1. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    Robert McKee's Story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Iaevich, Jan 22, 2009.

    Hey Everyone

    I read Story over the weekend, and had a couple of questions that I thought I would ask here.

    RM suggests 60+ scenes for a novel. I've just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns, and I'm going to do an analysis on that for charge movement and number of scenes, but would be interesting to hear other opinions on this number (60 seems like quite a lot!). Specifically, I'm writing a book for 12ish and upwards with about 60,000 words, so appreciate that it may be less (but how much less!? :) ).

    Secondly, I completely understand his complaint with exposition dialogue, and I get the whole charge movement through conflict idea. However, I'm still a little confused by it. I think it's easy if you're writing a scene where someone loves and then hates, or has faith and then loses it. But in a number of my scenes I initially fell foul of the whole exposition dialogue sin, and I'm wondering just how terrible this is in some instances. Can't it sometimes constitute a charge movement from ignorance to knowledge? I think I'm too close to the book to properly analyse what description/dialogue is tedious, and what is strong, so would be good to get some objective thoughts here.

    Any other stuff that anyone wants to discuss on structure suggestions for novels within Story etc, I'd love to talk about too, because I'm about to do the analysis as above and replan my book.

    Cheers

    C
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    though robert mckee teaches screenwriting, he has actually written no feature films and only 6 tv show episodes [mrs. columbo' and 'abraham'], though is respected as a teacher of the craft of screenwriting... he is not a novelist...

    so, i have to wonder if you're confusing his suggested '60 scenes' that may be referring to a script, with scenes in a novel... the reference to expository dialog is most likely also in re screenplays, not novels...

    i would strongly urge you to NOT follow mckee's advice in writing novels, since writing screenplays is an entirely different realm and advice for one does not generally apply well to the other...

    and, as a matter of fact, a large percentage of the film industry does not consider this book to be a good 'how-to' even for screenwriters... i write scripts and mentor many aspiring screenwriters, btw, so am familiar with mckee and how he is perceived in the hollywood and global cinema community...

    imo, the best books to read in order to learn how to write novels, are the best novels... not any how-tos... not even ones by novelists!... ;-)

    love and hugs, maia
     
  3. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    I am almost totally unfamiliar with everything in your post. Just so you know, starting off. :cool:

    I don't know anything about the author or his book, but if he's known for screenwriting, then that's good to know, so we can at least see his advice in context of his background. I've been recently researching scenes and such for novels, so I was interested in your post and your terminology.

    I was able to find some information on expositional dialogue, and I think I know what you're talking about. Essentially, the goal is to avoid info dumps in dialogue (and elsewhere). Dialogue should be kept lively and ought to always move the plot forward. Sounds good. I think an ideal is to have a mixture of dialogue and narrative that shows the setting, background, motivation, etc. Also, the dialogue should have a point within the story and not serve only to educate the reader. That, I think, is a key criticism of expositional dialogue -- it sometimes is there only for the reader and makes no sense for one character to be saying to another.

    As for your other term: charge movement. I didn't really get any hits on that one, so maybe you'd like to give me an idea of what it means. In general, I'm wondering if you're talking about moving a scene forward through conflict. (Is that charge movement?)

    Scene: Man wants to buy a hot dog. He waits in line a the hot dog stand. The guy in front of him gets the last one. The man is disappointed. He offers to buy the hot dog from the guy who has one. The guy agrees, but wants $20. Hungry, the man agrees. Angry, but happy, he goes to eat the hot dog. A car drives by and splashes him with water, ruining his suit and drowning the hot dog.

    In this tragic scene, the conflict is between the man and the guy. The man wants the hot dog, but the guy charges him an exorbitant amount for it. There is another thread around here about scenes and sequels (the emotional followup to a scene) that's got some good stuff in it.
     
  4. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    Hi Both

    Thanks for your replies.

    Maia: RM says at one point in Story that novelists may have more than 60 scenes in their books, though I take your point that the book is largely about screen writing. Once I've gone through a Thousand Splendid Suns, I'll have a better idea of implementation of his principles within the context of novel writing.

