Monday, June 25, 2007

Let's make a Story bonfire

In Media Guardian, playwright Mark Ravenhill reveals his fears about the growing influence of script-writing guru Robert McKee, author of Story. Ravenhill quite likes the book itself, he says, but worries about how it is being used.
Writer delivers script, goes in for meeting. "I'm missing the initiating incident on page 23," is a note that you're very likely to hear in our Story-centred world. Rarely, "Why are we making this?" and certainly not, "Are we challenging any ideas about form?" Recently, a playwright told me that he was advised by one major theatre to read McKee's Story. This is a book about writing a Hollywood movie! It's frustrating for us writers. But it's disastrous for you as an audience member or reader. Gradually, our culture is turning into the equivalent of the McFlurry. And that's got to be bad.

So here's the solution. A book burning. It's not something I'd normally advocate and not something the Guardian would, I imagine, endorse. But I think we have to do it. Writers, producers, editors, if you have a copy of Story - get in touch. We can make a lovely bonfire in my back garden. We'll imagine a richer, more exciting culture. And that's good for everyone, isn't it?
Judge McKee for yourself: take a look on YouTube at his take on Citizen Kane and Chinatown.

1 comment:

  1. I felt a sense of déjà vu when I read the "ArtsComment" piece excoriating screenwriting guru Robert McKee and his "cult of Story". Unwittingly or not, Mark Ravenhill was rehearsing arguments that were well aired, not to say flogged to death, in television- and film-writing circles about fifteen years ago, when seasoned writers like Alan Plater and Ian Kennedy Martin were lining up to condemn McKee for the deleterious effect his ideas were having on script­writing, and more specifically on script editors, who (it was claimed) swallowed his ideas whole and undigested, then sicked them up as half-understood notes about inciting incidents, character arcs and second-act climaxes. The debate, all those years ago, sometimes became impassioned even angry, though at its most heated I don't recall anyone ever proposing a Nazi-style book-burning.

    It occurred to me then that the arguments against McKee's ideas were disingenuous, even a tad arrogant (the subtext seemed to be: we writers can handle this story stuff, you non-writers can't) but Ravenhill takes this condescension to a whole new level. "McKee's book Story is good [he writes]. It's the best of its kind. I've read it several times and learned some valuable things from it." Now let's burn it quick, to stop those editors and directors and producers getting their hands on it, misreading it and sullying our vision.

    Mark Ravenhill surely knows that he can tell a good story (in three acts, if he fancies, with an inciting incident and act climaxes) and still keep his vision intact; he can even challenge ideas about form at the same time. We writers can read McKee critically, so pick and chose which of his ideas (many of which, incidentally, are rehashed from Aristotle) are appropriate for the story we happen to be telling at the time; and the other professionals we work with can do the exactly same.


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