Boys At Play.
There are a group of boys, say 13 or 14 (all much taller than I) who hang out around my neighborhood. Sometimes they're just skating or hanging out in the little park two doors down. Sometimes they're walking down the sidewalk with their shirts wrapped around their heads, blindfolded, calling to each other as guides. This worked, as you can imagine, with varying degrees of success. Certain barriers, like grass and the curb, kept them from straying. Then they'd get half-way up a driveway and realize they were on the wrong path. Of course, they shouted and laughed their successes and failures to each other so the whole neighborhood could hear.
Sound like any bloggers you know? It's really not too far off the writers' process of learning. There are easy barriers to follow: spelling, grammar. That's the grass. Showing/not telling is like the curb--that's an easier one to slip off but once it clicks, you rarely step off the curb again.
And then there are the driveways, those paths that climb upward, luring you into thinking you're on the right path. But with practice and a lot of listening to your comrades-in-ink, you can stay to the sidewalk.
True Confession Time.
A year ago a sweet, sweet friend gave me a gift for my birthday. It's a book called STORY. I started reading it--got maybe half-way through--and then it fell away in an avalanche of friends' novels and magazine stories and House Beautiful issues. Well, as regular readers know, I'm mulling over a short story right now. I've written ten pages, and I stopped writing because I hit a bit of a construction barrier. It was that ironic bit--the part I always have trouble putting into words and can't structure for my characters until I can.
I also found myself with a dearth of reading material. Well, that's not quite true, but I found STORY, and feeling guilty over the sweetness of this man who gave it to me nearly a year ago, committed to reading it cover to cover without interruption from another book.
My first discovery: this book will help you stay on the sidewalk.
My second: I wouldn't have gotten nearly as much out of the book a year ago.
This is high level writing discussion, based on centuries of storytelling process. McKee regularly references the classics (by whom I mean Aristotle and Shakepeare--if you haven't studied Aristotle on storytelling, then don't call yourself well-versed in your craft). McKee does focus on the screenplay, which can be useful for those of us still struggling with showing/telling. (Screenplays--the good ones, are all-show at its purest. My recommendation is to take that with a grain of salt because "all show" novels are dry dry dry. In a novel, we are not meant to watch a character from the outside, but to delve inside their thoughts and being. It's a delicate balance to strike.
Mostly, I'd recommend reading this book when you're mulling over a story. Take notes. Dogear pages. Scribble in the margins. And don't forget to finish the damned thing.