    Sorites: Thanks for answering! I'll do my best to explain what I've written so that we can have a discussion.

    Firstly, I think the key point regarding exposition dialogue is that it must be effected through conflict (read action). I have a scene where one character quite understandably explains rather a lot of the world to another character. I hadn't realised, but it's quite flat, and I've been criticised for it recently. Utilising action within this context is still not that clear to me. There seems to be a dichotomy in books such as Lord of the Rings (A Shadow from the Past for example... the second chapter of the first book: Gandalf explains the history of the ring to Bilbo, but this is a predicated by throwing the ring into the fire, so we have: action followed by dialogue). I got the impression that the two should be interwoven, so I suspect I am missing something here...

    Charge movement is the migration in value from one point to another. E.g: good to evil; evil to good; confidence to lack of confidence. This is generally from a positive to a negative value or the reverse. A value can be pulled from the whole gamut of human experience, but you need to have that movement in there. The suggestion is that where a value stays the same (character begins a scene confident, and ends a scene confident, that is a good indicator of no real action).

    To take your example (which is excellent):

    Scene: Man wants to buy a hot dog. He waits in line a the hot dog stand. The guy in front of him gets the last one. The man is disappointed. He offers to buy the hot dog from the guy who has one. The guy agrees, but wants $20. Hungry, the man agrees. Angry, but happy, he goes to eat the hot dog. A car drives by and splashes him with water, ruining his suit and drowning the hot dog.

    The scene is structured around the man's desire for a hotdog. The man moves from anticipation (positive value) to disappointment (negative value). He seeks to mitigate this negative feeling by offering to pay more, and the man agrees. I think this is a second charge movement of calm resolution of the problem (positive value) to anger at the man's opportunism (negative value). He is then happy to have a hot dog (positive value) but then gets soaked by the car with the hot dog ruined (negative value).

    This is more complex than you would typically need a scene to be, and I may not have analysed it correctly because of all of the different charges. I tend to be instinctively creative, rather than planning anything properly, but I'm going to suggest some alterations to the scene as a result of reading Story and then you can tell me if you think they make it better or worse (so I'm being analytical here, rather than creative).

    I would suggest that the man should be running to a meeting with an important client. Unable to grab lunch, he is desperate to get something that he can eat quickly on the move. Cue first two charge values as above. In his rush as he is turning away to then get to his meeting he is jostled by some other pedestrians. This presses the hot dog against his suit, ruining it and making him ill prepared for the meeting.

    I think this might strengthen the scene, because it encapsulates the whole passage in a believable motivation for why he wants that hot dog so damn much! The scene then escalates in charge values (initial anticipation, followed by slight frustration; calm handling of the problem, followed by anger which enclipses the frustrated sentiments from before; then culminates in satisfaction that he is going to get to the meeting on time with his food (initial scene motivation) to the crashing realisation that he is in no state to see clients with hot dog all over himself (and this is an ironic twist, because the object of his desire became a significant part of his downfall). So I think it frames it better, and you have a neat escalation of charges. What do you reckon?
     
  5. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I would never believe anyone that says you "have to have X number of scenes" in your novel to make it work. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't; it's totally up to the story's plot you're working with.

    Write your own novel your own way, and read, read, read like Maia says! I've sat down and read the 'bible' Stunk and White and found it to be next to useless. Why? Because its a total review of the grammar I was taught in school 25-30 years ago. Moral of the story: read successful writers, see what works and what doesn't, and then write your own novel using your lessons you've learned.
     
  6. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    Hi Kate. I can certainly see the benefit in that approach... of course it makes perfect sense. But I'm not being dogmatic in my approach to Mckee's book. The reason I started writing in the first place was because I wanted to do something different! What I have discovered however, is that there are serious problems with framework in what I've written. I now want to learn how to write in a more structured way before amalgamating those principles with everything I've learned over the last 3 years.
     
  7. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    The 'framework' people seek is a good, structured plot. However, writing is still basic grammar structures.

