Monday, February 7, 2011

Plot Talk - Part 2: Robert McKee's "Story"

Part 2: Robert McKee's Story

This book came highly recommended from New York Times Best Selling Author Alyson Noel in an article I read just after the release of one of her books from the The Immortals collection. I don't have the link to the article anymore, otherwise I would have linked it. But, just trust me when I say the second I read her recommendation for two books I ran right out and bought them.

I have read many a writers comments on having 3 acts in their books. Let me just say after reading McKee's plot structure 3 acts is nothing.

Here are the building blocks straight from his book: (Well, I've summed up his definitions a bit.)

1) Scene: Is an action that changes the value (charge) of a condition within the protagonists life. He likens these to Story Events.

2) Sequence: A collection of between 2 to 5 scenes culminating with a "greater impact than any previous scene."

3) Act: This is a collection of sequences creating an even greater impact creating a climax and "major reversal of values."

4) Story Climax: (This should not be confused with act climaxes - They can be found within each act) This is the final climax causing irreversible changes in the protagonists life that are absolute.

5) Inciting Incident: This is some sort of upset that occurs to the protagonists life causing a major shake up.

So, just when I thought that creating a plot was a simple mountain looking chart. McKee has to go and turn that upside down.

McKee suggests that you have at least a Central Plot which consists of the inciting incident and 3 acts. Okay, so that was kind of a given, right? Well, he has more to offer.

He points out that many stories (screenplays in his case) have more than three acts. Not only does he note this, but he also notes that they also have subplots with several acts.

Whoa! So, not only should I have at least a central plot consisting of 3 acts, but I should have subplots with their own 3 acts added.

Now, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. But have no fear! I recently read a book in which I could point out subplots that each have their own inciting incidents and acts. The realization of this had me floored. I had no idea that I had even really noticed that, but I did.

So, now I wonder. Can I do this?

The diagram in McKee's Story shows basically the following:

Central Plot: Inciting incident, Act I Climax, Act II Climax, Act III Climax
Sub-plot A: Inciting incident, Act I Climax, Act II Climax, Act III Climax
Sub-plot B: Inciting incident, Act I Climax, Act II Climax, Act III Climax
Sub-plot C: Inciting incident, Act I Climax, Act II Climax, Act III Climax
And you could go on and on with the act climaxes and sub-plots.

I've only noticed it that once that I could specifically pick out the different plots, inciting incidents, and act climaxes.

So, now I ask. Are you confused? Do you think you could do this, let alone pick it out of a book you've read?

Click the links below to see the other three related posts.
Part 1: The Basics - I will look at the basic principle of plots.
Part 2: Robert McKee's plot structure in Story
Part 3: Blake Snyder's beat sheet plot structure in Save the Cat!
Part 4: Steven James' Story Trumps Structure article from Writer's Digest Magazine February 2011

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