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Story Book Summary, Review, Notes

Story by Robert McKee is about storytelling principles that you use in screenwriting, content writing, and even life in general.

Book Title: Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
Author: Robert McKee
Date of Reading: January 2018
Rating: 8/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:


Story is divided into four parts. Each part covers the main elements of storytelling that writers use in different formats, but the main focus in the book is on screenwriting.


The Writer and the Art of Story


… is the first part of Story. It only has one chapter, The Story Problem, where McKee introduces us to storytelling in general.


The Elements of Story


…is the second part of Story. This is where McKee explains different elements of story such as genre, character, and meaning of the story. The chapters in this part are:

  • 2. The Structure Spectrum
  • 3. Structure and Setting
  • 4. Structure and Genre
  • 5. Structure and Character
  • 6. Structure and Meaning


The Principles of Story Design


…is the third part of Story. This is where McKee talks about the essence of stories and screenwriting. We learn how to compose a scene and act in this part, alongside composition and creating an Inciting Event (like Call to Adventure by Joseph Campbell). The chapters here are:

  • 7. The Substance of Story
  • 8 The Inciting Incident
  • 9. Act Design
  • 10. Scene Design
  • 11. Scene Analysis
  • 12. Composition
  • 13. Crisis, Climax, Resolution


The Writer at Work


…is the fourth part of Story. This is where McKee introduces us to the importance of antagonists, handling expositions, and writing out a character and their decisions. The chapters here are:

  • 14. The Principle of Antagonism
  • 15. Exposition
  • 16. Problems and Solutions
  • 17. Character
  • 18. The Text
  • 19. A Writer’s Method


Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:


PART 1 The Writer and the Art of Story




“A rule says, “You must do it this way.” A principle says, “This works … and has through all remembered time.”

“Second, once inside this alien world, we find ourselves. Deep within these characters and their conflicts we discover our own humanity. We go to the movies to enter a new, fascinating world, to inhabit vicariously another human being who at first seems so unlike us and yet at heart is like us, to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality”

“Like Pascal, screenwriters learn that economy is key, that brevity takes time, that excellence means perseverance.”

“The honest, big-city answer to all these fears is that you’ll get an agent, sell your work, and see it realized faithfully on screen when you write with surpassing quality … and not until. If you knock out a knockoff of last summer’s hit, you’ll join the ranks of lesser talents who each year flood Hollywood with thousands of cliché-ridden stories. Rather than agonizing over the odds, put your energies into achieving excellence. If you show a brilliant, original screenplay to agents, they’ll fight for the right to represent you. The agent you hire will incite a bidding war among story-starved producers, and the winner will pay you an embarrassing amount of money.” 

“When talented people write badly it’s generally for one of two reasons: Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they’re driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.” 


1. The Story Problem


“If your dream were to compose music, would you say to yourself: “I’ve heard a lot of symphonies … I can also play the piano … I think I’ll knock one out this weekend”? No. But that’s exactly how many screenwriters begin: “I’ve seen a lot of flicks, some good and some bad … I got A’s in English … vacation time’s coming …”

“So the writer embraces the principle, Tell Story … then freezes. For what is story? The idea of story is like the idea of music. We’ve heard tunes all our lives. We can dance and sing along. We think we understand music until we try to compose it and what comes out of the piano scares the cat.”

“Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly. Master storytellers know how to squeeze life out of the least of things, while poor storytellers reduce the profound to the banal.” 

“Story talent is primary, literary talent secondary but essential.” 


Part 2 The Elements of Story 


2. The Structure Spectrum


“But this complex expanse of life story must become the story told. To design a feature film, you must reduce the seething mass and rush of life story to just two little hours, more or less, that somehow express everything you left out.”

Generally the test of whether a series of activities constitutes a true scene is this: Could it have been written “in one,” in a unity of time and place? In this case the answer is yes.

