Robert McKee is considered the master of movie storytelling. For more than 25 years, he’s given a wildly popular three-day intensive seminar around the world, from LA to Lisbon, and coached hundreds of aspiring and veteran screenwriters. His book, Story, is a bestselling classic and has only added to his reputation. His former students have written successful films like A Beautiful Mind and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and hit TV series like Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs.
In an information-packed interview, he described three common flaws that he finds in many of the scripts he reads and films he sees:
“Dull scenes: For reasons of weak conflict or perhaps poor shaping of beats of behavior, the scene falls flat. The value-charged condition of the characters’ lives at the tail of the scene is exactly what it was at the head of the scene. Activity never becomes story action. In short, nothing actually happens, nothing actually changes.”
Awkward exposition: To convenience the writer, characters tell each other what they all already know so the eavesdropping reader/audience can gather in the information. This false behavior causes the reader/audience to lose empathy.”
“Clichés: The writer recycles the same events and characters we have seen countless times before, thinking that if he or she writes like other writers have, they too will find success.”
While McKee is talking about screenplays, these weaknesses are also found in plays or novels. I especially like his comments on dull scenes. Creating scenes where there is action, not just activity — scenes that actually advance a story’s plot are the kind we want to craft. Write on!
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