If you’re an aspiring writer, you’ve probably been inundated with advice: on writing, publishing, marketing, MFA or no MFA, the proper way to sit at your desk, how much to let your wife read, and on and on. As a new blogger, I’ve been advised to provide useful information to the blogosphere, so let me add my two cents worth (it’s worth every penny). The single best piece of advice I can offer the aspiring writer is to become a student of Robert McKee.
Who is Robert McKee, and what exactly does he teach? Robert McKee is Hollywood’s master teacher of the screenwriting craft. He has a long history of working with scripts and screenwriters and has turned his experience into a book, a lecture series, and an online writer’s practicum. If you’ve seen the movie Adaptation (based on The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean), you may remember the scene where, in an effort to unblock himself, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) attends a seminar offered by screenwriting guru Robert McKee (Brian Cox). McKee offers Charlie some useful advice, and Kaufman is able to move forward. The seminar that Charlie Kaufman attends in the movie is real and closely follows McKee’s book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting.
Don’t let the title fool you. McKee does not cater solely to screenwriters. In fact, he teaches character and story, and his principles apply to anyone writing for—as he’s fond of saying—page, stage or screen. I’ve attended the four-day Story seminar. I’ve attended the four-day genre seminar (a day each for comedy, romance, thrillers and horror). I’ve read the book, and I’m a member of the writer’s practicum. Taken as a whole, these sources offer a deep well of information on the storytelling craft. So, at a minimum, by the book. If you can afford $19.97 per month, join the writer’s practicum. And, if you can sit in a room for ten hours a day (without checking your phone, because he will jump your shit for doing so), I highly recommend the Story seminar.
As noted elsewhere on this site, I hold an MFA in creative writing, and it was time well spent, but the MFA format did not allow for in-depth analysis of a novel-length work. Upon completing the program I had well-developed characters, and I could write compelling prose, but I needed help pulling the story together. McKee’s book and seminars proved invaluable in unifying my characters with their story. As Mr. McKee says, story is character, and character is story.