“A film like BARTON FINK sits at the center, drawing qualities from each of the three extremes. It begins as the story of a young New York playwright (single protagonist) who’s trying to make his mark in Hollywood (active conflict with external forces) —Archplot. But Fink (John Turturro) becomes more and more reclusive and suffers a severe writer’s block (inner conflict)—Miniplot. When that progresses into hallucination, we grow less and less sure of what’s real, what’s fantasy (inconsistent realities), until nothing can be trusted (fractured temporal and causal order)—Antiplot. The ending is rather open, with Fink staring out to sea, but it’s fairly certain he’ll never write in that town again.”

“These cycles between formality/freedom, symmetry/asymmetry are as old as Attic theatre. The history of art is a history of revivals: Establishment icons are shattered by an avantgarde that in time becomes the new establishment to be attacked by a new avant-garde that uses its grandfather’s forms of weapons. Rock ‘n’ roll, which was named after black slang for sex, began as an avant-garde movement against the whitebread sounds of the postwar era. Now it’s the definition of musical aristocracy and even used as church music.” 

“But angry contradiction of the patriarch is not creativity; it’s delinquency calling for attention. Difference for the sake of difference is as empty an achievement as slavishly following the commercial imperative. Write only what you believe.”


3. Structure and Setting


“If your drama is set among the gated estates of West L.A., we won’t see homeowners protesting social injustice by rioting in their tree-lined streets, although they might throw a thousand-dollar-a-plate fund-raiser. If your setting is the housing projects of East L.A.’s ghetto, these citizens won’t dine at thousand-dollar-a plate galas, but they might hit the streets to demand change. A STORY must obey its own internal laws of probability. The event choices of the writer, therefore, are limited to the possibilities and probabilities within the world he creates.” 

“All fine stories take place within a limited, knowable world. No matter how grand a fictional world may seem, with a close look you’ll discover that it’s remarkably small.”

“The irony of setting versus story is this: The larger the world, the more diluted the knowledge of the writer, therefore the fewer his creative choices and the more clichéd the story. The smaller the world, the more complete the knowledge of the writer, therefore the greater his creative choices. Result: a fully original story and victory in the war on cliché.”  

“CREATIVITY means creative choices of inclusion and exclusion.” 

“Suppose, however, as you question the meeting-cute scenes on your list, deep in your gut you realize that, while all have their virtues, your first impression was right. Cliché or not, these lovers would meet in a singles bar; nothing could be more expressive of their natures and milieu. Now what do you do? Follow your instincts and start a new list: a dozen different ways to meet in a singles bar. Research this world, hang out, observe the crowd, get involved, until you know the singles bar scene like no writer before you.”

“No one has to see your failures unless you add vanity to folly and exhibit them. Genius consists not only of the power to create expressive beats and scenes, but of the taste, judgment, and will to weed out and destroy banalities, conceits, false notes, and lies.”


4. Structure and Genre


 “Through tens of thousands of years of tales told at fireside, four millennia of the written word, twenty-five hundred years of theatre, a century of film, and eight decades of broadcasting, countless generations of storytellers have spun story into an astonishing diversity of patterns.”

“To anticipate the anticipations of the audience you must master your genre and its conventions.” 

“A Love Story is not a cliché but a necessary element of form—a convention. The cliché is that they meet as Love Story lovers have always met: Two dynamic individualists are forced to share an adventure and seem to hate each other on sight; or two shy souls, each carrying the torch for someone who won’t give them the time of day, find themselves shunted to the edge of a party with no one else to talk to, and so on.”


5. Structure and Character


TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure—the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.” 

“Pressure is essential. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little. If a character chooses to tell the truth in a situation where telling a lie would gain him nothing, the choice is trivial, the moment expresses nothing. But if the same character insists on telling the truth when a lie would save his life, then we sense that honesty is at the core” 

“The function of CHARACTER is to bring to the story the qualities of characterization necessary to convincingly act out choices. Put simply, a character must be credible: young enough or old enough, strong or weak, worldly or naive, educated or ignorant, generous or selfish, witty or dull, in the right proportions. Each must bring to the story the combination of qualities that allows an audience to believe that the character could and would do what he does.”

