there was already in the beginning two different approaches, the Pièce bien fait approa If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Mach und Dach: "Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting" by Robert McKee (Original review, 1997-11-30) Aristotle's observations of drama, is very far from the early dramaturgy as 18th century Lessing for instance. In the twenties when dramaturgy started to become a subject on its own in Central Europe (where it started) there was already in the beginning two different approaches, the Pièce bien fait approach (which mostly is today's melodrama) and an agnostic approach basically used by Brecht (not in the sense of V-effect, but his approach to story - like in "Kleines Organon für das Theater") and many others where the approach follows the what he called "Mach und Dach" - first you do something - then you analyze what you have done and then build from that.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lena

    Robert McKee is the famous Hollywood screenwriting teacher gently poked fun at in the movie "Adaptation." Though that film could leave one with the impression that McKee teaches formula storytelling, this book is about how good stories transcend formula to become great art. McKee has a masterful understanding of the fundamentals of story itself, and he writes with clarity about the basic story tools every writer must develop in order to move beyond cliche and into something original. Using examp Robert McKee is the famous Hollywood screenwriting teacher gently poked fun at in the movie "Adaptation." Though that film could leave one with the impression that McKee teaches formula storytelling, this book is about how good stories transcend formula to become great art. McKee has a masterful understanding of the fundamentals of story itself, and he writes with clarity about the basic story tools every writer must develop in order to move beyond cliche and into something original. Using examples from famous films, McKee educates us as to why some stories grip us to our toes while others leave us yawning within the first few minutes. Though written with the screenwriter in mind, this book contains excellent specific and practical guidance on how to craft compelling stories that would be of value to anyone who works in the narrative arts.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    McKee may be a great screenwriter, but I certainly hope his classes are less pompous and verbose than this book is. It's poorly edited, with too much preaching, and long lists of movie titles cited as examples of a particular point. Since the style is to use ALL QUOTES for titles, when he goes on for a third of a page it just gets annoying. In his acknowledgements, he thanks someone for their omnivorous will to omit needless words - his wife. Obviously she was too close to it all to tell him to j McKee may be a great screenwriter, but I certainly hope his classes are less pompous and verbose than this book is. It's poorly edited, with too much preaching, and long lists of movie titles cited as examples of a particular point. Since the style is to use ALL QUOTES for titles, when he goes on for a third of a page it just gets annoying. In his acknowledgements, he thanks someone for their omnivorous will to omit needless words - his wife. Obviously she was too close to it all to tell him to just shut up, then start slashing with her red pen. That said, there are some rare blooms in there, but it's just too much work to wade through the swamp to find them. I managed to make it to page 100, then gave up. I'll put this on my list of books to be tried again later - maybe when I'm in a more patient mood. Right now have too many books, and too little time to waste it on ones that can't hold me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pavel

    The truth is that this whole concept of three acts and obligatory antagonist will make you unemployed screenwriter in 99,9% of cases. I know, I've witnessed it myself. In some ways the book is usefull, I think it gives pretty accurate analysis of turning points and different types of screenplays and genres, some other things maybe... But in general film bussiness has moved on from straight-forward "hero against something" concept, festival cinema and mass production for theatres and television a The truth is that this whole concept of three acts and obligatory antagonist will make you unemployed screenwriter in 99,9% of cases. I know, I've witnessed it myself. In some ways the book is usefull, I think it gives pretty accurate analysis of turning points and different types of screenplays and genres, some other things maybe... But in general film bussiness has moved on from straight-forward "hero against something" concept, festival cinema and mass production for theatres and television alike. Anyone who wants to do this thing, have to turn something around, break some rule, that will be her vision. That's the whole point today even at the commercial field - films today are names (actors, director, book it was based on), not some mysterious event of storytelling. The other truth though is that when you will be talking with your producer he will talk with you in terms of this book and will judge your work according to this book, NOT WANTING your screenplay to follow it at the same time. That's a trick, but once you get used to it, pretty easy one.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mathew Walls

