What makes a good story?
Robert McKee’s aptly titled book, Story, is at first glance a how-to guide for screenwriters. Sure, most writers eschew any sort of how-to advice, but the beauty of the book isn’t that it tells how to format a screen play (it doesn’t) or when to place the inciting incident (not that, either).
The book talks about story— the type where we leave the theater and can’t stop thinking about it; the characters seem as real as friends, the plot contrived by the heavens. Story, McKee notes, is simply metaphor for life. Each author designs his or her story to communicate how life works. Story continually says, “This is what life is like.”
And, the essential element to story—like life—is risk. Add risk, blood-as-sweat inducing risk, and you’re on your way to a great story. Yet, in our postmodern (or post-postmodern) world, story has often been whittled down to an assemblage of interesting moments, or characters more acted upon than acting. McKee is a classicist, and we are classicists by which movies we go see (even if we don’t want to believe it).
The true beauty of the book, however, is that life imitates art. Story is as much about what we watch as it is about what we live. He closes, urging his writers to write every day—or all of us to live every day. “Do this without fear…For above all else, above imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, courage to risk rejection, ridicule, and failure.” McKee urges us to ask, Is the story I’m living…worth watching?