During my plane flight on Wednesday, I read Robert McKee's Story, which goes on an ultra-short list of books about writing I've found useful. The list is three books long, in truth:
* John Gardner's The Art of Fiction, on how fiction accomplishes its effects
* Dwight V Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, on how stories are constructed
* Robert McKee, Story, on how to construct stories for film
The Swain and the McKee cover similar ground, though the former's writing about prose and the latter about screenplays. For instance, both of them talk about action-reaction pairs, and both are obsessed with ways to build conflict. McKee, because he's writing about film and film has to be economical, boils it until it reduces to essentials. Every scene has to have movement, every action shown has to be notable in some way. McKee also writes about how the success of a story often depends on the depth and complexity of the antagonistic forces. That made me think. I had the sense throughout of "oh, yes, duh, of course it has to work that way." Quite satisfying.
He had me at this graf:
Over the last twenty-five years, however, the method of teaching creative writing in American universities has shifted from the intrinsic to the extrinsic. Trends in literary theory have drawn professors away from the deep sources of story toward language, codes, text-- story seen from the outside.The analysis one does after the fact is not the same as the thinking one does when creating.
I'll do McKee's seminar, I think. I got that much out of it. (And damn! I could have extended my London stay and done it there. Ha.)