    Holy shit, where to even start with this? It's bad in so many ways. The author comes across as a pompous, arrogant, narcissist who knows practically nothing and is even worse at communicating it. How is this guy so highly regarded? I feel dumber for having read this. The actual content of this book, what little of it there is, is the most basic advice on writing mixed with the author's opinions on what makes a good movie (by which he clearly means what he personally likes, not what will make a po Holy shit, where to even start with this? It's bad in so many ways. The author comes across as a pompous, arrogant, narcissist who knows practically nothing and is even worse at communicating it. How is this guy so highly regarded? I feel dumber for having read this. The actual content of this book, what little of it there is, is the most basic advice on writing mixed with the author's opinions on what makes a good movie (by which he clearly means what he personally likes, not what will make a popular or successful film), illustrations that actually make the text harder to understand, arbitrary classifications invented by the author, bizarre analogies, and endless examples of half-remembered films. How do you call yourself an expert on script writing and think the famous line is from Star Wars is "Go with the Force, go with the Force"? McKee doesn't understand what words mean, he doesn't know what irony is, he doesn't understand metaphors, and he doesn't fact check anything. I mean, how difficult would it have been to get hold of a copy of Star Wars and see if you got the line right? Or maybe ask someone who speaks Chinese if it's true that the word for "crisis" is a combination of "danger" and "opportunity"? (It isn't) All you'll learn from this book is which movies McKee likes, and I'll save you the time; it's Kramer vs. Kramer, Chinatown and Casablanca. There are pages and pages of transcripts and (bad, surface-level) analysis of films, and you'd think an expert on the medium could manage to find fresh examples each time, but in fact those three movies come up so often you'll feel like you've seen them just by reading this. Oh, and he hates modern film and the modern world in general. Or rather, his warped idea of what the modern world is. "The art of story is in decay" he says; "contemporary "auteurs" cannot tell story with the power of the previous generation"; "more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism"; "the family disintegrates and sexual antagonisms rise". Children these days "[tyrannise their] parents", and whereas in the good old days families "[dressed] for dinner at a certain hour", now they "[feed] from an open refrigerator". But it's not just film and the modern world he doesn't understand, it's everything: emotions; sex; cars; comics; families; music. If he talks about something you can guarantee he's going to say something bizarre about it. It's like he's an alien or a robot trying (very badly) to blend in with humanity. And at this point I've just got to quote some of the weird stuff he wrote. 'Love relationships are political. An old Gypsy expression goes: "He who confesses first loses." The first person to say "I love you" has lost because the other, upon hearing it, immediately smiles a knowing smile, realizing that he's the one loved, so he now controls the relationship.' - p 182. The understanding of how we create the audience's emotional experience begins with the realization that there are only two emotions-pleasure and pain. - p 243. You escape into your car, snap on the radio, and get in the proper lane according to the music. If classical, you hug the right; if pop, down the middle of the road; if rock, head left. - p 290. It's just like sex. Masters of the bedroom arts pace their love-making. They begin by taking each other to a state of delicious tension short of-and we use the same word in both cases-climax, then tell a joke and shift positions before building each other to an even higher tension short of climax; then have a sandwich, watch TV, and gather energy to then reach greater and greater intensity, making love in cycles of rising tension until they finally climax simultaneously and the earth moves and they see colors. - p 291. They saturate the screen with lush photography and lavish production values, then tie images together with a voice droning on the soundtrack, turning the cinema into what was once known as Classic Comic Books. Many of us were first exposed to the works of major writers by reading Classic Comics, novels in cartoon images with captions that told the story. That's fine for children, but it's not cinema. - p 344. Murder Mysteries are like board games, cool entertainments for the mind. -p 351. Jesus Christ, can you imagine paying to hear this guy's opinions on anything? I'm really glad I managed to find a free copy of this book, because I'd feel robbed if I'd paid as much as 5 cents for it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    If you're a writer of drama or fiction, you need to master these rules before you consider breaking them. I knew from an early age that I wanted to write stories, but it wasn't till I was about 17 that I learned that there are actual methods, principles, and techniques involved in storytelling, when I received as a gift a copy of The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. Wow! What a revelation! I read it greedily. Flash-forward to 1990. I was 31 and now had my own TV series, The Odyssey, in devel