Robert McKee is as famous as a screenwriter/writing teacher can be. If you ever saw the film Adaptation, you’ve heard of McKee. In the following interview, he talks a little about what makes compelling characters and why unhappy endings can be great.
Okay, you guys. Despite the fact that my class focuses obsessively (some might say unhealthily) on plot (as opposed to character), I think every person who wants to write an engaging story should watch the following and pay close attention. Very close attention.
WARNING: Adult language and extremely tasteless jokes sprinkled throughout.
I have a blog called Diamondsandtoads.com, which focuses on the study, art and enjoyment of fairy tales.
I am starting a new online magazine, called Enchanted Conversation, and am sending out a call for “Sleeping Beauty” themed articles. Anything – from the newly-awakened cook’s point of view to how the prince and princess are doing after 10 years of marriage, to – well, you get it. It’s a paying market (modest). It’s at EnchantedConversation.net. You can check out submission tips on the left.
Please tell your workshop students that a new market is out there.
Banksy is one of my favorite living artists. I love him with a deep, quiet passion. I hope that one day soon you will love Banksy, too.
ONCE upon a time there dwelt on the outskirts of a large forest a poor woodcutter with his wife and two children; the boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel. He had always little enough to live on, and once, when there was a great famine in the land, he couldn’t even provide them with daily bread. One night, as he was tossing about in bed, full of cares and worry, he sighed and said to his wife: “What’s to become of us? How are we to support our poor children, now that we have nothing more for ourselves?”
“I’ll tell you what, husband,” answered the woman, “early tomorrow morning we’ll take the children out into the thickest part of the wood; there we shall light a fire for them and give them each a piece of bread; then we’ll go on to our work and leave them alone. They won’t be able to find their way home, and we shall thus be rid of them.”
Snow White picks up an endorsement from Volvo. Text reads, “With seven seats. Sorry.”
For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I don’t really care what it takes to produce that.
Some writers need a while to charge their batteries, and then write their books very rapidly. Some writers write a page or so every day, rain or shine. Some writers run out of steam, and need to do whatever it is they happen to do until they’re ready to write again. Sometimes writers haven’t quite got the next book in a series ready in their heads, but they have something else all ready instead, so they write the thing that’s ready to go, prompting cries of outrage from people who want to know why the author could possibly write Book X while the fans were waiting for Book Y.
I remember hearing an upset comics editor telling a roomful of other editors about a comics artist who had taken a few weeks off to paint his house. The editor pointed out, repeatedly, that for the money the artist would have been paid for those weeks’ work he could easily have afforded to hire someone to paint his house, and made money too. And I thought, but did not say, “But what if he wanted to paint his house?”
“… I want to say a word about…the sense of closure and completeness…that I believe every satisfactory story must have. As anybody can testify, experience is a continuous shower, without beginnings or endings. It ravels off from previous experiences and frays off into new ones. Because the record of any experience is not complete without a thinking pause after it, and because most readers have a short attention span, the writer’s job is to contrive a positive conclusion that will pass for an ending of the limited segment of life the story covers. In a plotted story there is a rising action, a series of complications, a climax, a denouement. Somebody or something wins or loses, lives or dies. That is what Hemingway had in mind when he said that all stories end in death—there is no other ending that really ends anything. So we must contrive little symbolic deaths that seem to end something, and we must be careful when we do it; for beginnings and endings, Chekhov said, are the places where writers are most inclined to lie.”
On Teaching and Writing Fiction