There are hundreds of books out there that say they’ll teach you ‘everything’ you need to know about writing.
Most of them are written by people who’ve never earned a penny from fiction. (They earn their money writing ‘how to earn money from fiction’ guides…) Presumably you know this, which is why you’re checking out this review of Story!
I HAVE earned money from fiction. Not millions, not even hundreds of thousands. But enough to make paying my bills at the end of the month easier.
If that’s the stage you’re at with fiction and you want to get better, I recommend three books:
- The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
- Story by Robert McKee
- Dialogue by Robert McKee
I learned more from these three books than I did from a three year, £15,000 creative writing degree. And I WISH I was exaggerating by saying that.
If you read these two books and actually USE the information, your fiction will improve by shedloads.
What’s more, you’ll be miles ahead of most other writers: the simple (slightly sad) truth is that most ‘writers’ don’t invest money or time in trying to get better.
Story by Robert McKee will improve your ability to tell stories that get readers turning the page, which is – after all – sort of the point.
McKee is a bit of an enigma. Suffice to say that Pixar apparently send ALL new writers to one of McKee’s seminars.
I wasn’t quite sure how much I could learn from someone who hasn’t actually published anything, (We writers and our egos, eh?) Buuut, eventually I reasoned that if it was good enough for Pixar – and for John Cleese, who’s one of the endorsers on the back cover – it was good enough for me.
Erm, it says it’s a screenwriting book
Yup, it sure does. And yeah, Story is based around screenwriting.
But, so what?
A good plot is a good plot. If you learn the principles of effective storytelling, you can use them for EVERY type of creative work. Fiction, scripts, short films, even dramatic poems
Anyway, here’s the rub:
Nearly all of the advice in this book can be transferred to prose fiction. For instance, I’ve learned a host of things:
- ‘Turning’ a scene. NOT doing this is the reason readers give up halfway through a book.
- The value of ‘change’. But also how to actually implement change in a way that’s more subtle than how most writers do it.
- How to break down scenes to their micro-components to ensure that even in so-called ‘boring’ scenes, – or ‘scenes where nothing happens’ the reader is still gripped. (This was worth the price of the book alone: I could never work out how the hell some books kept me reading even though nothing was happening in the plot!)
- How to discover a story’s ‘design’, so that your story remains consistent with itself and doesn’t piss off the reader!
- The difference between GENRE and SUB-GENRE, and how failing to master both can create an uneven, unsatisfying story.
- How to use CRISIS effectively, so that you can give the reader what they’re expecting AND surprise them at the same time.
And so on.
Story by Robert McKee holds more value and will teach you more about story structure than most degrees. I have both the paperback and e-book versions, but recommend the former: this is a reference book, and flicking back and forth in an ebook is a pain in the ass!
(Oh and I’m not kidding about the degree thing. As I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really did spend more than 15k on a writing degree at one of the UK’s oldest universities. I learned more from a couple of hours reading Story than I did during three years as an under-graduate.)
For less than the price of a takeaway, you can enjoy a lifetime’s education in writing.