    However, I still think the best way is to read. Each person's style is so different, mine always has a thought, reflection, muse, something like that from the character in each paragraph just about. Overkill? Perhaps, but I want the character to drive the story as much as the action...

    for example:

    He walked in silence for several moments. It was refreshing to her to know that she had gotten under his skin. The cadre running this show must be delicately balanced, she mused, because everyone seemed to be the greediest, most power hungry person she had met. How they were all getting along beat the hell out of her though.

    For example, this is just a average ordinary, run-of-the-mill paragraph. Yet, if you notice the italics portion, you see what Kate's thinking at that very moment. It shows the reader what she thinks, feels and contemplates about what is happening before her. Sometimes, structure is just learning how to keep the reader in the mind of your character. A entire chapter can be one scene, or it could be many scenes that flip back and forth with page breaks. It's totally up to you, the writer to decide. I have many chapters in this novel that are total scenes in and of themselves. However, I also have several that are split between them...it depended on what I needed at the time. Sometimes, i split a scene into multiple chapters, depending on where there's a point that I can cliffhang the reader...

    So, relax, and let the ideas come to you...it will be okay in the end.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    your first post states that mckee 'suggests' that number, which to me equals that he's saying this many should be used...

    but in your second reference to the book, saying that novelists 'may have' means to me that there could be that many in some novels, not that all novelists are only allowed to use that many...

    so, till we know exactly what it was that mckee actually wrote, confusion reigns! ;-)
     
  9. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    It's 60+ i.e. may be more than 60. I doubt the author is saying that a book must have X number of scenes.

    A regular book is what, 60,000 words? If a scene takes, on average, about 1,000 words, then that would be about 60 scenes. But books are longer than that--maybe 80,000 words (or more). Also, scenes might take more than 1,000 words to complete. So that could still average somewhere around 60 scenes. Longer books could possibly have more.

    I've never read the book the OP mentions, but I think it's possible to reason out why the author might have said what he did. It seems to make sense.

    It might also be useful to talk a little about what is meant by 'scene' as he uses it. A scene, as I understand it, consists of: 1) a character, 2) his/her goal, 3) conflict - another character (antagonist) who denies the character from the goal, 4) setback - the result of the conflict. I'm sure we'll here from others and how they would answer the question, what is a scene? I'm curious if the author says what he means by it.
     
  10. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    I agree. I think they are to be interwoven. The point is that we aren't supposed to notice we're learning this stuff, I think. It just happens "naturally," so to speak. If two characters are walking along the road and one is explaining a whole bunch of stuff to the other guy, even if the other person is asking questions, it's boring. But if you introduce conflict, then the dialogue should be spicier and educational at the same time. Plus, you will probably have more opportunities to introduce information outside of dialogue (i.e. by setting, narration, etc.). I don't have a lot of experience writing fiction, so I'm just riffing off of what you said, but does that make sense?

    I understand what you mean by charge movement now. Thank you.

    Yes, I would say your revisions strengthen the scene. How did you go about identifying the things to improve there? Does it have something to do with charge movement?

    I have been working on developing scenes where the character has a goal, but fails due to another character's actions. In the followup, he reacts emotionally, then logically, reasoning his way to his new goal, and hence, a new scene.

    The charge movement concept seems obvious, but foreign to me at the same time. I don't consciously think in those terms when I'm writing a scene, but I can recognize the charges in a scene after the fact, upon analysis. Maybe it's just a matter of practice and conscious application.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for YA fiction, probably, but not adult market novels... most of those run 100k and up... many will weigh in at double that and some even more...
     
  12. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    Um... I guess laying down the charges helps. Also making sure they escalate is another useful tool. It's clear that the hotdog is the key part of the scene, so I just wanted to give the guy motivation (linking it into the beginning), and provide a causal link for the end (previously, it was just bad luck that the car went past, and it looks a bit farcical... if you take the fact that the man is hurried all the way through it's more logical that something could happen to the hotdog with a pedestrian)
     

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