“In other words, for a film to have a chance in the world, the last act and its climax must be the most satisfying experience of all. For no matter what the first ninety minutes have achieved, if the final movement fails, the film will die over its opening weekend.” 


6. Structure and Meaning


“STORYTELLING is the creative demonstration of truth. A story is the living proof of an idea, the conversion of idea to action. A story’s event structure is the means by which you first express, then prove your idea … without explanation.”

“Master storytellers never explain. They do the hard, painfully creative thing—they dramatize. Audiences are rarely interested, and certainly never convinced, when forced to listen to the discussion of ideas.” 

“Value means the primary value in its positive or negative charge that comes into the world or life of your character as a result of the final action of the story. For example: An upending Crime Story (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) returns an unjust world (negative) to justice (positive), suggesting a phrase such as “Justice is restored …” In a down-ending Political Thriller (MISSING), the military dictatorship commands the story’s world at climax, prompting a negative phrase such as “Tyranny prevails …” A positive ending Education Plot (GROUNDHOG DAY) arcs the protagonist from a cynical, self serving man to someone who’s genuinely selfless and loving, leading to “Happiness fills our lives …” A negative ending Love Story (DANGEROUS LIAISONS) turns passion into self-loathing, evoking “Hatred destroys us when we fear the opposite sex …”


Robert Mckee Quote


“If, in a morality tale, you were to write your antagonist as an ignorant fool who more or less destroys himself, are we persuaded that good will prevail? But if, like an ancient myth-maker, you were to create an antagonist of virtual omnipotence who reaches the brink of success, you would force yourself to create a protagonist who will rise to the occasion and become even more powerful, more brilliant. In this balanced telling your victory of good over evil now rings with validity.” 

“In 388 B.C., Plato urged the city fathers of Athens to exile all poets and storytellers. They are a threat to society, he argued. Writers deal with ideas, but not in the open, rational manner of philosophers. Instead, they conceal their ideas inside the seductive emotions of art. Yet felt ideas, as Plato pointed out, are ideas nonetheless. Storytellers, Plato insisted, are dangerous people. He was right.”

“No civilization, including Plato’s, has ever been destroyed because its citizens learned too much truth.”

“Authoritative personalities, like Plato, fear the threat that comes not from idea, but from emotion. Those in power never want us to feel. Thought can be controlled and manipulated, but emotion is willful and unpredictable. Artists threaten authority by exposing lies and inspiring passion for change. This is why when tyrants seize power, their firing squads aim at the heart of the writer.” 


Part 3 The Principles of Story Design 


7. The Substance of Story


“A STORY must build to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.”

“The PROTAGONIST must be empathetic; he may or may not be sympathetic. Sympathetic means likable. Empathetic means “like me.”

“The unconscious logic of the audience runs like this: “This character is like me. Therefore, I want him to have whatever it is he wants, because if I were he in those circumstances, I’d want the same thing for myself.” Hollywood has many synonymic expressions for this connection: “somebody to get behind,” “someone to root for.”

“Macbeth, for example, viewed objectively, is monstrous. He butchers a kindly old King while the man is sleeping, a King who had never done Macbeth any harm—in fact, that very day he’d given Macbeth a royal promotion. Macbeth then murders two servants of the King to blame the deed on them. He kills his best friend. Finally he orders the assassination of the wife and infant children of his enemy. He’s a ruthless killer; yet, in Shakespeare’s hands he becomes a tragic, empathetic hero.”

“You know that even the most talented writers—Oliver Stone, Lawrence Kasdan, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala—didn’t find success until they were in their thirties or forties, and just as it takes a decade or more to make a good doctor or teacher, it takes ten or more years of adult life to find something to say that tens of millions of people want to hear, and ten or more years and often as many screenplays written and unsold to master this demanding craft.” 


