Part 14 of an intermittent series where I read or re-read the writing books on my shelf to see if they’re worth keeping. See previous part here
As I discussed last time I moved onto How to Story books reading books on story structure and storytelling
First up was The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
This takes Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey and describes how you, as a writer, could use the archetypes and stages on that journey as a structure for story. I liked the section on archetypes but I have an issue with the Hero myth in that it’s pretty toxic (a topic for a post perhaps). Also Vogler shoehorns some stories that are obviously not built on the Hero myth and in the process makes his argument weaker – there’s also some New Age guff in here that seemed out of place. In the end I don’t think it’s very useful for me. I know others who highly rate it though. I also have the sneaking suspicion that despite Star Wars being a very successful use of this structure if you write to a formula you’re in danger of writing something formulaic.
This is altogether more useful than the Vogler book (imho) and yet I dislike McKee’s voice. Here’s a snippet from my review back in 2013: “Mckee has some strong views about films and he’s not going to let you learn about the nuts and bolts of story without beating you over the head with those views every chance he gets. European cinema? Load of rubbish, last 20 years of cinema? Load of rubbish, Hollywood & Asian cinema? The only people who can make “proper” films i.e. films that tell stories properly.” – I went into it remembering that I hadn’t liked it but thought the info was useful. I liked it a bit more than on first read (maybe due to low expectations) but I do feel this book could be shorter, more pithy and use more consistent examples to illustrate the points being made. But saying all that McKee does give you some very useful information indeed. It’s obviously skewed to screenwriting though. This one stays on the shelf.
This next book by Chuck Wendig is on storytelling and isn’t skewed towards any medium – in fact Wendig is at pains to point out that a story can be told without words. This has lots of useful stuff inside too and as an adjunct to McKee it’s complimentary rather than contradictory. Wendig, unlike McKee has a very engaging voice and you can see yourself meeting him in a bar and laughing along with his witticisms and anecdotes. But in common with other Wendig writing books I’ve read (and this may just be a personal thing) I find that although his edutainment style makes the pages skip past I find it very hard to recall that information afterwards. It is full of useful advice and staying on my shelf so I can remind myself with re-reading.
One I skim read was Narrative Design
This is a collection of stories that Bell analyses wrt plot, character, tone, point of view, dialogue, symbolism, and design. It’s teaching by example rather than telling you how to achieve good storytelling. Bell posits two main structures for short form fiction – linear and modular and shows using the examples in the book the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches. I found some of the content extremely useful, other content not at all useful and the stories are very hit and miss but overall it’s a worthwhile book and survives to be placed back on the shelf.
I’m currently reading Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Allison which also examines alternative structures for story. And after that I have a couple of books on cognitive science and storytelling and Story Trumps Structure. But that’ll be a review after Christmas.
In other news my first collection – A Tiding of Magpies – will be reissued on 3rd January, which is my birthday. I’ll do a post on that once I have links etc.
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