Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Story

This entry is part 47 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

As many of you know, I have long harboured dreams of becoming a writer. I’ve mentioned this a few times before, most recently in my blog on the book Creative Writing.

In that, I made clear my feelings about books for writers. The important lessons come from reading fiction and from relentless never-ending writing. The useful structural knowledge you’ll find in free blogs around the web.

This remains my firm belief. I spend a lot of time reading blogs about writing but it has been a long time since I purchased any books on the same. Longer still since I read one, except for Creative Writing.

I was scathing of that book, but I had higher hopes for Story. It’s well regarded and written by a well-known author. Robert McKee. A man who has had success holding seminars on the topics covered in his book.

So, while Creative Writing was so much drivel, I had more time for Story and hoped it would prove itself more useful.

Robert McKee and Me

This is a section I’ve not done so often recently, as it hasn’t been of any use. I haven’t known much – if anything – about the author.

That’s true here, too. But I’ve been looking into Mr McKee in relation to a point I made in my blog on Creative Writing. This being my biggest bugbear about those writing books on writing.

How can they tell anyone how to write a bestseller when they have never done so themselves?

Our Creative Writing author had never sold a book beyond her books about selling books. A fact I pointed out in that review.

McKee has had much the same criticisms levelled at him. He has acted and even sold screenplays, but nothing a studio has ever gone on to turn into a film.

Robert McKee argues plenty of teachers are not successes in their chosen field. This might be true at lower levels. You wouldn’t expect your Geography teacher to be a famous geologist at GCSEs level. Nor your English teacher to be able to speak fluent English but higher up…

At university professors tend to be researching and publishing all the time. In my History degree, all my lecturers had books published on their specialist topics. Not on “How to be a quality historian.”

Yet it seems different rules apply to writing teachers. They shift this ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach but it shouldn’t be that way. If they are such good teachers, why can’t they become best selling authors? Or Oscar or Tony winning writers themselves?

It’s a constant bother of mine, but does that mean this book will be as bad as the last?


As books on writing go, Story is okay. A 3/5 on Goodreads (there you are, Fay, I mentioned it this time.)

It has its strengths. First, it is well researched. Drawing on hundreds of films and plays from across a wide reach of time. Used to draw useful parallels when discussing the craft of good storytelling.

Second, it preaches theory, rather than formula. McKee isn’t promising a key to success. He is offering the reader the tools to find a way to write their own great story. This isn’t a cheat code. It is useful guidance. It is not a replacement for hard work.

Third, it is full of good ideas, enough that any writer will find something of use within. For me, it was talk around scene structure. This is something that has always interested me and Story helped give me a better formula to write them. For you, it might be something else, but there is bound to be something.

On the flipside, there are criticisms, too. First, it’s quite bloated. I spoke of Creative Writing being too base in its approach but Story does certain points to death. Delving into extreme detail on points where a glance would do.

Second, there is loads here McKee could have skipped. Common sense principles anyone would know. The stuff you shouldn’t even have to think about. It seems two-thirds of the book could have gone and all the important points retained.

Third, it costs money. This book is miles ahead of Creative Writing, but still has limited value.

As I said above, the best way to become a better writer is to learn by osmosis and by practice. Supplementing this by reading free blogs on the best practices of structure and form.

Well, that’s my advice anyway. And I’ve never had a bestseller so Christ knows you shouldn’t listen to me.

I’ll have to write a book on writing bestsellers.

Next Up

Next time a book about a character unlike any other we have read about so far.

It’s a biography of my favourite recording artist of all time.

That’s right… it’s Eminem.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: DriveMan vs Bookshelf: Whatever You Say I Am >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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