On Robert McKee’s “Story”

A response to “The Structure Spectrum” from Story by Robert McKee

McKee’s presentation might be a bit didactic, but he really does understand the mechanics of Hollywood screenwriting. I’ve read the book before, but reading this chapter individually highlighted one thing in particular, the notion that Classical structure is how our minds work, how we experience the past and future; minimalism and absurdism are merely reactions to this inherent, invincible point of view.

In a certain sense, I agree. I think our minds have evolved into pattern matching, problem solving machines. Story is really just a way of refactoring our memories and experience into easily solved problems. Or put another way, the vast amount of data that we could possibly store from our past or our imaginings of the future can best be organized and codified through story. If I do x, y will happen, and z will follow suit. The end. I read recently that people with high iq’s actually pay LESS attention to detail of particular items or events; their minds are able to factor out only the most important information. Likewise, the classical story is a means of reduction, by which only the most important events are arranged for maximum impact.

But is this the ONLY way the mind works, sees the world? McKee of course is smart enough not to say this, but qualifies these other types of stories (and the people who enjoy them) as fringe interests. And there we realize that McKee is capitalizing on his audience’s greatest weakness: the writer must earn his living. if you want to eat, you must write classically structured stories. There is a catch-22 here, which is that we reinforce the mass media’s (and it’s audience’s) reliance on these classically structured stories… is there a better way?

One thought on “On Robert McKee’s “Story”

  1. I just stumbled onto this blog entry you wrote 3 years ago and felt compelled to comment, though who knows if your opinion is the exact same as when you wrote it, lol. ;P

    I would argue that there need not be a “better” way to structure a story than the natural, classical structure. The fact that a thing is “normal” or “popular” or even “pedestrian” doesn’t make it inferior. The pedestrian attitude toward drowning is that it is undesirable. The popular way of dealing with this is to swim or to avoid the water entirely.

    I don’t see a reason to improve upon these two methods of dealing with the possibility of drowning. You know what I mean?

    I’m not trying to be cute here, either: There are plenty of movies being written that structure themselves classically, but you might not notice it upon first viewing. You might think the writer used some radical new structure that blows the boring old classical structure out of the water! But closer examination will probably reveal that it isn’t the structure, but the content that is radical. What the author fills x, y and z in (or, more specifically, the first action the character takes, the opposing force that renders the action useless and the next action the character chooses to take in response) can be shocking and seem radical to a “normal” (i.e. non-screenwriter) audience, even while fitting neatly into classical structure.

    Just something to consider. Happy writing! 😀

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