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Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting (Methuen Film) Paperback – 16 Jul 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Methuen Publishing Ltd; Reprint. edition (16 July 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0413715604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0413715609
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13.5 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 26,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

"Story" deciphers the guiding structural principles that animate every classical and award-winning film, ranging from "Citizen Kane" through to modern acclaimed works like "The English Patient".

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First Sentence
Imagine, in one global day, the pages of prose turned, plays per , films screened, the unending stream of television comedy and drama, twenty-four-hour print and broadcast news, bedtime tales told to children, barroom bragging, back-fence Internet gossip, humankind's insatiable appetite for stories. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

129 of 135 people found the following review helpful By C. Kilvington on 7 Jan. 2003
Format: Paperback
Putting pen to paper is not as simple as putting pen to paper. And this only becomes evident when you've read a book like this.
This book's inspiring. It's to the point. And - although written primarily for screen writers - it's invaluale for anyone who thinks they have a story in them.
If you're a keen writer like me, you may have sat yourself down at a computer with an idea, started writing, scratching your head and wondering whether it's good or not. Step up Robert McKee:
"When talented writers write badly it's generally for one of two reasons: either they're blinded by an idea that they feel compelled to prove, or they're driven by an emotion they need to express. When talented people write well, it's generally for this reason: they're moved by a desire to touch an audience."
I'm not saying I'm a 'talented writer', but this statement hit home. McKee states that "story is not what you have to say, but how you say it." Writing should be 75% story design and 25% words. This is one of many revelations.....of which there are many.
By reading a book like this you can not only put a structure to the words that come out of your head, you can learn more about why people need stories, why they work and why they don't. How do you keep your audience's attention all the way through, how do you build them up to a climax, how do you make sure characters and story elements aren't cliched, and how do you appeal to a wide audience? Each is discussed in satisfying detail.
The other nice thing aout the book is that McKee talks 'forms' rather than 'formulas'. He's not saying that we should stick to rules - resulting in cliches - but just observe why things work. The 450 odd pages are also peppered with film examples too, which helps.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, a.k.a. Cormac Millar, Irish crime novelist on 1 Dec. 2001
Format: Hardcover
McKee analyses not just movie plots but the principles of dynamic storytelling, dramatising his general points with perceptive commentaries on individual scenes and sequences. The audio cassette is greatly condensed from the book, but adds the impact of the author's forceful, atmospheric delivery. Both versions are well worth having.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Mr. M. J. Mindel on 14 Jun. 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is simply the best book available for the aspiring screenwriter (and I've read most of them).
McKee fleshes out many important concepts (including turning points, the nature of irony) in a thoroughly readable journey into the nature of story - how and why it works.
But more importantly he shows us how to construct a 'great story well told'.
If there is just one screenwriting book on your bookshelf, make this it.
Do not let this one pass you by.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By writer christopher on 8 April 2011
Format: Paperback
This is not a cosy read, it is long (could benefit from an edit that cuts 25%) and in places not easy to understand. So why have I given it 5 stars? Because it is well worth the trouble of re-reading it to really understand how to write a scene and to understand character arcs. I was lucky in that it was a set book on my MA in Creative and Critical Writing and we had to summarise whole chapters so I got to really understand it. On that basis I thoroughly recommend this book as the guide to writing a scene and to understand the principle of characer arc. It is a bible that you should read and then dip into many times as you write your stuff.
McKee states correctly that stories are not made up of chapters, they are made up of scenes and it is by knowing the dynamics of a scene that help the writer create a good story. For example many writers understand that a character must change from the beginning of a story to the end of a story but McKee says that the point of view character must change (arc) in a scene also. This adds huge power to every scene and often explains why some scenes are flat (no character arc in it).
I would say this book, along with Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers and The Story Book: A Writer's Guide to Story Development, Principles, Problem-solving and Marketing and The Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction are the main story theory books any writer needs on his or her shelf.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Script Angel on 8 July 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a professinal script editor I can honestly say that there's little here to disagree with. He's not wrong when he says that these story structures work in delivering satisfying scripts and if your script isn't a great read it's probably down to the story structure not working. However, it's a fairly torturous read and McKee's style of delivery (here and in his famous lectures) is really hard to listen to. There is little attempt to entertain and one feels utterly preached at. If you can stick with the un-engaging writing and learn the lessons that he's hitting you over the head with, then it's well worth a read.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Mar. 2004
Format: Paperback
Writing a screenplay is nothing like writing a novel: its concise, terse format presents a challenge to any writer who is used to the freedom of novel narrative. Robert McKee's book is just one of many that any newbie writer should read before writing a screenplay. His emphasis and dissection of effective story structure ensures that you too will begin to consider the technical aspect of your story: the hard part! Some people dislike the idea of the three-act structure, but to be honest, there's no way you can play with it until you understand it thoroughly. Don't read this book passively though: you'll need post-its, highlighters and a notebook in order to make the most of it. Dense and technical as it is at times, if you're serious about this screenwriting business you should set aside as much time to study the craft as you would to write. Here's the place to start.
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