Narrative nailed dead - McKee gets a beating

edited December 2006 in Story Games
Robert McKee gets a solid beating in the Guardian newspaper:
Narrative nailed dead

I was just thinking that Story Games is a decent solution to this pre-fab, bland mainsteam story killing. Isn't it?



  • edited December 2006
    Actually, it's pretty apparent from the article that the author's never read "Story," which is pretty clear that you don't have to follow the formula if you're really good, and that McKee's formula expressly doesn't apply to a wide class of minimalist or avant-garde films. But unless you're really good, it's probably better to start with the training wheels.

    In fact, I think "Story" is probably a candidate for an SG book club. It had some good observations in it, which applies to Sorcerer, Shadow of Yesterday, and Primetime Adventures, at the least.
  • Oy.

    And this is not simply about fiction; I heard a TV producer admit that story is now colonising narrative history; and where the facts don't fit the template they are simply set aside. In the recent BBC docu-drama on the history of Rome it became apparent that the life and times of Emperor Augustus didn't conform to the demands of story to make the series: where was his third act crisis?

    Ah, yes. Pining for the good old days, when history was clear and no narrative concerns colored our paradigm.

    But aside from snarking back at this eye-rolling comment, I don't have much to say about the book because I haven't read it. Could someone write a review?

  • edited December 2006
    Posted By: pfischer
    I was just thinking that Story Games is a decent solution to this pre-fab, bland mainsteam story killing. Isn't it?
    Actually, rather than a solution, I'd say that the bulk of Narr efforts have been guilty of emulating the output of Hollywood's story-by-committee-as-product.
  • edited December 2006
    Hi Curly,

    I find your examples somewhat unclear.

    Are you railing against studio notes? Or writers? Are you railing against having writers? (You seem very concerned about getting the story away from this "committee of writers" thing -- but I couldn't quite tell what you mean by this.)

    Are you railing against the dramatic arts being a social activity? (You seem relieved when all the "individual" artists finally get that script away from the "committee" of screenwriters, finaly letting an artist to do his one thing -- as in your "Passing the baton metaphor" -- which kind of makes no sense if you've ever been on a set or in a play. No one, except maybe the editor, is alone in his or her work -- and even that is rare.)

    (Oh, yeah, and how am I supposed to be excited about the baton being passed to Michael Bay?)

    Are you upset that writers (just like any other artist), uses organizing principals to produce work that's organized in some way? Whether its selecting colors for a painter, or, perhaps (but perhaps not), a thematic question -- you gotta make choices somehow. Even David Lynch' "it's like a dream" is a choice for oganizing his material.

    Are you upset about obsessions with formulaic structure? In what resepect? That there's a beginning middle and end (which is what the linked article seems to be bitching about.) Or what? Could you give me an example from BSG -- which apparently does what you think it does. But because you weren't clear about what you think it does. I don't think you were talking about blunt story three act structure since episodes like "Scar" and "Unfinished Business" were terrific in using elipitical storytelling to great dramatic effect.

    I've never read McKee's book. I've never read Hero's Journey. So can't comment on them.

    I did read Egri's book after reading Ron Edward's essay. I thought immediately of Walter Kerr's terrific book "How Not to Write a Play." I knew Kerr had written his book in response to another book -- and now I finally found out which one! I think if you wrote plays according to Egri's dictates there would be something airless about the whole procedure.

    But, are you complaining that Ron actually advocates using Egri's "how-to" structure? Cause he doesnt'. What he advocates is simply putting the protagonist under the pressure of a moral dilema -- which is one facet of what Egri writes about. Whether the protagonist "Changes" or "learns a life lesson" (as Mark was concerned about recently) -- is up to the player at the table controlling the character. No need to know if it will turn out well or bad at all until play is finished.