If you're a writer of drama or fiction, you need to master these rules before you consider breaking them. I knew from an early age that I wanted to write stories, but it wasn't till I was about 17 that I learned that there are actual methods, principles, and techniques involved in storytelling, when I received as a gift a copy of The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. Wow! What a revelation! I read it greedily. Flash-forward to 1990. I was 31 and now had my own TV series, The Odyssey, in development with the CBC in Canada. My writing partner Warren Easton and I were under pressure to come up with a pilot script and 12 more stories to flesh out a possible first season of the show. We'd bought a copy of The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves and The Complete Fairy Tales of Brothers Grimm, Volume 1 to search for story ideas for our mythologically based fantasy series, but were not really finding stories that would fill our action-packed half hours. One of the CBC executives offered to let me have a photocopy of a set of notes from McKee's workshop, taken by a fellow participant. I'd heard of McKee and so I gratefully accepted them. Back home I started reading, and was immediately electrified. (The notes themselves were excellent, typed by this person on a laptop and capturing most of what McKee said.) Here was everything I wanted and needed to know: genre, character, structure, controlling idea, protagonist, acts, turning points, and much, much else. McKee came across as definite and authoritative. Here was no "well, some people say this, but on the other hand other people say this other thing...." As far as McKee is concerned, the principles of sound story design have long since been established; they are simply not widely known, and he sees his task as remedying that deficit as much as he can. Years later I saw a copy of McKee's book in a store and snapped it up. It is well read and well highlighted. When I read Poetics I realized that McKee's work is essentially applied Aristotle. Aristotle regarded plot--story--as the most important element in contributing to the effects of the most powerful form of poetry at that time: tragic drama. He analyzed what makes for an effective story, and McKee has applied that analysis to the most powerful form of storytelling in our own time: motion pictures. But while the book is aimed at screenwriters, the principles apply to all forms of storytelling, including prose fiction. I continue to study this book and keep striving to apply its principles. As observed by the late philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, it is knowledge of principles that transforms a knack into an art. This book provides such knowledge. As far as I'm concerned, if you're serious about telling stories, in whatever medium, you'll get much better results, much faster, if you get this book and apply its principles. This knowledge is what will separate you from the army of dilettantes.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    This is the text that went along with his three-day seminar that I attended. Although it is primarily focused on the screenplay, it is equally suitable for a novel, and there were quite a few novelists in attendance at the seminar. Although the focus is on traditional story structure—something McKee believes has become a lost art—his emphasis is so heavily on character, and writing from the inside out, that if well executed, a reader/viewer would not be consciously aware of the story's structure This is the text that went along with his three-day seminar that I attended. Although it is primarily focused on the screenplay, it is equally suitable for a novel, and there were quite a few novelists in attendance at the seminar. Although the focus is on traditional story structure—something McKee believes has become a lost art—his emphasis is so heavily on character, and writing from the inside out, that if well executed, a reader/viewer would not be consciously aware of the story's structure. The book is chock full of great techniques for ensuring that a well-told tale is created that evolves entirely out of character. The book is storehouse of stimulating ideas and techniques. His seminar was amazing. He's hardnosed about quality, and very inspirational. I left there wanting to write my ass off and armed with techniques to solve writing problems that had been driving me crazy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Why are there so many bad movies out there? I mean seriously - you and I both know that of all the films that are released every year, we probably get only one or two that are actually good. There's some that are good enough to spend an afternoon watching, maybe enjoyable enough that we'll want to watch it again on DVD later. But so many are just... bad. It is my own fault, I think, for seeing Transformers 2. I have no one to blame but myself. The really scary thing is that, in the summer of Trans Why are there so many bad movies out there? I mean seriously - you and I both know that of all the films that are released every year, we probably get only one or two that are actually good. There's some that are good enough to spend an afternoon watching, maybe enjoyable enough that we'll want to watch it again on DVD later. But so many are just... bad. It is my own fault, I think, for seeing Transformers 2. I have no one to blame but myself. The really scary thing is that, in the summer of Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe, these were the best stories they had available. Seriously. If they had a better movie to make, one that would get a bigger audience and thereby bring in more money, don't you think they would have made it? The only reason you put a piece of misery like TF2 together is because you have no better options available. Why, then, should this be so? What happened to the great scripts of long ago? You know, back in my day, when we had good movies, dammit, and we didn't need all this fancy See-Gee-Eye to fill up screen time. When we could go home quoting movie lines and we had characters that inspired us and stories that shaped our lives? Well, it's probably important to note that even in the Good Old Days, the good stories were still grossly outnumbered by the mediocre and bad ones, and there's a very good reason for that: writing is hard. If you take nothing else away from this book, you will remember that - writing a good story is work, and if you're not willing to do the work that it takes, then you're not going to write a good story. Oh, you might luck out and write a story that's good enough, and there might be enough truly bad stuff out there that someone will be willing to publish or produce your "good enough" story. But that won't make people like it, watch it, read it or care about it. If you want your work to have real resonance, to have an effect on people long after they've put it down or walked out of the theater, then you have to be willing to do more than just type a couple thousand words every day. You have to know your story from the inside out, know the characters better than they know themselves, and have a clear vision of what it is you want to say. A good story, McKee believes, is the writer telling us "Life is like this." And if it's a good story, well-told, then we'll believe him. And that's the reason for the title of this book - STORY. Everything serves the story, McKee says, including you. But if you know how the story works, and how to make the story serve your own ends, then you can create a piece that will live on in memory. This book is not an instruction manual, and the things that McKee talks about are not rules or even guidelines. They are principles of storytelling, guiding ideas that underpin every good story ever told, and the lack of which are what leads to mediocre or even bad storytelling. If you follow these principles, McKee believes, keep them in your mind and be willing to work with them, then you'll be able to produce work that will sell. One of the examples that gets used throughout the book is the idea of the Gap. People who want something, you see, will usually do the minimum required to get that thing. So if I want to get into my friend's home, I won't bring my lockpicks and jimmy open the door. I'll probably just knock on it and ask to be let in. If that happens, then I get what I expected to get, and that scene should therefore be cut from the manuscript. What if, however, I knock on the door and my friend refuses to let me in? There is the Gap, a difference between what I expected to happen and what actually happened. Now I have to react to that, and his reaction to my reaction will drive the scene on. By asking yourself what the character expects, and then asking, "Okay - what's the opposite of that," you can drive the story along, make it interesting, and provide your characters with more to do than just knock on doors. He also talks about the Controlling Idea of a story - what is the meaning of your story? It could be something like, "Love brings people together through adversity," or "Those who use others lead meaningless lives," or "The best life is one where challenges are overcome." It is the spine of your story, the idea that holds everything together. By knowing what your story is really about, you can make sure that every scene, every chapter serves that end. From the big ideas of characterization, symbolism and the Controlling Idea, McKee moves to structure and the true nuts and bolts of screenwriting - the beat/scene/sequence/act structure that governs a film and determines how the overall structure works. He looks at different movies and analyzes how the story is structured, both in regards to the main plot and any sub-plots (which are really good for propping up a slower second act), points out different ways to introduce the Inciting Incident of your story, where the climaxes and turning points might go, and how to get there and keep your audience interested. There's so much in the book, it really is like a handbook of story-writing. While it's geared towards screenwriters, the principles of storytelling can apply to any medium. He does talk a little bit about other media as well, mainly in the section on adaptation. If you're a playwright or a novelist, there's lessons in this book that you can definitely use, while ignoring the exhortations not to try and put stage and camera directions into your screenplay. I've had an on-again, off-again love of writing since I was a kid. There have been times when I wrote non-stop, putting out stories left and right. Not necessarily good ones, mind you, but writing nonetheless. And then there have been periods - like now, for example - where there are no stories that burn to be told. I miss it, honestly, but reading this book kind of stoked the flames a little. I got to thinking about old stories that I could revise, and a couple of ideas that I had consigned to the filing cabinet of my brain proved