loren Eric Swanson: Story Seminar Day 1

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Story Seminar Day 1

Great day 1 at Robert McKee's Story seminar. McKee's class is no-nonsense. In the first few minutes he lays the groundrules for the weekend--We will meet 9am until 8:30 Friday through Sunday. There are 3 fifteen minute breaks and 60 minutes for lunch. McKee starts promptly and does not accept people being tardy. Anyone with a pager or cell phone that goes off is immediately fined $10. A second offense means expulsion from the class. These are the kind of rules one can make if one is so successful and prominent that people bend personal freedoms to get what they really want...to be master of the good story--well told. Amazingly no one checks Blackberrys or phones. Twice, McKee stopped the class to ask people to stop talking. I took too many notes to record them all here but McKee surprises all of us with his passion for excellence in story telling. I'll put a few pertinent quotes here to think about.

Writing a great story is why God put you on this earth.

There is a dearth of good story telling today. Theatre is a museum...a tribute to great writing of the past. Hollywood produces 500 movies a year and I have a hard time figuring out how they will come up with 5 nominees for best picture. When I was growing up I'd see a couple dozen films where i'd walk out of the theatre saying, "Wow, what a story!" How many times do you do that. There are just not that many of them. The art form has eroded but the world is still hungry for a great story. If you come up with a great story it is a writers market.

The goal is a good story...well told. A good story is a story worth telling. It begins with insight that you understand that others don't. You can see through the surface--a fresh vision of life...a hidden truth. Now bring knowledge to this vision--god-like knowledge of the character, history, and world. To bring knowledge you must do research. The difference between a writer and an author is research.To this add passion for perfection, a hatred of mediocrity that drives your work. You must have taste--hating the bad and loving the good and having the ability to recognize quality--loving beauty and hating ugliness.

Amateurs love everything they write. Professionals hate everything they write . They have high standards that they never meausure up to so they eventually settle for the best they can do. Nobody loves to write. If you are not scared to write, you don't know what you are doing. No one loves to write. You write because you have to.

Besides vision, knowledge and passion for perfection you must have talent. Talent is the ability to connect two things that exist that no one has previously connected. This is the new! Creativity is creating from what you already know. "The fog rolled in on little cat feet." Fog and cat feet existed but no one put them together before. Knowledge is essential to sustain talent.

"The unlived life is not worth examining." McKee

Verisimilitude (life-like life) = truth. Writing with verisimilitude is a mistake writers make. Story is a metaphor for life. Facts are not the truth of life. Facts are neutral. Fact: Homelessness. Truth: 1) people are homeless because of bad choices. 2) people are homeless because society is heartless. e.g. Some people will always be on the margins because they can't cope with life. 1% of world's population is schizophrenic. Facts have no meaning until someone finds truth in the hows and whys.

What is the profound value of my story? The story climax tells you the meaning. When it comes from the best of you the ending will shock even you.

Once the story has an ending...everything is written then send it out into the world. You have the responsibility to tell the truth. Ask yourself, Do I believe that? If you do, do everything you can to get it to the world. If you do not....delete it.

McKee laments that romance is dead. "The only people you see walking around holding hands are the elderly and gays." Couples don't fall in love any more. They simply become "friends who ______" "______ing buddies!" But the desire for romance is fully alive. Romance novels would top the NY Times best seller list so they are not listed there. Titanic took off (it was a dreadful movie) because it apealed to 14 year old girls!

How characters act under pressure reveals character. the mask of characterization is stripped away and character is revealed. the tougher the choice, the more clearly defined the character.

Well, I see now that every note I took is good but I am just getting started.

Act design: the great sweep and body of story
The first major story event (the inciting incident)
Scene design in Story: turning points, emotional dynamics, setup/payoff, the nature of choice
Ordering and linking scenes
Exposition: dramatizing your characters, the story setting, creating back story
The principles of antagonism
Crisis, climax and resolution


At Monday, December 10, 2007 4:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the notes! Please leave more! -Nick


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