Robert Mckee Quote 2


“You’re willing to risk people. Each morning you go to your desk and enter the imagined world of your characters. You dream and write until the sun’s setting and your head’s throbbing. So you turn off your word processor to be with the person you love. Except that, while you can turn off your machine, you can’t turn off your imagination. As you sit at dinner, your characters are still running through your head and you’re wishing there was a notepad next to your plate. Sooner or later, the person you love will say: “You know… you’re not really here.” Which is true. Half the time you’re somewhere else, and no one wants to live with somebody who isn’t really there. The writer places time, money, and people at risk because his ambition has life defining force. What’s true for the writer is true for every character he creates: The measure of the value of a character’s desire is in direct proportion to the risk he’s willing to take to achieve it; the greater the value, the greater the risk.”

“Once you’ve imagined the scene, beat by beat, gap by gap, you write. What you write is a vivid description of what happens and the reactions it gets, what is seen, said, and done. You write so that when someone else reads your pages he will, beat by beat, gap by gap, live through the roller coaster of life that you lived through at your desk. The words on the page allow the reader to plunge into each gap, seeing what you dreamed, feeling what you felt, learning what you understood until, like you, the reader’s pulse pounds, emotions flow, and meaning is made.”


8 The Inciting Incident


“A story is a design in five parts: The Inciting Incident, the first major event of the telling, is the primary cause for all that follows, putting into motion the other four elements —Progressive Complications, Crisis, Climax, Resolution.” 

“Authenticity, however, does not mean actuality. Giving a story a contemporary milieu is no guarantee of authenticity; authenticity means an internally consistent world, true to itself in scope, depth, and detail. As Aristotle tells us: “For the purposes of [story] a convincing impossibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility.” We can all list films that had us moaning: “I don’t buy it. People aren’t like that. Makes no sense. That’s not how things happen.” Authenticity has nothing to do with so-called reality. A story set in a world that could never exist could be absolutely authentic.” 

“For better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extrapersonal). He may or may not achieve it. This is story in a nutshell.”

“But why make an audience sit through a subplot, waiting half an hour for the main plot to begin? ROCKY, for example, is in the Sports Genre. Why not start with two quick scenes: The heavyweight champion gives an obscure club fighter a shot at the title (setup), followed by Rocky choosing to take the fight (payoff). Why not open the film with its Central Plot?”

“Because if ROCKY’s Inciting Incident were the first event we saw, our reaction would have been a shrug and “So what?” Therefore, Stallone uses the first half-hour to delineate Rocky’s world and character with craft and economy, so that when Rocky agrees to the fight, the audience’s reaction is strong and complete: “Him? That loser?!” They sit in shock, dreading the blood-soaked, bone-crushing defeat that lies ahead. Bring in the Central Plot’s Inciting Incident as soon as possible… but not until the moment is ripe.” 


9. Act Design


“A story must not retreat to actions of lesser quality or magnitude, but move progressively forward to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.” 

“Generally, a three-act story requires four memorable scenes: the Inciting Incident that opens the telling, and an Act One, Act Two, and Act Three Climax. In the Inciting Incident of KRAMER VS. KRAMER Mrs. Kramer walks out on her husband and her son. Act One Climax: She returns, demanding custody of the child. Act Two Climax: The court awards custody of the son to his mother. Act Three Climax: Like her ex-husband, she realizes that they must act selflessly for the best interest of the child they love and returns the boy to Kramer. Four powerful turning points spanned with excellent scenes and sequences.” 

“Second, the multiplication of acts reduces the impact of climaxes and results in repetitiousness.” 


10. Scene Design


“The effects of Turning Points are fourfold: surprise, increased curiosity, insight, and new direction.”

“When a gap opens between expectation and result, it jolts the audience with surprise. The world has reacted in a way neither character nor audience had foreseen. This moment of shock instantly provokes curiosity as the audience wonders “Why?”

