storyStory: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

My rough summary: In Hollywood Robert McKee is so famous for his crotchety screenwriting masterclasses he was portrayed in the film Adaptation. In some ways he is the Grandpa Simpson of story skills, but with the wisdom of a real guru. His understanding of advanced techniques are not only relevant to budding film-makers, but anyone who cares about making a story have real and lasting impact.

Some quotes:
  • Literary and story talent are not only distinctively different but are unrelated, for stories do not need to be written to be told. Stories can be expressed any way human beings can communicate.
  • …select only a few moments but give us a lifetime.
  • Each tale you create says to the audience: “I believe life is like this.” Every moment must be filled with your passionate conviction or we smell a phony.
  • …the source of all clichés can be traced to one thing and one thing alone: The writer does not know the world of his story.
  • Limitation is vital. The first step toward a well-told story is to create a small, knowable world.
  • Genre conventions are the rhyme scheme of a storyteller’s “poem.” They do not inhibit creativity, they inspire it. The challenge is to keep convention but avoid cliché.
  • The function of CHARACTER is to bring to the story the qualities of characterization necessary to convincingly act out choices. …For this reason the phrase “character-driven story” is redundant. All stories are “character-driven.”
  •  William Goldman argues that the key to all story endings is to give the audience what it wants, but not the way it expects.
  • You do not keep the audience’s interest by giving it information, but by withholding information, except that which is absolutely necessary for comprehension.
  • Think of all the bad films you’ve sat through for no other reason than to get the answer to that nagging question. We may make the audience cry or laugh, but above all, as Charles Reade noted, we make it wait.
  • Writing from the outside in — writing dialogue in search of scenes, writing scenes in search of story — is the least creative method.
  • If I could send a telegram to the film producers of the world, it would be these three words: “Meaning Produces Emotion.” Not money; not sex; not special effects; not movie stars; not lush photography. MEANING: A revolution in values from positive to negative or negative to positive with or without irony—a value swing at maximum charge that’s absolute and irreversible. The meaning of that change moves the heart of the audience.
  • The first draft of anything is shit. — ERNEST HEMINGWAY

How I’ve used this: These skills can go into everything from a blog post or email to a long video piece. But outside of content made by organisations, I want to get something of these skills out to charity supporters, so they feel more empowered and able to tell a compelling story that will change attitudes and never get forgotten.