to be good guinea pigs for some of McKee's principles. Does that mean I'm on my way to literary superstardom? Not without a whole lot of hard work it doesn't. Much like with Stephen King's On Writing, one of the biggest lessons you get from this book is that creating a story of any quality requires hard, consistent work, and lots of it. McKee gives some good tips on the kind of writing process you should use to shorten the writing time - making more efficient use of your time and creativity, essentially - but at no time does he claim that making a good story is easy. What he does do, though, is make you believe that the hard work is worth doing. As much as I would like to heap praise on McKee, though, there was something that stuck in my brain like a splinter when I read this. It's a little thing, it's a very nerdy thing, but it's a thing nonetheless. At various points in the book, in order to illustrate one principle of storytelling or another, McKee uses the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Vader reveals that he is Luke's father. McKee is right in that it's an excellent example of a perfect storytelling moment. At that instant, we re-think everything we've seen before with regards to Luke and Vader. We understand that Yoda and Obi-Wan weren't necessarily worried that Luke needed training just to be a good Force user - they were worried that he'd turn out like his father. Everything we thought we knew about those characters had to be re-evaluated, and in terms of simple storytelling, it was a brilliant moment. Take the Gap principle I talked about earlier. There's Luke, at Vader's mercy. Luke expects that Vader is going to kill him, but what happens? He says, "I am your father." And then what does Vader expect? He certainly doesn't expect Luke to throw himself off the antenna, choosing death over giving in to the Dark Side. The viewer doesn't have any idea what to expect either, and that's what makes for a great movie moment. The trouble is, I don't think McKee has actually watched that movie in a very long time. He gets lines wrong ("You can't kill me, Luke. I'm your father") and gets entire sequences of events wrong - he has Vader reveal his paternity to Luke, who then attacks him, forcing Vader to cut off his son's hand. Vader offers to let Luke rule by his side, in response to which Luke hurls himself to what he imagines is his death. And every time McKee brings up Star Wars as an example, I found myself wanting to scream, "Did you even see the movie? Or at least look up the script??" I mean, I know the book was published in 1997, but if he's big in Hollywood, he should at least be able to get his hands on one precious copy. Or go to Blockbuster and rent the damn movie. Anyway, that was my one little gripe with McKee, and it did make me wonder what else he might have gotten wrong in his details. I mean, his reading of the scene worked, and wouldn't have been any different if he had gotten it right, but still - it's a pretty big mistake to make. I can only hope that he managed to fix it in later editions. That much aside, the principles he puts forward are sound, and it's the kind of book that you want to keep close at hand while you're putting your story together. If you find yourself hitting a wall, just start browsing through the book again and something will come to you. Whether you're a writer of screenplays, stage plays, novels or short stories, this is a book you really should read. It'll help you see what you're doing in a whole new light.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    I discovered "Story" during a writing workshop last fall. Although the book focuses on the creation of screenplays, its principles are directly applicable writing the short story and novel. McKee is an old school storyteller, which suits me to a "T". He insists that the writer respect the audience desire to be entertained, but intelligently and with integrity. He provides a classic structure of plot, progression, character development within one simple but profound concept: the protagonist has a I discovered "Story" during a writing workshop last fall. Although the book focuses on the creation of screenplays, its principles are directly applicable writing the short story and novel. McKee is an old school storyteller, which suits me to a "T". He insists that the writer respect the audience desire to be entertained, but intelligently and with integrity. He provides a classic structure of plot, progression, character development within one simple but profound concept: the protagonist has a conscious or unconscious desire, the pursuit of which becomes The Story. There is an infinite number of stories to be told, but well-told stories follow a structure that is as old as man, a structure that responds to the expectations, needs and desires of the reader, listener, watcher. I've become a more discriminating and critical reader in recent years, having less and less patience for writers whose stories ring false or gimmicky. After reading "Story" I now find myself picking apart a plot, whether on page or screen, finding the beauty and the fault in the author's pursuit or denial of classic story elements. I am about to write my first story after reading 'Story' and I feel I'm entering the page with a tool kit by my side. Not a prescription or a formula- no, it's not that easy- but with some guiding principles that will compel me to remain true.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben Starling