The storyteller leads us into expectation, makes us think we understand, then cracks open reality, creating surprise and curiosity, sending us back through his story again and again. On each trip back, we gain deeper and deeper insight into the natures of his characters and their world—a sudden awareness of the ineffable truths that lie hidden beneath the film’s images. He then takes his story in a new direction in an ever escalating progression of such moments.”

“The Law of Diminishing Returns is true of everything in life, except sex, which seems endlessly repeatable with effect.”


Robert Mckee Quote 3



“The arc of the scene, sequence, or act determines the basic emotion. Mood makes it specific. But mood will not substitute for emotion. When we want mood experiences, we go to concerts or museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the storyteller. It does the writer no good to write an exposition-filled scene in which nothing changes, then set it in a garden at sundown, thinking that a golden mood will carry the day. All the writer has done is dump weak writing on the shoulders of the director and cast. Undramatized exposition is boring in any light. Film is not about decorative photography.” 


11. Scene Analysis


“How then might we write a love scene? Let two people change the tire on a car. Let the scene be a virtual textbook on how to fix a flat. Let all dialogue and action be about jack, wrench, hubcap, and lug nuts: “Hand me that, would ya?” “Watch out.” “Don’t get dirty.” “Let me… whoops.” The actors will interpret the real action of the scene, so leave room for them to bring romance to life wholly from the inside. As their eyes meet and sparks fly, we’ll know what’s happening because it’s in the unspoken thoughts and emotions of the actors. As we see through the surface, we’ll lean back with a knowing smile: “Look what happened. They’re not just changing the tire on a car. He thinks she’s hot and she knows it. Boy has met girl.

“Subtext is present even when a character is alone. For if no one else is watching us, we are. We wear masks to hide our true selves from ourselves.” 


12. Composition


“It’s just like sex. Masters of the bedroom arts pace their love-making. They begin by taking each other to a state of delicious tension short of—and we use the same word in both cases—climax, then tell a joke and shift positions before building each other to an even higher tension short of climax;” 

 “When we study the many exceptions to this principle, they only prove the point. TWELVE ANGRY MEN takes place over two days in a jury room. In essence, it consists of two fifty minute scenes in one location, with a brief break for a night’s sleep. But because it’s based on a play, director Sidney Lumet could take advantage of its French Scenes.”


13. Crisis, Climax, Resolution


“This dilemma confronts the protagonist who, when face-to-face with the most powerful and focused forces of antagonism in his life, must make a decision to take one action or another in a last effort to achieve his Object of Desire.” 

“At Crisis the protagonist’s willpower is most severely tested. As we know from life, something for as long as possible, then as we finally make the decision and step into the action, we’re surprised by its relative ease. We’re left to wonder why we dreaded doing it until we realize that most of life’s actions are within our reach, but decisions take willpower.”

“The Crisis decision must be a deliberately static moment. This is the Obligatory Scene. Do not put it offscreen, or skim over it.” 

“MEANING: A revolution in values from positive to negative or negative to positive with or without irony—a value swing at maximum charge that’s absolute and irreversible. The meaning of that change moves the heart of the audience.” 

“The reason for this is that a small percentage of the audience won’t go to any film that might give it an unpleasant experience. Generally their excuse is that they have enough tragedy in their lives. But if we were to look closely, we’d discover that they not only avoid negative emotions in movies, they avoid them in life. Such people think that happiness means never suffering, so they never feel anything deeply. The depth of our joy is in direct proportion to what we’ve suffered. Holocaust survivors, for example, don’t avoid dark films. They go because such stories resonate with their past and are deeply cathartic.”

“Determine which particular emotion will satisfy an audience at the end of a film? “Expect an up-ending” or “Expect a down-ending” or “Expect irony.” Having pledged a certain emotion, it’d be ruinous not to deliver. So we give the audience the experience we’ve promised, but not in the way it expects. This is what separates artist from amateur.” 


