Friday, March 26, 2010

Fiction Friday: The McKee Story

Last weekend, I attended Robert McKee's Story conference in New York.

A woman from St. Paul who also attended called it a "life-changing event."

I don't know that I feel that strongly, but I did walk away with a much deeper understanding of how a compelling story is built, as well as some tools for achieving that.

If your interested, and live in the Greater Dayton area, I'll be giving a talk on what I learned at Word's Worth Writing on Tuesday, April 6, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

One of the things I'll discuss is value changes.

According to McKee, every story has an overarching value that changes, from positive to negative or vice versa, over the course of the story. And with every act, sequence, scene and beat within the story.

Each value has a contrary value, which is different, a contradictory value, which is the opposite, and a negation of the negation, which essentially erases the value from the map.

For example, if the value is Love, the contrary value is indifference, the contradictory value is hate, and the negation of the negation is hatred masquerading as love.

Ordinary stories, such as the movies you see on Lifetime Network, change from the value to the contrary value. No great depths of emotion, just workaday stories at a household level.

Good stories change from the value to the contradictory value. Because this change goes deeper, we resonate with, and remember, these stories a lot more. This describes most well-written Hollywood and TV stories.

Great stories move from the value to the negation of the negation. These are the stories that become classics. One example is Ordinary People, where we learn that Mary Tyler Moore, though she pretends to love her second son, actually hates him. Not because of anything he's done, but just because she never wanted a second child, and couldn't rise to that. If you've ever seen this movie, the emotions played out on the screen will haunt you.

As he opened the seminar, McKee said, "It's not just about what you'd give to be a writer. It's about what you'd give up."

He went on to list some of the things you may have to abandon in order to write:
o Hobbies
o Family time
o Watching TV

I'll add a few more to that:
o Home-cooked food
o A clean house
o Regular exercise

But even with those sacrifices, I'm not coming up with enough time to spend on my novel. So, regretfully, I've decided to prune my blogging back to one post a week. I'm hoping, though not promising, to pen thoughtful, creative posts that will benefit from receiving a full week of exposure.

I may continue to post Old Jokes intermittently, just because they're easy. I don't write them; I just share them. We'll see how that goes.

I probably won't do contests anymore, because they also take a lot time. If someone wants to pick up that gauntlet, help yourself!

I'll continue to pop around and visit my fellow bloggers, because symbiosis is the backbone of Blogland--and because I'd miss you guys if I never saw you.

See you on Monday!


  1. I hope your novel grows smoothly for you.

    Blogging is fun, but it can take up a lot of time.

    I'll check up with you whenver you do have time to post.

  2. Some interesting points there. You'll prove them in the eating, no doubt!

  3. I wish I had known about this. I live in Jersey, I could have been there pretty easy..... whaa!!!!

  4. Very interesting post. I support your effort to focus on the writing. You have had a profound effect on my own drive to play, write, and focus on producing, instead of just observing (a pastime of mine for over 30 years).

    Sorry I'll miss your talk as I will be in North Carolina on business that week. My presence there would have been a distraction for your audience anyway, I suppose, since I have recently become obsessive about carrying my collection of "Skipper" dolls with me everywhere I go now.

  5. If nothing else, maybe pass on a few golden nuggets like you did today.

    A good joke is always welcomed too!

  6. I read Story when I first started writing plays. Interesting stuff.

    I'd miss you if you stopped blogging! At least, if you blog about writing, it can be part of the process... I'm looking forwards to reading your novel.

  7. Love is closer to hate than indifference. Indifference is devoid of emotion. It isn't feeling, it's non- feeling..

  8. i adored that post, Jeanne. I am wishing you good writing.

    you can do it.

  9. I will miss you, use your time wisely and get that novel we can buy it! :)


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