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Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  14,255 ratings  ·  1,315 reviews
Robert McKee's screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all fl ...more
Hardcover, 466 pages
Published November 25th 1997 by It Books (first published 1997)
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Patrick Rogers All types. A sample from the book (paraphrased): Story research includes research of memory, which is the mining of our personal experience for use in…moreAll types. A sample from the book (paraphrased): Story research includes research of memory, which is the mining of our personal experience for use in our stories, and research of imagination, such as a writer contemplating in vivid detail what it is like to walk in her character’s shoes. The third element of story research is the most obvious: research of fact. Usually—but not always—determining one’s core story idea comes first, followed by story research.

“A beautifully told story is a symphonic unity in which structure, setting, character, genre and idea meld seamlessly,” he writes. “To find their harmony, the writer must study the elements of story as if they were the instruments of an orchestra—first separately, then in concert.”

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Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

A superb book that illuminates the purpose of writing stories and the most effective approach to penning tales that transcend the ordinary.

Sep 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: other
I think this is the first time where I read a book solely based off a scene in a movie. The scene can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VseQe...

Lines like, "You cannot have a protagonist without desire! It doesn't make sense! ANY. F****NG. SENSE!" and "WHY THE F*** WOULD YOU WASTE MY TWO PRECIOUS HOURS WITH YOUR MOVIE? I DON'T HAVE ANY USE FOR IT! ANY. BLOODY. USE FOR IT!" more or less had me drooling. For those of you who don't know anything about Robert McKee, he's the writing tea
Feb 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Josh by: Charlie Kaufman's twin brother
YES! It took me six months, but I finally, finished this bitch.

The reason it took me six months was that Story is incredibly dense, and in the best possible way. If you want to understand what makes for a good story, and how and why they work, this is the book to read. But you'll need to read it slow because this is the kind of dense where you'll want to stop and think about what you just read after every few pages to make sure it really sinks in.

Though oriented primarily towards screenwriting,
Spencer Orey
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Aimed at aspiring screenwriters but with a ton for everyone else too. It makes a strong argument about an approach to writing that's really clear and seems possible. There's a slightly dated tone that comes across as kind of art bro'y, but if you can get past that there's some gold here.

It's also the rare writing book where I learned something major in every chapter.

I almost wish there was a companion volume of other writers talking about this book. Seems like it warrants some big dis
Aug 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
In a past life I did a professional writing degree for my undergraduate BA – half of which was in script writing. I wish we had been taught the stuff that is contained in this book. This is such a good book it is hard to praise it too highly. The advice is clear and all of it good. From avoiding adverbs and adjectives in your treatment to the psychology of interesting characters this book has many very important things to say to anyone thinking about writing a screenplay (or anything else, if yo ...more
K.M. Weiland
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I can't believe it's taken me so long to read this book. I expected more of the same: structure, story elements, character tips. And those are certainly there. But Story actually deserves its tremendously broad title, because that's exactly what this book is: a discussion of *story.* It's theory and practicality all wrapped up into one module. McKee presents ideas I've never seen elsewhere, backed up by solid example after solid example and all in an extremely engaging and absorbing way. This is ...more
Ksenia Anske
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is not a book. This is like a school in a book. A master's degree. The amount of notes I took got out of hand, so I decided to just outright buy it, to have it handy. The best parts are the scene analysis chapters, which are pretty much the same for novel writing and screenwriting. Seeing a scene broken down into manageable bits has made it clear for me how to rewrite my scenes to make them better. Because if I can't write excellent scenes, I can't write an excellent book, period. So glad I ...more
Graeme Rodaughan
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-how-to
Putting this re-read aside - other priorities - still an excellent book.

This is the most useful book in my writing library. I literally read and reread this book until I had absorbed it's messages into the marrow of my bones.

An endlessly valuable resource that informs the basic structures both large and small of the stories that I write.

Worth reading even if you have no ambition to write for the insights that it will give you into the nature of story and narrative.