    Well, this book certainly covered all the topics one would hope for in a book on writing craft. It was a bit on the theoretical/academic side for me. I was looking for something that was more practical. But if you are looking for something theoretical/academic, then you would have your bases covered here. I will keep the book on my shelf, but for use more as a reference text. Still, solidly written throughout and I am happy with the purchase.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Adam Page

    I can understand how this book would be good for potential screenwriters; in fact, that's who this book is for exactly. However, the book does get tedious and has a lot of personal bias involved (a tendency that spills over into McKee's seminar, unfortunately). There is no story in "Story," so unless you are gung-ho about becoming a Hollywood writer, stay away from this one. I can understand how this book would be good for potential screenwriters; in fact, that's who this book is for exactly. However, the book does get tedious and has a lot of personal bias involved (a tendency that spills over into McKee's seminar, unfortunately). There is no story in "Story," so unless you are gung-ho about becoming a Hollywood writer, stay away from this one.

  21. 4 out of 5

    C.J. English

    Holy mother of baby Jesus I finished. This thing is a beast and the thought of reading it a second or third time is unthinkable but NECESSARY, at least for me. I highlighted so much that my highlights have highlights. Still, I recommend STORY for anyone wanting a deep understanding of the craft of storytelling. I am a very picky reader and writer, a hyper critic of stories in print or on the screen. If the story doesn't grab me, suck me in whole and squeeze my heart so hard I can't get out of my Holy mother of baby Jesus I finished. This thing is a beast and the thought of reading it a second or third time is unthinkable but NECESSARY, at least for me. I highlighted so much that my highlights have highlights. Still, I recommend STORY for anyone wanting a deep understanding of the craft of storytelling. I am a very picky reader and writer, a hyper critic of stories in print or on the screen. If the story doesn't grab me, suck me in whole and squeeze my heart so hard I can't get out of my seat, I slam the book shut, turn off the TV and never, ever, read anything by that author again. For that reason, as a reader, lover, and consumer of story in all forms I wish more writers would take the time and care needed to learn the craft. I consider STORY mandatory reading for any serious writer. However, I gave it 4, not 5 stars because it's a beast already, and although 90% is absolutely necessary, a good 10% is commentary that feels redundant. McKee is a true story-teller with so much to say he has yet to kill all the darlings.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    UPDATE: Once a year or so I get the urge to return to attempts at screenwriting: it's actually a cheap hobby that's a great mental exercise. In the past, I've bought stacks of books about screenwriting: this is one of a handful I've kept and referenced. It's a stupendously fast read with some very good points. My review below digresses away from the book itself, as all my reviews eventually tend to do, but all in all, McKee is as good as anyone else in Hollywood at kick-starting your career. ORIG UPDATE: Once a year or so I get the urge to return to attempts at screenwriting: it's actually a cheap hobby that's a great mental exercise. In the past, I've bought stacks of books about screenwriting: this is one of a handful I've kept and referenced. It's a stupendously fast read with some very good points. My review below digresses away from the book itself, as all my reviews eventually tend to do, but all in all, McKee is as good as anyone else in Hollywood at kick-starting your career. ORIGINAL REVIEW: If you are a born story-teller/writer, this book isn't for you. Now, it's true you need to kn0w a few basic rules of screenwriting, but if you've seen lots of movies, you know that already. I'll summarize quickly with five ruless: Rule 1) Open with a scene that pulls the movie-watcher right into the film and forces the watcher to stay glued to his/her seat. Rule 2) 99% of all films are told in linear fashion and have three acts. Act 1: have your your character climb a tree with no obvious way to get back down.. Act 2: throw rocks at him/her until he/she has nothing left, no resources, basically not much left to live for. Act 3: get your character out of the tree. Rule 3) Finish up with a great scene which can be summarized briefly by word-of mouth: you want your movie-watcher to leave the theatre in a buzz of happiness and fulfillment. Rule 4) Great movies MUST have a minimum of three great scenes: your opener, your closer, and another word-of-mouth scene that tops all current pop-culture "Must" lists. Now, it's been a while since I read this book so I don't know if my above discussion points come from McKee or from many other classes/books I've taken/read about screenwriting. Rule 5) Now, go out and buy yourself screenwriting software (you have to, otherwise no one is going to read your work at all unless it "looks" right). Now, with a great story ready to be written, have a seat and break every single screenwriting rule you've heard about. Truth is (and you won't find this advice written anywhere) no one in the film-making industry has any interest in reading a screenplay, especially one that follows a bunch of nerdy rules. And don't kid yourself: the entire industry of screenplay seminars, books, contests, etc., is about making money for that entire industry, not for you. On the other hand, if you've written a stack of screenplays and Spielberg/Streep/Wahlburg/The Rock are among your best friends, you'll have that screenwriting Oscar in no time at all! Still, you gotta start somewhere. You know that board game "Operation" in which you remove body parts from your cartoon patient? Buying that board game in order to learn how to be a doctor is exactly like buying a screenwriting book in order to win an Oscar. That said, this book by McKee is about as good as it gets to get you started.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Miquel Reina

