(I originally published this article on my other blog, LA Screenwriter, but I think Mr. McKee’s advice can be applied to all types of storytelling arts.)
I recently participated in a free teleconference put on by the International Screenwriters Association with the legend himself, Robert McKee. Robert had a proliferation of valuable advice to dispense over the hour-long Q&A session, and I did my best to take notes on what I found to be his most interesting points. Here are some highlights:
- Robert was repeatedly annoyed by questions about the “biggest” mistakes or the “best” way to do something because he doesn’t believe in pre-packaged writing tools. (However, he did indulge the group with some examples of “big” mistakes, “better” ways, etc.)
- One major mistake that beginning writers tend to make is being impatient. Don’t put an explosion on the first page and then go back and explain what happened in subsequent pages. It’s sloppy storytelling and experienced readers won’t be impressed. Take the time to establish your characters and your world in a beautiful way.
- On the topic of mixing genres, Robert said that mixing genres can help dimensionalize characters – if all your character does is fall in love, they’re not going to be an interesting character. We also mix genres to try to create a film that hasn’t been seen before. Everything has been done – no one is going to invent an entirely new genre. Robert thinks that the innovative films of the future will come from writers merging genres.
- Write the truth. The other way to say this is ‘Don’t lie.’ When you read what you’ve written, Robert suggests that you ask yourself, “Is this an honest expression of what I believe it is to be a human being? Is this the truth from my point of view?” If you don’t write what you believe, you’ll never convince anyone. People are great lie detectors, Robert noted. Many people write films that they don’t believe in because they believe the masses will. This type of thinking leads to terrible filmmaking. Robert added that lying in order to make money should be left to lawyers, not writers. Never write what you think people want to hear – write what people need to hear. Continue reading