A Day in the Life of a Writer: Wisdom from McKee
I’m reading McKee’s Story along with one of my writing partners, and we’re both finding gems. Sure, screenwriters are the intended audience, but story structure is story structure. My favorite lines so far:
“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” (24).
Reminds me of quantum physics. Y’know how an electron seems to know when it’s watched? And it won’t move if you’re looking at it? At least, that used to be the case, but now they’ve found a way to trap an atom in a vacuum so they can watch it jump. Kind of sad, really. No more mystery. But Truth–now that is not something you can trap in a vacuum.
Sometimes little “t’ truth can magnify big “T” Truth, but the writer must lay those words down lightly, respectfully. For example, please don’t write an overwrought scene between a victim and her abuser and expect the reader to take away anything but a grimace. Seriously. Knock that shit off.
If you want to portray abuse, and you want to use “accurate reportage,” as McKee puts it, show everything but the victim, and refrain from telling your reader what those facts mean.
For example, a living room snapshot:
A clear glass ashtray sits neatly upside down on the rug, empty, but Shelly smells cigarette smoke. No, it smells more like a barbecue, she thinks. It’s a distant scent, like it’s coming from the patio down the street, wafting through the window. The front door slams and she ducks in reflex, and suddenly the scent is up close. She hears a car peel away from the house at the same time she realizes she is sitting, naked, on a small pile of burning cigarettes.
That needs tweaking, but it should give you an idea of how you can give small details without hitting your reader over the head with angst. I think the angst is inevitable in a rough draft. Just eradicate it in your rewrites so your reader doesn’t want to stab his eyes out.
There’s something different about your writing in this post. It has flow and voice and purpose. I think you’ve found your mojo, toots!
love the information. please keep sharing these gems you’re getting from the book. I’m passing this on to brooke, as our elephant story is not just a bunch of facts that I’m collecting. . . .
I’m not a screenwriter, but I’m a writer and a reader. I agree with your comment. The last scene where the woman realizes she’s sitting on a pile of burning cigarettes is much more appealing than describing the act in itself. Your example builds tension and strikes the reader by surprise. I think it would make for a more compelling visual scene also.