Reading books on writing–STORY by Robert McKee and how writers cope with limits

story by mckee

“But it’s about screenwriting!” I said.

Story, by Robert McKee is a book that has come up again and again with my writing friends. A colleague even coached me in some of McKee’s techniques. And I’ve recommended it to random people in the library looking for books on screenwriting. But it was not something I’d ever actually read.

I think my block was this: I’m not planning to write a movie. I haven’t even seen one in a theater for (it’s now official!) ten years. Why would I read a book about screenwriting?

Taking the Plunge

After listening to so many novelists and other writers praise the book, I finally decided to read Story.

It’s fascinating so far.

One of the issues that came up in the bit I read today was about the conventions of genre. Specifically, McKee asserts that any writer should master the genre they plan to write in. They should fully understand the ins and outs of all that genre’s conventions before they even start writing, and stick to them once they sit down at the computer.

He argues that this does not limit a writer. Quite the opposite: McKee calls genre conventions a type of “creative limitation,” an obstacle that will help you grow if you attempt to work it, much like a barbel will build your muscles if you lift it.

Creative Limitations

Now, for someone who 1) frequently writes for an audience with very specific preferences (namely, the English-speaking Chareidi world) and 2) often writes according to a theme selected by a magazine editor, this was very, very interesting. There are people who complain that they think the limitations of these two situations are too constraining, that they stifle creativity.

But when I do this type of work, I find that I have to dig deep to figure out how to roll with these constraints. And when I dig deep, I often come up with surprisingly creative work.

It’s not just me. I see some of the work that comes from my fellow Orthodox writers and think–so original! so creative!

Have you ever found that limits made you dig deep? Or do you find them stifling? Leave your comments below, please.

P.S.-My Hamodia readers can find a new story by me in this week’s Binyan. (Yes, I had to write to a theme.)

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