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August 16, 2007



Really enjoyed your guest stint blogging. Look forward to PRECIOUS BLOOD. Are we the only two who can't get past Caruso on Miami?

Jonathan Hayes

I think a dislike for the man is fairly widespread. THE SOUP, E! cable TV's excellent weekly round-up of TV/celeb absurdity, often has a clip of Caruso's thudding delivery of the final portentous line in the cold open. You might enjoy this celebration of the character: Endless David Caruso One-Liners


Jeremy James

I've heard similar complaints about McKee's seminar. His book, however, has a lot more meat. And you can refer back to it again and again if need be. It's a personal favorite when it comes to structure.

Jonathan Hayes

Ach, I don't know. Whenever I crack the cover of the book, the fulsomeness of McKee's oratory just comes rushing back - I would bet you cash money that he dictated, rather than wrote, the book.

Part of the problem may be me: I find it hard to think of plot in anything other than organic terms. Obviously, with only my first novel finished so far, I'm no expert on story, but it seemed to me that the characters and their actions flowed naturally and evolved over the course of writing. In retrospect, I could see that the final narrative structure fit in with some of the various classic plot models out there, but it wasn't deliberate.


Remember that McKee was an actor, and his seminar (I've taken it twice, and the second was an almost verbatim copy for the first, despite the seeming spontaneity) is first and foremost a performance. That said, I found it quite valuable. It's hard to find a lot of good advice on the principles of story structure. While his book is good, it's more or less a précis of his seminar, and doesn't stand as well on its own. I highly recommend the seminar.

Jonathan Hayes

Indeed, I think that many bright people have taken it several times - McKee says that Cleese has taken it a handful of times, f'rinstance.

And it is clearly a performance. But, like many performances, it seems to exist largely to fuel the ego of the performer. I didn't think he was a great teacher - he gets too caught up in his anecdotes to express his ideas lucidly. Indeed, when she heard I was going to take his workshop, a friend who'd already done it shrugged and said, "Skip it. Read the book. It's the same thing, except you don't have to watch him prance around up there."

And there are a number of pretty good resources for approaching story structure; like McKee, though, they are mostly screenwriting-oriented.

I liked the two DVD set "The Hero's Two Journeys", where Michael Vogler and Christopher Hauge approach story structure from slightly different perspectives. The 3 DVD set costs about $70, and has admittedly fairly crappy production values. There's also a 3 hour and 10 minute audio download on Amazon for $12 or so; I really don't know if the visuals (mostly talking head shots and a paper chart on which Vogler and Hauge scrawl diagrams) are worth the extra $60. Here's the blurb from the Audio download (rated four stars, the DVD is rated four and a half stars):

Audio Length: 3 hours and 10 min.
Average Customer Rating:

Make your story the best it can be on two levels. Hear each superstar teacher present his unique approach to story telling.
The "Outer Journey" is the essential structural principles driving every successful plot. Each brings years of practical experience and extensive research to story structure, character arc, and how to give your story greater commercial appeal. Full of specific examples.

The "Inner Journey" is the deeper storyline that makes a story truly great. Hauge's view: The Hero moves from hiding within a protective identity to experiencing his or her true essence. Vogler's view: The Hero's inner need is invisible at first, but is revealed to the Hero by the end of the story. Full of specific examples.

This is ideal listening for all writers (including screenwriters, novelists, and playwrights), actors, filmmakers, studio executives, game designers and developers, storytellers, and anyone with a passion for movies and stories.

I also liked Karl Iglesias's 9 DVD set "Writing for Emotional Impact". It's one of a number available from the people at Creative Screenwriting (http://www.creativescreenwriting.com/expodvds.html ), whose annual expo attracts some really good producers and screenwriters. They have over 50 different DVDs out, many dealing with narrative structure. Again, cinema/TV-oriented, but the issue of structure is universal in storytelling.

Vogler, Hauge and Iglesias are all good teachers, with a pretty tight delivery of strong material. With McKee, the signal/noise ratio is dissapointingly high.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I didn't consciously think about the "structure" of the novel, so much as just try to tell a story. And I found myself wondering, when I sat down to watch one of these DVDs, or desultorily pulled McKee's book off the shelf, if they really meant anything.

Indeed, I was reminded of Brian Aldiss's comment to the effect that most research is just procrastination - perhaps a lot of time spent looking at books about writing is often another form of procrastination. I certainly think it would be better spent reading other writers' writing.

PS I *think* that was Brian Aldiss's quote.


I'm just reading a new forensic thriller novel by Melvin Harter called "Some Kind of Angel". It deals in part with forensics and also home-grown terrorism and the weapons they use. It's a slick thriller from a guy who used to work in forensics and so far it's got me well and truly engrossed.

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