Robert McKee on how to make stories matter

In the introduction and chapter one of “Story” by Robert McKee, I came across a few inspiring insights into storytelling:

  • “The archetypal story unearths a universally human experience, then wraps itself inside a unique, culture-specific expression.” (page 4)
  • “We go the movies to enter a new, fascinating world, to inhabit vicariously another human being who at first seems so unlike us and yet at heart is like us, to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality. We do not wish to escape life but to find life, to use our minds in fresh, experimental ways, to flex our emotions, to enjoy, to learn, to add depth to our days.” (page 5)
  • “If you show a brilliant, original screenplay to agents, they’ll fight for the right to represent you.” (page 6)
  • “When talented people write badly it’s generally for one of two reasons: Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they’re driven by an emotion they must express.” (page 7)
  • “When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.” (page 7)
  • “The audience is a force as determining of story design as any other element. For without it, the creative act is pointless.” (page 8 )
  • “A mature artist never calls attention to himself, and a wise artist never does anything merely because it breaks convention.” (page 9)
  • “Why is so much of our life spent inside stories? Because as critic Kenneth Burke tells us, stories are equipment for living.” (page 11)
  • “As faith in traditional ideologies diminishes, we turn to the source we still believe in: the art of story. … the story arts have become humanity’s prime source of inspiration, as it seeks to order chaos and gain insight into life. … In the words of playwright Jean Anouilh, ‘Fiction gives life its form.'” (page 12)
  • “Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence.” (page 12)
  • “The art of story is in decay, and as Aristotle observed twenty-three hundred years ago, when storytelling goes bad, the result is decadence.” (page 13)
  • “For writers … self-knowledge is the key — life plus deep reflection on our reactions to life.” (page 15)
  • “The final cause for the decline of story runs very deep. Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what’s worth living for, what’s worth dying for, what’s foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth — the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism and subjectivism — a great confusion of values. As the family disintegrates and sexual antagonisms arise, who, for example, feels he understands the nature of love? And how, if you do have a conviction, do you express it to an ever-more skeptical audience?” (page 17)
  • “Who are these characters? What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they go about getting it? What stops them? What are the consequences?” (page 19)
  • “But fact, no matter how minutely observed, is truth with a small ‘t.’ Big ‘T’ Truth is located behind, beyond, inside, below the surface of things, holding reality together or tearing it apart, and cannot be directly observed.” (page 24)
  • “Story is a metaphor for life.” (page 25)
  • “Truth is what we think about what happens.” (page 25)
  • “The material of literary talent is words; the material of story talent is life itself.” (page 27)

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