Written to support the developm
Jerilyn Marler
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As a freelance editor of any type of writing, I am always searching for insight, wisdom, guidance, illumination about the many forms of writing that cross my desk. I'd heard about McKee's "Story" but shied away because screenwriting is so far removed from my usual work. Or so I thought. I bought the digital version on a whim thinking that it might prove useful someday as a reference book. I was immediately hooked and read it straight through. Then I went back and highlighted many passages for fu ...more
Mathew Walls
Dec 07, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: textbooks
Holy shit, where to even start with this? It's bad in so many ways. The author comes across as a pompous, arrogant, narcissist who knows practically nothing and is even worse at communicating it. How is this guy so highly regarded? I feel dumber for having read this.

The actual content of this book, what little of it there is, is the most basic advice on writing mixed with the author's opinions on what makes a good movie (by which he clearly means what he personally likes, not what will make a po
David Rubenstein
Jun 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theater
I didn't read this book in order to be a good screenwriter. In fact, I have no ambition to write stories for film. Instead, as a film composer, I wanted to improve my understanding of how a story works. I wanted to learn about the arc of a good story, how scenes are constructed, and how characters work in a story. Most important, I wanted to learn how to distinguish a good story from a mediocre one, so that I could choose which films I would enjoy working on.

I was definitely not disappointed. Th
Jan 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
McKee may be a great screenwriter, but I certainly hope his classes are less pompous and verbose than this book is. It's poorly edited, with too much preaching, and long lists of movie titles cited as examples of a particular point. Since the style is to use ALL QUOTES for titles, when he goes on for a third of a page it just gets annoying.
In his acknowledgements, he thanks someone for their omnivorous will to omit needless words - his wife. Obviously she was too close to it all to tell him to j
Jul 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Robert McKee is the famous Hollywood screenwriting teacher gently poked fun at in the movie "Adaptation." Though that film could leave one with the impression that McKee teaches formula storytelling, this book is about how good stories transcend formula to become great art.

McKee has a masterful understanding of the fundamentals of story itself, and he writes with clarity about the basic story tools every writer must develop in order to move beyond cliche and into something original. Using examp
Jun 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If you're a writer of drama or fiction, you need to master these rules before you consider breaking them.

I knew from an early age that I wanted to write stories, but it wasn't till I was about 17 that I learned that there are actual methods, principles, and techniques involved in storytelling, when I received as a gift a copy of The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. Wow! What a revelation! I read it greedily.

Flash-forward to 1990. I was 31 and now had my own TV series, The Odyssey, in devel
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
This is the text that went along with his three-day seminar that I attended. Although it is primarily focused on the screenplay, it is equally suitable for a novel, and there were quite a few novelists in attendance at the seminar. Although the focus is on traditional story structure—something McKee believes has become a lost art—his emphasis is so heavily on character, and writing from the inside out, that if well executed, a reader/viewer would not be consciously aware of the story's structure ...more
Jun 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: cinema
The truth is that this whole concept of three acts and obligatory antagonist will make you unemployed screenwriter in 99,9% of cases. I know, I've witnessed it myself. In some ways the book is usefull, I think it gives pretty accurate analysis of turning points and different types of screenplays and genres, some other things maybe... But in general film bussiness has moved on from straight-forward "hero against something" concept, festival cinema and mass production for theatres and television a ...more
Benoit Lelièvre
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A classic, but reads a little bit like a dictionary. Don't got through it from cover to cover, but open it when you need a refresher on story structure. Unequaled in depth and understanding of storytelling. If you really want to understand the nuts and bolts of writing narrative fiction, this is your go-to book. ...more
Adam Page
Jun 18, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: potential screenwriters
I can understand how this book would be good for potential screenwriters; in fact, that's who this book is for exactly. However, the book does get tedious and has a lot of personal bias involved (a tendency that spills over into McKee's seminar, unfortunately). There is no story in "Story," so unless you are gung-ho about becoming a Hollywood writer, stay away from this one. ...more
Joanna Elm
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Rafael, Eldon Farrell,
This should be the bible for any writer of fiction whether writing movies or novels. This book became even more useful after I attended a 3-day McKee Story seminar while writing my third thriller. I highlight the aspects that were most helpful to me as a novelist on my latest website post at www.joannaelm.com/makes-good-story-be... ...more
James Morcan
Jul 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the very best books on the fundamentals of screenwriting. I found it provided me with inspiration before doing rewrites during pre-production on one of the recent feature films I made.
Jan 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-shelf, movies, writing
Why are there so many bad movies out there? I mean seriously - you and I both know that of all the films that are released every year, we probably get only one or two that are actually good. There's some that are good enough to spend an afternoon watching, maybe enjoyable enough that we'll want to watch it again on DVD later. But so many are just... bad.

