It’s not as bad as it sounds.
No, really. I know everyone intelligent is tired as hell of one superhero special effects fest after the other. And I know that no blockbuster in the last ten years had an original idea anywhere close to its plot, or hell, even anywhere close to its reels. Hollywood has become lame. I used to be more than a fan, I was a devotee… but someone around the studios are going to have to think of something. I simply can’t stomach another disappointment.

But there was a time that Hollywood wasn’t, well, just crap. There used to be gems scattered between all the celluloid candy coated popcorn. And I’m not just pining for the French stuff… Saving Private Ryan or Forrest Gump. Or Classics like the Deer Hunter or The Elephant Man. Or Cross-Atlantic crossovers like A Fish Called Wanda. Even things like The Client. Good, solid thriller. Or NYPD Blue. Yes, TV. Solid TV.

What all the above shows and movies have in common is that they were written by students of one of the greatest writing gurus of the silver screen (now aluminium) – Robert McKee. McKee is respected by people who actually write movies for a living – and by those who make movies. And unlike a certain abortion of a screenwriting book involving a feline (which I will not utter) – McKee’s canonical work on the subject of writing screenplays – STORY – is actually good.

As a novelist, it is dangerous to approach story the way a film would. Still, the principles found within Story is useful extra reading for any storyteller – and mandatory if you tell your story for a screen.

McKee looks into the elements of story (setting, character, genre), the principles of story design (inciting incidents, acts, crises, climaxes and resolutions) and he also looks at some principles of the writer at work. He looks at Scene Construction in quite a bit of depth – and this is useful even for writers who never want to work for the screen at all. He also discusses the idea of GAPS opening up.

These GAPS, I have found to be better explained by prose writers – it’s the classic “YES, BUT” or “NO, AND” devices that represent cruel reality responding to the character’s earnest efforts to reach their objectives.

In the GAP discussion, McKee looks at upsetting these expectations cinematically.

Again, as a screenwriter, Story has to be one of the first books on the writer’s bookshelf. As a novelist, it can come several books later… but it still offers a useful framework for understanding story as a construct, and a couple of cool tricks that can be applied in any kind of writing. It is particularly useful as a book on story structure – but while McKee escapes the banality of his younger filmmakers and is more creative than most of them – it is still a bit risky to apply movie structures to novels too much.

Use it as one take on story structure, unless you write scripts, in which case it is your new bible.