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*A Book Review*


By Robert McKee

by Michael C. Gray

September 12, 2011

Why am I writing a book review on a book about screenwriting for a business improvement website?

In order to be engaging, business writing, particularly of sales letters and advertising, should incorporate elements of great storytelling. Think of some of the great ads that are part of our culture: "Often a bridesmaid, never a bride", "They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play!", "The diary of a lonesome girl", "Imagine Harry and me advertising our pears in Fortune", and anything by J. Peterman ( They all incorporate great stories!

That is what Robert McKee's book is about. He looks at the peculiarities of storytelling on film. In a book, you can write about what is happening for the thoughts and feelings of the characters. In film, you must convey those thoughts and feelings by their actions.

I'll admit this book is rather rough sledding – 419 pages of text. It's rather like reading a book on human anatomy. Hopefully, when you finish the experience, you will have more insight into what makes a successful film story. Your enjoyment of movies can help carry you through this text.

The text includes analysis of plot and scenes from great films, like Casablanca and Chinatown.

An essential element of a good story that McKee emphasizes is conflict. "Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict." "Conflict is what will carry us through time without an awareness of the passage of time." "Story is metaphor for life, and to be alive is to be in seemingly perpetual conflict."

Another essential element of a good story is change. If there is no change, then nothing has happened. The audience walks out confused, wondering what this film was all about.

Analogizing to an advertisement, you start with a problem (conflict). You demonstrate, often using before and after photos or testimonials, how the product or service solves the problem (change).

As part of the process of explaining storytelling, McKee explains different genres of stories and emotional devices, such as suspense, and psychological exposition of characters.

If you are interested in screenwriting, this book is mandatory reading. It is also worthwhile reading for anyone who wants to improve his or her writing skills.

Buy it on Amazon: Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting.

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