It is my own fault, I think, for seeing Transformers 2. I have no one to blame but myself.

The really scary thing is that, in the summer of Trans
Dec 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Julie by: Write-O-Rama/Richard Hugo House
I discovered "Story" during a writing workshop last fall. Although the book focuses on the creation of screenplays, its principles are directly applicable writing the short story and novel.

McKee is an old school storyteller, which suits me to a "T". He insists that the writer respect the audience desire to be entertained, but intelligently and with integrity. He provides a classic structure of plot, progression, character development within one simple but profound concept: the protagonist has a
Miquel Reina
"Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting" is one of the bests books I've ever read about the complex Art of Writing. It's not only a "bible" for all upcoming screenwriters and filmmakers but also a treasure for all writers (novels, short stories...) Robert McKee gives us the basis of STORYTELLING, an art in itself, so complex and rich as the human brain. This book is a delicious journey through human history and the way we built stories, a map that guides us and t ...more
Patrick Sherriff
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-writing
I usually race through how-to-write books in a day or two, but this one took me a month because it is so damned good. And what a month. I found myself wanting to underline sections and scribble in virtual exclamation points!!! In triplicate!!! On my Kindle!!! And I hate exclamation points!!! Because, well, it's not so much that McKee was telling me anything I hadn't read before in the writing-craft circuit, but dammit, the way he said it, the waaaaaay he said made this storytelling business fina ...more
Ben Starling
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Well, this book certainly covered all the topics one would hope for in a book on writing craft. It was a bit on the theoretical/academic side for me. I was looking for something that was more practical. But if you are looking for something theoretical/academic, then you would have your bases covered here. I will keep the book on my shelf, but for use more as a reference text. Still, solidly written throughout and I am happy with the purchase.
Bahareh Mahooti
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: screenwriting
this book is fantastic and it has become my bible since I bought it. it doesn't just give you "How to s"... but also gives deepest views on elements of storytelling. It's one of the best book about screenwriting that I have ever read. so I recommend it to anybody who wants to do serious writing in screenwriting field.
you are the best McKee!!!
Chaunceton Bird
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
There is a science to this art, and Mr. McKee seems to understand it quite well. For any aspiring author of screenplays, plays, or novels, this is recommended reading.
Apr 30, 2016 rated it liked it
UPDATE: Once a year or so I get the urge to return to attempts at screenwriting: it's actually a cheap hobby that's a great mental exercise. In the past, I've bought stacks of books about screenwriting: this is one of a handful I've kept and referenced. It's a stupendously fast read with some very good points. My review below digresses away from the book itself, as all my reviews eventually tend to do, but all in all, McKee is as good as anyone else in Hollywood at kick-starting your career.
C.J. English
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Holy mother of baby Jesus I finished. This thing is a beast and the thought of reading it a second or third time is unthinkable but NECESSARY, at least for me. I highlighted so much that my highlights have highlights. Still, I recommend STORY for anyone wanting a deep understanding of the craft of storytelling. I am a very picky reader and writer, a hyper critic of stories in print or on the screen. If the story doesn't grab me, suck me in whole and squeeze my heart so hard I can't get out of my ...more
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I learned a lot from reading book. I got many of good ideas regarding my own experiments in writing fiction. I paused the audiobook, from time to time, to apply an idea to the various stories I'm juggling.

The author is very opinionated, and his whole "lazy writing threatens the art of writing screenplays" thing is a little hyperbolic. I like what he says about deus ex machina, though.

Sometimes he would use words in a way I'm not used to, like "value" and "charge". This is a textbook in the sense
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Robert McKee began his show business career at age nine playing the title role in a community theatre production of MARTIN THE SHOEMAKER. He continued acting as a teenager in theatre productions in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Upon receiving the Evans Scholarship, he attended the University of Michigan and earned a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature. While an undergraduate, he acted in ...more

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