Part 4 The Writer at Work 


14. The Principle of Antagonism


“THE PRINCIPLE OF ANTAGONISM: A protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.”

“Begin by identifying the primary value at stake in your story. For example, Justice. Generally, the protagonist will represent the positive charge of this value; the forces of antagonism, the negative. Life, however, is subtle and complex, rarely a case of yes/no, good/evil, right/wrong. There are degrees of negativity.” 

“Between the Positive value and its Contradictory, however, is the Contrary: a situation that’s somewhat negative but not fully the opposite. The Contrary of justice is unfairness, a situation that’s negative but not necessarily illegal: nepotism, racism, bureaucratic delay, bias, inequities of all kinds.” 


15. Exposition


“The famous axiom “Show, don’t tell” is the key. Never force words into a character’s mouth to tell the audience about world, history, or person. Rather, show us honest, natural scenes in which human beings talk and behave in honest, natural ways… yet at the same time indirectly pass along the necessary facts. In other words, dramatize exposition.”

“Dialogue in which one character is telling another something that they both already know or should know, ask yourself, is it dramatized? Is it exposition as ammunition? If not, cut it.” 

“Powerful revelations come from the BACKSTORY—previous significant events in the lives of the characters that the writer can reveal at critical moments to create Turning Points.”

“Second, do not bring in a flashback until you have created in the audience the need and desire to know.” 


16. Problems and Solutions


“Mafia logic runs like this: “People want prostitution, narcotics, and illicit gambling. When they’re in trouble, they want to bribe police and judges. They want to taste the fruits of crime, but they’re lying hypocrites and won’t admit it. We provide these services but we’re not hypocrites. We deal in realities. We are the ‘good’ people.” Mr. Coney Island was a conscienceless assassin, but inside he was convinced he was good.”

“Second, never use coincidence to turn an ending. This is deus ex machina, the writer’s greatest sin.” 

“When a society cannot ridicule and criticize its institutions, it cannot laugh. The shortest book ever written would be the history of German humor, a culture that has suffered spells of paralyzing fear of authority. Comedy is at heart an angry, antisocial art. To solve the problem of weak comedy, therefore, the writer first asks: What am I” 

“Each story is set in a specific time and place, yet scene by scene, as we imagine events, where do we locate ourselves in space to view the action? This is Point of View—the physical angle we take in order to describe the behavior of our characters, their interaction with one another and the environment. How we make our choices of Point of View has enormous influence on how the reader reacts to the scene and how the director will later stage and shoot it.” 

“To learn adaptation study the work of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She is, in my view, the finest adapter of novel to screen in film history. She’s a Pole born in Germany who writes in English. Having reinvented her nationality, she’s become the master reinventer for film. Like a chameleon or trance-medium, she inhabits the colors and spirit of other writers. Read Quartet, A Room with a View, The Bostonians, pull a step-outline from each novel, then scene by scene compare your work to Jhabvala. You’ll learn a lot. Notice that she and director James Ivory restrict themselves to the social novelists—Jean Rhys, E. M. Forster, Henry James—knowing that the primary conflicts will be extra-personal and camera attractive. No Proust, no Joyce, no Kafka.”


17. Character


“Character design begins with an arrangement of the two primary aspects: Characterization and True Character. To repeat: Characterization is the sum of all the observable qualities, a combination that makes the character unique: physical appearance coupled with mannerisms, style of speech and gesture, sexuality, age, IQ, occupation, personality, attitudes, values, where he lives, how he lives. True Character waits behind this mask. Despite his characterization, at heart who is this person? Loyal or disloyal? Honest or a liar? Loving or cruel? Courageous or cowardly? Generous or selfish? Willful or weak? TRUE CHARACTER can only be expressed through choice in dilemma. How the person chooses to act under pressure is who he is—the greater the pressure, the truer and deeper the choice to character.”