    Now, in your view if putting a character under the pressure of a moral dilmea is the doom of good cinema or storytelling -- well, I suppose one could have that view. And I don't know if you see it that way. But certainly I'd be hard pressed to say it was a terribly binding threat of creative corrosion. Do you NEED to do it? I suppose not. But I find that putting the screw to a character so he or she has to make choices every few moments or so -- little one or big ones -- keeps a tale interesting. It's part of what life is about, and thus valuable. But it's a good tool for construction -- again, like using a limited pallet to construct a painting. It gives focus and order to the work. Whether the focus and order is to good effect is a whole other matter.

    I ask these questions because if there's going to be a discussion about these things, we better admit fast there's a whole ball of ideas and notions all bound together. Teasing them out clearly will be the only chance to make anything useful from it.

    Could you give specific examples from application and practice of what you're talking about -- if possible from play -- and what specific thing is happening to make the action "formulaic" and unhealthy for creative pursuits?


  • edited December 2006
    Well, that was rather unfair.

    For those of you who showed up late, while I was writing the post above, Curly edited his first somewhat scattered post into an admittedly tidier post.

    Still, Curly, my curiosity and question still stand. "Guilty" means bad. Yet Hollywood movies are loved around the world. Many people have ingenious theories for how this crime happens. Here's mine: We tell good stories.

    They're not "art" in the sense that most people use art to mean -- something rarified, something that appeals to a certain segement of the world's population with a certain education and set of tastes. (By the way, I believe I am one of those people with a certain education and set of tastes -- though I am often seen as a traitor to my kind.)

    This doesn't mean that solid story-telling can't be art. But it's not the product of the Enlightenment Heroic Artist speaking his singular vision. But then, the dramatic arts have always been a social activity -- social in production, about characers interacting socially, to be experienced by a social audience. (This is why I think RPGs are a natural child of the dramatic arts.)

    I'm not naive about the horrors of Hollywood. God knows there are turkeys produced by "committee." But I'm not sure what specifically you are talking about when you tie these horror stories to RPGs.

    Could you break down for me some of the reasons why you use the word "guilty"? Could you be specific about what specific things people do with these Story Games that cause bad effect?

    If not, it's going to become a quick free for all fo people thrusting and defending and jabbing -- without quite knowing what anyone is talking about.

  • edited December 2006
    Incidentally, I think it would be interesting to create RPG's that handle McKeey's notions of "mini-plot" and "non-plot" works.

    Also - I think the whole approach of marketing creative writing into "Art" rather than "art" or "craft" is socially harmful, but that's a topic that probably has little bearing on StoryGames directly.
  • Christopher,

    Thank you for giving so much attention to what I said.

    I apologize for pulling the rug out from under you. I edited the original post because I thought it wasn't clear-enough, and would only lead to confusion. And, sure enough, it did. If I realized someone was already attempting to untangle it, I wouldn't have deleted it.

    I'll try to give you a fair response tomorrow, but it's 5:15 a.m. here now. Good night.
  • edited December 2006
    Cool man.

    I hope you had a good time last night!


    PS edited to add: "unfair" was probably the wrong choice of word, as it implied intent... What happened is what I expected had happened. I should have said "unfortunate."
  • Christopher,

    All I really said was that disciples of McKee stand accused by the UK Guardian (not by me)
    of imposing a one-size-fits-all pattern on all sorts of stories, instead of letting the stories
    organically emerge, each in their own shape.

    pfischer speculated that story games might be a "solution".

    I replied that, if anything, most Narr games are "guilty" of what McKee-followers are "accused" of.
    In short, using a 'system' devised to encourage a desired type of story results.

    And, yes, the gamers' desired type is often the same as Hollywood's desired type.

    Guilty has a negative connotation, but I wasn't applying a value judgement.

    In fact, I prefer focussed play to the kind Random Walk game where 'we'll just play and play and play
    and sooner or later something worthwhile will show itself, if we're lucky'.

    On the other hand, I'm quite taken with "On Directing Film" by David Mamet-- so I find some of
    McKee's structural rules to be extraneous.

    Is this enough to make my actual position clear?
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