I am a fan of Robert McKee. I have his book, STORY: Substance, Structure, Style, and The Principles of Screenwriting, and there’s more nuggets of story-writing wisdom contained within its pages than I’ll internalize and master during my lifetime. In short McKee knows his stuff. I even attended one of his three day workshops in 2009, and I’d say it was grumpy-professor theater at its finest. A McKee workshop is best experienced from a safe middle row with your cell phone off, better yet in the next county. He does not suffer interruptions, or what he considers dumb ass questions, with equanimity. So if you plan to attend a Robert McKee seminar—Be Careful Out There!
I have an abandoned story crying itself to sleep every night in the corner of my office. It’s about angels, righteous and fallen, who work in Twixt, that in-between place between heaven and hell where dubious and uncertain souls are sent to get sorted out. It’s a fun story in which Lucifer wears Armani and blowtorches demon cherubs for entertainment. And yes there’s a romance.
I love this story. I want to finish this story. I plan to finish this story. Yet there it sits, its neglected pages doleful and accusing. The story, like its characters, is in book purgatory waiting to be sorted out. The story’s fine I tell myself; all I need is the right time, and I’ll get right on it. I lie.
And that’s where Mr. McKee, and my serendipitous tripping over my scrawled notes from his long-ago workshop, enter the picture. (Note to self: Must herd and reposition office dust bunnies more often. The most amazing things surface.)
The story is not fine. And my reasons for not writing it have nothing to do with lack of time. The problem is that somewhere along the writing way, I became mired in a sagging middle. Stalled by a big whack of regurgitated prose and a big dose of ho-hum.
The thing is, that whatever’s happening in the middle of this book, it is not “story” according to McKee.
Robert McKee says:
“A story must not retreat to actions of lesser quality, but move progressively forward to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.”
“Progressions build by drawing upon greater and greater capacities from characters, greater risk, and their constantly passing points of no return.”
And of course he is right.
So what’s my next step? A trip inside my head to find risk, greater capacities, points of no return and escalating dilemmas for my characters. There’ll be no more lolling around in chapter ten. Nope. When I’m done with my story people, they’ll be longing for that restful corner shelf in my office.
P.S. If you haven’t already read STORY by Robert McKee give it a try. You won’t be sorry. And attending his workshop was pure gold.
PP.S I tried to get a picture of Mr McKee’s brilliant book as side dish on this blog, but WordPress decided to be difficult… (I added it in for you … Vanessa)