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This title in other editions

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

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

 

 

Excerpt

1
The Story Problem

The Decline of Story

Imagine, in one global day, the pages of prose turned, plays performed, films screened, the unending stream of television comedy and drama, twenty-four-hour print and broadcast news, bedtime tales told to children, barroom bragging, back-fence Internet gossip, humankind's insatiable appetite for stories. Story is not only our most prolific art form but rivals all activities--work, play, eating, exercise--for our waking hours. We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep--and even then we dream. Why? Why is so much of our life spent inside stories? Because as critic Kenneth Burke tells us, stories are equipment for living.

Day after day we seek an answer to the ageless question Aristotle posed in Ethics: How should a human being lead his life? But the answer eludes us, hiding behind a blur of racing hours as we struggle to fit our means to our dreams, fuse idea with passion, turn desire into reality. We're swept along on a risk-ridden shuttle through time. If we pull back to grasp pattern and meaning, life, like a Gestalt, does flips: first serious, then comic; static, frantic; meaningful, meaningless. Momentous world events are beyond our control while personal events, despite all effort to keep our hands on the wheel, more often than not control us.

Traditionally humankind has sought the answer to Aristotle's question from the four wisdoms--philosophy, science, religion, art--taking insight from each to bolt together a livable meaning. But today who reads Hegel or Kant without an exam to pass? Science, once the great explicator, garbles life with complexity and perplexity. Who canlisten without cynicism to economists, sociologists, politicians? Religion, for many, has become an empty ritual that masks hypocrisy. As our faith in traditional ideologies diminishes, we turn to the source we still believe in: the art of story.

The world now consumes films, novels, theatre, and television in such quantities and with such ravenous hunger that the story arts have become humanity's prime source of inspiration, as it seeks to order chaos and gain insight into life. Our appetite for story is a reflection of the profound human need to grasp the patterns of living, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience. In the words of playwright Jean Anouilh, "Fiction gives life its form."

Some see this craving for story as simple entertainment, an escape from life rather than an exploration of it. But what, after all, is entertainment? To be entertained is to be immersed in the ceremony of story to an intellectually and emotionally satisfying end. To the film audience, entertainment is the ritual of sitting in the dark, concentrating on a screen in order to experience the story's meaning and, with that insight, the arousal of strong, at times even painful emotions, and as the meaning deepens, to be carried to the ultimate satisfaction of those emotions.

Whether it's the triumph of crazed entrepreneurs over Hittite demons in GHOSTBUSTERS or the complex resolution of inner demons in SHINE; the integration of character in THE RED DESERT or its disintegration in THE CONVERSATION, all fine films, novels, and plays, through all shades of the comic and tragic, entertain when they give the audience a fresh model of life empowered with an affective meaning. To retreat behind the notion that the audience simply wants to dump its troubles at the door and escape reality is a cowardly abandonment of the artist's responsibility. Story isn't a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence.

Yet, while the ever-expanding reach of the media now gives us the opportunity to send stories beyond borders and languages to hundreds of millions, the overall quality of storytelling is eroding. On occasion we read or see works of excellence, but for the most part we weary of searching newspaper ads, video shops, and TV listings for something of quality, of putting down novels half-read, of slipping out of plays at the intermission, of walking out of films soothing our disappointment with "But it was beautifully photographed . . ." The art of story is in decay, and as Aristotle observed twenty-three hundred years ago, when storytelling goes bad, the result is decadence.

Flawed and false storytelling is forced to substitute spectacle for substance, trickery for truth. Weak stories, desperate to hold audience attention, degenerate into multimillion-dollar razzle-dazzle demo reels. In Hollywood imagery becomes more and more extravagant, in Europe more and more decorative. The behavior of actors becomes more and more histrionic, more and more lewd, more and more violent. Music and sound effects become increasingly tumultuous. The total effect transudes into the grotesque. A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling. When society repeatedly experiences glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo-stories, it degenerates. We need true satires and tragedies, dramas and comedies that shine a clean light into the dingy corners of the human psyche and society. If not, as Yeats warned, ". . . the centre can not hold."

Each year, Hollywood produces and/or distributes four hundred to five hundred films, virtually a film per day. A few are excellent, but the majority are mediocre or worse. The temptation is to blame this glut of banality on the Babbitt-like figures who approve productions. But recall a moment from THE PLAYER: Tim Robbins's young Hollywood executive explains that he has many enemies because each year his studio accepts over twenty thousand story submissions but only makes twelve films. This is accurate dialogue. The story departments of the major studios pore through thousands upon thousands of scripts, treatments, novels, and plays searching for a great screen story. Or, more likely, something halfway to good that they could develop to better-than-average.

By the 1990s script development in Hollywood climbed to over $500 million per annum, three quarters of which is paid to writers for options and rewrites on films that will never be made. Despite a half-billion dollars and the exhaustive efforts of development personnel, Hollywood cannot find better material than it produces. The hard-to-believe truth is that what we see on the screen each year is a reasonable reflection of the best writing of the last few years.

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

citizenvern, December 26, 2007 (view all comments by citizenvern)
Although I'm only 1/2 way through the book, it is easy to give it 5 stars. It's a great mix of informative and engaging, right up there with Rabiger's "Directing" books. If it's a slow read, that's only because you'll be jumping back and forth between reading it and writing down the ideas it inspires.
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maddy-taylor, April 1, 2007 (view all comments by maddy-taylor)
I gave a 5 rating even though I have yet to read the book because of all the material that I have looked into for my own writing purposes do not even compare to the credits that Robert Mckee obviously gets from collegues to anyone that has ever heard of him or has seen one of his movies.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780060391683
Subtitle:
Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting
Author:
McKee, Robert
Author:
by Robert McKee
Author:
Potter, Christopher
Publisher:
It Books
Location:
New York :
Subject:
Composition & Creative Writing - Play/Scriptwriting
Subject:
Film - Screenwriting
Subject:
Motion picture authorship
Subject:
Motion picture plays
Subject:
Motion picture plays -- Technique.
Subject:
Film & Video - Screenwriting
Subject:
General science
Subject:
Reference/Writing
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Series Volume:
[9-65]
Publication Date:
December 17, 1997
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
480
Dimensions:
9 x 6 x 1.01 in 16.00 oz

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » Screenwriting
Reference » Writing » General
Reference » Writing » Screenplays

Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting New Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$40.00 In Stock
Product details 480 pages ReganBooks - English 9780060391683 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[McKee] is a tireless speaker, knowledgeable and passionate....No matter what continent you live on, if you look outside and see a group of writers or movie nuts gathering, probably Robert McKee is in town." William Goldman, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of All the President's Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
"Review" by , "Knowledge of story design is just as vital for the novelist as it is for the screenwriter. No one imparts this wisdom like Robert McKee. He is not only the best teacher of writing I've ever had, but the best teacher of anything."
"Review" by , "Robert McKee's course helped me enormously. Every writer, actor, producer, and director should take it."
"Review" by , "An internationally acclaimed teacher of the story-writing art, McKee maintains a whirlwind schedule...giving his near-legendary Story seminars worldwide."
"Synopsis" by , 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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