Friday, November 24, 2006

What’s Left – McKee, character vs. plot

To re-emphasize, personality issues aside, McKee’s seminar was amazing and informative and several lightbulbs went off in my head during the LONG three days.

The man has exacting standards, has no time for clichés, no room for poor characterization, and God help you should you try and resolve a plot using coincidence.

One of the things he did really nicely was define character driven and plot driven.

Character driven – Here he told us, the hard part is creating the story. The central question being, what would have to happen to a person to make them change?

Plot driven – Here, the hard part is creating the characters. They have to be interesting, but not too complex, or the story becomes about the character.

Lately, I’ve heard a couple of people express that character driven stories don’t have a plot, which I’ve never agreed with. What McKee confirmed for me, was that plot is essential for an effective character driven story.

Consider that for each scene, a value in the protagonist’s life has to be at stake and at the end of the scene, the value has to have changed. Each turning point has to raise the stakes for the character, all leading to a climax that resolves the questions created throughout the book.

Tough to do without a framework.

McKee does not believe in writing without a structure. He believes the first thing that comes to a writers mind is inevitably a cliché, and not until we dig deeper, much deeper do we come up with ideas that will surprise and delight our readers. This I very much believe. We have to meet the emotional expectations of our readers, while surprising them along the way. If they expect a rich, engrossing romance, we have to give it to them, but not in the way they expect.

Easy to say, way, way harder to put into practice.

I definitely have a lot to think about going forward, but now I have great ideas for structure and character and guidelines to help me when the book isn’t going well.

The man may have been annoying, but those three days were really worthwhile, even with the constant burping and cursing.
On the down side, I still have not seen the new Bond… have to see that

7 comments:

Eileen said...

Really interesting post. Thanks

Maureen McGowan said...

Great post, Sinead! So far, I've been kind of a hybrid writer in terms of process, slowly moving from flying by the seat of my pants (first manuscript) to a more structured approach.

But, because of various quais-artifical deadlines I set for myself(getting things in for contests, etc.) the manuscript I'm revising right now... I did with only minimal up front work and I'm seriously paying for it right now. I think my standards of what makes a well told story have gone up (what I expect from myself) and I think my next book I'm going to do WAY more up front planning than I did for this one.

What he said about our first instincts being cliche is so true. (maybe not always, but in the majority of cases.) I remember Lisa Gardner saying for each major turning point in a book you should think of at least 8 different things, and then go with the 9th. (or something like that.)
I think what it boils down to, is we have to be willing to toss huge chunks of work or do tons of up front planning. Or both. (But, I hope, never get so inflexible about our "plans" that we can't surprise ourselves during the process.)

Maureen McGowan said...

that would be quasi, not quais.

Sinead M said...

I so agree, I remember that Lisa Gardner talk having a lot of lightbulb moments as well.
the ability to throw away work is so important... and so hard to do.

I need to think about things up front as well. The important things, which McKee did a great job identifying for me.

It would be nice to get smarter with each book..

Kimber said...

So true about the first run at it being cliche.

I find my first draft of anything is always shallow and well...a given. It's only after I've worked through the rough story, that I go back and add depth.

Shoot...I could kiss you (well, not really, don't get too excited)! Now I know what my problem has been with contests. I use them to test concepts and, as a result, never get past that first draft (because I've never written the complete novel). Shallow and lifeless indeed (combined with not really writing romance and...)

Duh...lightbulb moment.

Sinead M said...

Hey Kimber,

Contests are tough, and can be great, but also sometimes need to be taken with a grain of salt.

The not going with my first instinct was an AHA moment for me as well. I also know that my books never work on the first draft, or even the second.

It usually takes me finishing two drafts before I fully get what needs to be done..

Deb Kristy said...

The last several posts about McKee have been fantastic. Great food for thought. I've done a ton of up-front planning for this next one (though after reading Elizabeth George's "Write Away" I feel like I've barely started to plan!), and am hoping to be able to just jump in and plow through it. I'm adding your McKee notes to my little mental list, thanks.

And I saw Casino Royale last week. My favorite Bond, hands down. I'm so glad we've got a MAN back in the 007 seat, and I love that they've finally updated the entire concept and I can watch a woman in a Bond film without rolling my eyes. Excellent movie.

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