Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Writing Book Recommendation

Whenever anyone asks me to recommend a writing book, the first one I always mention is Story by Robert McKee [see the Amazon link just to your right].Story was recommended to me by Brandilyn Collins. Being fairly new to writing on a regular basis (something I'd wanted to do for years, but always found an excuse not to do), I eagerly went out and bought the book only to find I couldn't get my mind wrapped around it. It took me another year of sloughing through my own writing, going down rabbit trails, creating improbable characters, dealing with a scintillating beginning, a *yawn* middle, and a muddled ending, before I realized I needed to take the time to read the darn thing.

I am so glad I did.

McKee's bio speaks for itself:
McKee is the most widely known and respected screenwriting lecturer in the world today. His former students' accomplishments are unmatched: They have won 26 Academy Awards, 124 Emmy Awards, 20 Writers Guild of America Awards, and 17 Directors Guild of America Awards and even Pulitzer Prizes for writing. Some recent notable former students to win or be nominated for Oscars include Akiva Goldsman (Winner - Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay) for his screenplay "A Beautiful Mind," Peter Jackson (writer/director of "Lord of the Rings I and II", Nominated - Best Picture) and many others.
Story is used as a textbook at major American universities as well as overseas. And for good reason. You won't find another book like this, one that richly details what story is all about, that dissects the concept, puts the parts under a microscope, and teaches you what works and what doesn't. It makes no difference that he's talking about screenplays. Writers of every genre flock to McKee's seminars in L.A., New York, and London to watch him explain their craft. And the best part? What he teaches is not formalistic. He gives you the pieces of the puzzle, but leaves each writer to put it together as best suits her/his style.

From McKee, for instance, I learned that there's no reason for the middle of a book to sag, as they are wont to do. Not if you plan. If you lay out your subplots so that one or several of them begin during the story's middle, you have Inciting Incidents [which, by their very nature, are exciting] to perk up that section of your novel where your main plot might otherwise plod along.

I learned the art of scenes "turning." Read McKee's words:
Look closely at each scene you've written and ask: What value is at stake in my character's life at this moment? Love? Truth? What? How is that value charged at the top of the scene? Positive? Negative? Some of both? Make a note. Next turn to the close of the scene and ask, Where is this value now? Positive? Negative? Both? Make a note and compare. If the answer you write down at the end of the scene is the same note you made at the opening, you now have another important question to ask: Why is this scene in my script?
This is a rich book, jam-packed with so much good information you'll read it not once but time and time again. It'll take your writing to a new level and, if you've found your excitement in your craft waning, pump up your enthusiasm. It's not a quick or an easy read. Think of it as a textbook, one that requires time and attention in order to master. But it is well worth your while to read it.

If I were on a desert island and had the choice of two books, it would definitely be my second pick!