“BLADE RUNNER: Marketing positioned the audience to empathize with Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, but once in the theatre, filmgoers were drawn to the greater dimensionality of the replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). As the Center of Good shifted to the antagonist, the audience’s emotional confusion diminished its enthusiasm, and what should have been a huge success became a cult film.” 


Robert Mckee Quote 4


“Character A, for example, provokes the protagonist’s sadness and cynicism, while Character B brings out his witty, hopeful side. Character C inspires his loving and courageous emotions, while Character D forces him first to cower in fear, then to strike out in fury.” 

“Everything I learned about human nature I learned from me. —Anton Chekhov” 

“We all share the same crucial human experiences. Each of us is suffering and enjoying, dreaming and hoping of getting through our days with something of value. As a writer, you can be certain that everyone coming down the street toward you, each in his own way, is having the same fundamental human thoughts and feelings that you are. This is why when you ask yourself, “If I were this character in these circumstances, what would I do?” the honest answer is always correct. You would do the human thing. Therefore, the more you penetrate the mysteries of your own humanity, the more you come to understand yourself, the more you are able to understand others.”


18. The Text


“The best advice for writing film dialogue is don’t. Never write a line of dialogue when you can create a visual expression. The first attack on every scene should be: How could I write this in a purely visual way and not have to resort to a single line of dialogue? Obey the Law of Diminishing Returns: The more dialogue you write, the less effect dialogue has.” 

“lf to be seduced by a waiter in order to provoke her sister with ” scene… how would you write it? Does the waiter open a menu and recommend certain items? Ask her if she’s staying at the hotel? Traveling far? Compliment her on how she’s dressed? Ask her if she knows the city? Mention he’s getting off work and would love to show her the sights? Talk, talk… Here’s what Bergman gave us: The waiter walks to the table and accidentally on purpose drops the napkin on the floor. As he bends to pick it up, he slowly sniffs and smells Anna from head to crotch to foot. She, in reaction, draws a long, slow, almost delirious breath. CUT TO: They’re in a hotel room. Perfect, isn’t it? Erotic, purely visual, not a word said or necessary. That’s screenwriting.” 

“The same applies to verbs. A typical line of non description: “He starts to move slowly across the room.” How does somebody “start” across a room on film? The character either crosses or takes a step and stops. And “move slowly”? “Slowly” is an adverb; “move” a vague, bland verb. Instead, name the action: “He pads across the room.” “He (ambles, strolls, moseys, saunters, drags himself, staggers, waltzes, glides, lumbers, tiptoes, creeps, slouches, shuffles, waddles, minces, trudges, teeters, lurches, gropes, hobbles) across the room.” All are slow but each vivid and distinctively different from the others.”

“Eliminate “is” and “are” throughout.” 


19. A Writer’s Method


“Successful writers tend to use the reverse process. If, hypothetically and optimistically, a screenplay can be written from first idea to last draft in six months, these writers typically spend the first four of those six months writing on stacks of three-by-five cards: a stack for each act—three, four, perhaps more. On these cards they create the story’s step-outline.”


Fade Out 


“For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure.”


Book Review (Personal Opinion):


Story by Robert McKee is a great book on storytelling and should be used as a tool if you’re any kind of writer.  It’s easy to read it and it’s full of value that will make you a better storyteller which is useful in plenty of life situations.


Rating: 8/10


This Book Is For (Recommend):


  • An aspiring writer who wants to write a book or a screenplay.
  • A millennial who wants to be more fun at parties or at work
  • A creative person who wants to learn how to present their work


If You Want To Learn More


Here’s Robert McKee talking about Story on a podcast.
Bulletproof Screenwriting® Show


How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book


There were so many things I started using from this book even in my day-to-day writing (and even talking). I was teaching storytelling around Europe for a couple of years and I used many of the principles from the book as parts of my curriculum.


One Small Actionable Step You Can Do


Start telling more stories. Take something that happened to you, write it is a story, and tell it to people around you to improve your storytelling skills.

Story By Robert Mckee - Summary Infographic