    "Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting" is one of the bests books I've ever read about the complex Art of Writing. It's not only a "bible" for all upcoming screenwriters and filmmakers but also a treasure for all writers (novels, short stories...) Robert McKee gives us the basis of STORYTELLING, an art in itself, so complex and rich as the human brain. This book is a delicious journey through human history and the way we built stories, a map that guides us and t "Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting" is one of the bests books I've ever read about the complex Art of Writing. It's not only a "bible" for all upcoming screenwriters and filmmakers but also a treasure for all writers (novels, short stories...) Robert McKee gives us the basis of STORYTELLING, an art in itself, so complex and rich as the human brain. This book is a delicious journey through human history and the way we built stories, a map that guides us and teaches the clues and the structures necessaries to write an amazing and perdurable story. I totally recommend this book to everybody interested in the art of writing and the art of telling stories. "El guión: Estilo, Estructura, Substancia y sus Principios" es uno de los mejores libros sobre el complejo Arte de Escribir que he leído jamás. No se trata solo de una "bíblia" para todos los futuros guionistas y directores sino que también es un tesoro para todos los escritores (novela, cuentos...) Robert McKee nos muestra las bases de CONTAR HISTORIAS, un arte en sí mismo, tan complejo y rico como la propia mente humana. Este libro es un delicioso viaje a través de la historia de la humanidad y la manera en que construimos nuestras historias, un mapa que nos guía y nos enseña las claves y las esctructuras necesarias para escribir una historia maravillosa y perdurable. Recomiendo totalmente este libro a todas las personas interesadas en el arte de la escritura y el arte de contar historias.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Sherriff

    I usually race through how-to-write books in a day or two, but this one took me a month because it is so damned good. And what a month. I found myself wanting to underline sections and scribble in virtual exclamation points!!! In triplicate!!! On my Kindle!!! And I hate exclamation points!!! Because, well, it's not so much that McKee was telling me anything I hadn't read before in the writing-craft circuit, but dammit, the way he said it, the waaaaaay he said made this storytelling business fina I usually race through how-to-write books in a day or two, but this one took me a month because it is so damned good. And what a month. I found myself wanting to underline sections and scribble in virtual exclamation points!!! In triplicate!!! On my Kindle!!! And I hate exclamation points!!! Because, well, it's not so much that McKee was telling me anything I hadn't read before in the writing-craft circuit, but dammit, the way he said it, the waaaaaay he said made this storytelling business finally all made sense. Comprehensively. And while I harbour no dreams of writing a Hollywood screenplay, his observations on what elements are necessary to tell a compelling yarn are must-reads for anyone who needs to write narrative, whatever the genre, whatever the medium. If you write fiction, you should read this. Download my starter library for free here - http://eepurl.com/bFkt0X

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bahareh Mahooti

    this book is fantastic and it has become my bible since I bought it. it doesn't just give you "How to s"... but also gives deepest views on elements of storytelling. It's one of the best book about screenwriting that I have ever read. so I recommend it to anybody who wants to do serious writing in screenwriting field. you are the best McKee!!! this book is fantastic and it has become my bible since I bought it. it doesn't just give you "How to s"... but also gives deepest views on elements of storytelling. It's one of the best book about screenwriting that I have ever read. so I recommend it to anybody who wants to do serious writing in screenwriting field. you are the best McKee!!!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joanna Elm

    This should be the bible for any writer of fiction whether writing movies or novels. This book became even more useful after I attended a 3-day McKee Story seminar while writing my third thriller. I highlight the aspects that were most helpful to me as a novelist on my latest website post at www.joannaelm.com/makes-good-story-be... This should be the bible for any writer of fiction whether writing movies or novels. This book became even more useful after I attended a 3-day McKee Story seminar while writing my third thriller. I highlight the aspects that were most helpful to me as a novelist on my latest website post at www.joannaelm.com/makes-good-story-be...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Benoit Lelièvre

    A classic, but reads a little bit like a dictionary. Don't got through it from cover to cover, but open it when you need a refresher on story structure. Unequaled in depth and understanding of storytelling. If you really want to understand the nuts and bolts of writing narrative fiction, this is your go-to book. A classic, but reads a little bit like a dictionary. Don't got through it from cover to cover, but open it when you need a refresher on story structure. Unequaled in depth and understanding of storytelling. If you really want to understand the nuts and bolts of writing narrative fiction, this is your go-to book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    James Morcan

    This is one of the very best books on the fundamentals of screenwriting. I found it provided me with inspiration before doing rewrites during pre-production on one of the recent feature films I made.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chaunceton Bird

    There is a science to this art, and Mr. McKee seems to understand it quite well. For any aspiring author of screenplays, plays, or novels, this is recommended reading.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jorge Rodighiero

    Clear and to the point. I wish I would have read it before already writing two novels :P

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