Form and Formula

Robert McKee: "Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form."

Keefer: "And creative artists invent new rules as they master their form."

However, with screenwriting it's good to know every formula that's been used and abused so you can mutilate and/or rejuvenate it to create your story.

For McKee and Keefer a good story comes from LOVE:

l) Love of telling a story--the belief that your vision can be expressed only through story, that characters can be more real than people, that the fictional world is more profound than the concrete.

2) Love of the dramatic-- a fascination with the sudden surprises and revelations that bring sea-changes in life.

3)Love of truth-- the belief that lies cripple the artist, that every truth in life must be questioned, down to one's own secret motives; the ability to see and exorcise your own shit and to bring it up courageously and mercilessly.

4)Love of humanity--a willingness to empathize with suffering souls, to crawl inside their skins and see the world through their eyes.

5)Love of sensation-- the desire to indulge in and bring to life the pleasures of the five senses.

6)Love of humor--even the most sober domestic dramas need that light touch, the twist of irony, the bite of satire, or the warm, gentle mirth that makes the most mundane scene glow.

7)Love of language--a delight in sound and sense, syntax and semantics.

8)Love of process--a joy in the journey of the story and the solitude of writing.

9)Love of uniqueness--the thrill of audacity and a stone-faced calm when it is met by ridicule.

10)Love of beauty--the courage and skill to develop your own style.

11)Love of duality, conflict, argumentation and the energy to orchestrate scene dynamics.

Unlike the stories of personal essays, memoirs and autobiographical novels, a screenplay must use and transcend or deepen self into the collective unconscious to create a story with universal appeal. Each person has a life story with endless encyclopaedic variations. The mark of a master is to select only a few moments but give us a lifetime.

STRUCTURE is about making those choices, to arouse emotions and express a specific view of life in a linear or organic mode, or to create a specific design or pattern in an aesthetic mode.

A STORY EVENT creates meaningful change in the life situation of a character that is expressed and experienced in terms of a VALUE, (Values are qualites that shift from positive to negative such as love/hate, freedom/slavery, truth/lie, loyalty/betrayal etc.) and achieved through CONFLICT. McKee's approach to story structure is not only extremely linear but has the cause-effect relationship of Aristotle's Rhetoric as well as his Poetics: "A scene is an action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character's life on at least one value with a degree of perceptible significance. Ideally, every scene is a STORY EVENT.

McKee does not take particularly well to random and chance events, whimsical or theme-based structure; he feels a screenplay should build like an enormous, beautiful building. It's true that these scripts have always been the most successful commercially except in the hands of a brilliant director with an unusual or very sexy story. Learn to build your building but open windows, grow plants and blow up the structure if you have to. Like cells to molecules to atoms to electrons etc., McKee moves from structure made up of ACTS which is a series of sequences (cumulative impact of a series of scenes) that peak in a climactic scene or story event to beat, the smallest element of structure, an exchange of behavior in action/reaction whcih shapes the turning of the scene.

His STORY is an arc, a huge master event, the great sweep of change that takes life to an absolute and irreversible ending through value-charged ACTS, SEQUENCES,SCENES and BEATS. Yet as we read Einstein's Dreams, we see that TimeSpace can go in all sorts of directions. Again inexperienced writers jumbles everything up but artists know linear form and how and why they want to change it. When Quentin Tarantino did rewind and stop action on his story and wove the lives of multiple protagonists together, he was still aware of the thread he could have followed in Pulp Fiction. Same with Woody Allen in many of his films. Plot and Story: Plot is the means to navigate through the story. McKee says it is the ability to choose the "correct" path when confronted by many branching possibilities. However, in hypertext we can choose many different paths and who is to say which one is "correct?" Of course by "correct" McKee means the action that will fit like a piece into the jigsaw puzzle of conflict, surprise and reversal that answers the controlling idea.

Because of his proclivity for logic and tradition, McKee divides all plots into ARCHPLOT, MINIPLOT, and ANTIPLOT. It's a triangle which Archplot at the apex, the classical design which structures a story built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change.

ARCHPLOT: Causality, Closed Ending, Linear Time, External Conflict, Single, Active Protagonist, Consistent Reality He dismisses everything else as minimalism or anti-structure.

MINIPLOT: Open Ending, Internal Conflict, Multiple, Passive Protagonists

ANTIPLOT: Coincidence, Nonlinear Time, Inconsistent Realities

It seems that in McKee's eyes, writers who choose those plots at the base of the triangle are lazy, stupid, pretentious or still infected with adolescent rebelliousness. They shrink, compress, trim or truncate the virtues of the timeless traditional male plot. But what about those writers, particularly female, who see an organic, logical structure outside of the ARCHPLOT.

See Biological Rhythms of Literature.

Linear and Non-linear: In screenwriting a story can begin in the middle and end at the beginning and contain multiple flashbacks but still be linear. To McKee nonlinear is pure chaos. But some of us know there is order in chaos and that you can draw a flower, a circle, a zigzag as well as a straight line. It really comes down to what is organic. McKee acknowledges but does not favor slice-of-life and absurdist drama. Characters can and do think in screenplays. We are aware of their internal conflicts and dilemmas. But the exposition can't meander off the story for any extended period of time without losing the attention of a mass audience.

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