How Does Story Affect Life?

If you wish to understand the Primacy of Story – why story is essential to human motivation and decision-making – Robert McKee will get you started in this in-depth presentation for Thinking Digital. .


Quotes of the Week:

“The Business story is designed to trigger the listener to take an effective action. If it doesn’t, the story fails.”

- Robert McKee

“Story is morally neutral. It can express profound truth or propaganda. The two greatest political storytellers of the 20th Century were Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler. Because storytelling is a form of persuasive jujitsu, and because world is full of black belt storytellers, the corporate leader has to train both his offensive and defensive moves”

Robert McKee

“Once upon a time you went to war with products and services. Today, the stories we tell or fail to tell determine our destinies.”

- James McCabe






The starting point of all stories is a moment of disruption. A negative event throws the protagonist’s life out of balance, hooking the audience’s curiosity: How will this turn out? The protagonist’s quest to restore life’s balance by struggling against negative forces is at the heart of all compelling narratives. Therefore, fine storytellers do not avoid the negative side of life; they seek it out. They look for a instance of trouble so they can arc the telling to a positive return to balance.


When human beings weigh their chances for achieving their deepest desires against the almost overwhelming forces of mother nature, social institutions, and even their own subconscious selves, they feel that they are an underdog. Indeed, no one feels like an overdog. Even the most powerful, wealthy, influential people fear, deep down inside, that everything they’ve achieved could be taken from them in a sudden moment of bad luck. Therefore, for a story to engage the feeling side of its audience, it must draw them into empathy or identification with a protagonist who, like the audience, is up against very powerful forces of antagonism.


Almost without exception, all statements about one’s self are self-serving. Even when someone criticizes himself in public, there there’s always a subtext of self-congratulations: “And aren’t I a wonderfully self-aware, honest and brave person to see my flaws and confess them?” The line between autobiography and bragging is thin. Therefore, at those times in business when you must talk about your life, try to tell your story from someone else’s point of view. If you were to talk about your university years, for example, tell the story of how an inspirational professor opened your eyes to a profound truth. Make the professor a star and you a lucky bystander.


The Purpose-Told Story for business is created from back to front, not front to back. Begin with the action you want to trigger in your audience: a purchase or an investment or a job well done. Once that is clear in your mind, ask yourself: “What kind of story would trigger that action in that particular person?” From there you follow your imagination back to the beginning: “What event would throw my protagonist’s life out of balance and launch a series of actions aimed at that trigger action?” With those two posts in the ground, you build a bridge of story to suspend between them.



How Can I Develop My Character Quickly?

When asked how to accelerate the development of characters, Robert McKee explains how every turning point, even those without a character in them, can reveal something about a character.


Quote of the Week:

“Stories are not made of words. Stories are not made of pictures necessarily. They’re not made of music. Stories are made of events. Some events are very small, and other events are very large, but that’s what the material is. Stories are made of events. And the more compelling and interesting the events, the more authority the story will have over us. That’s how I see it.”

Isaac Bashevis Singer




EDGE OF TOMORROW: A Short Film Review by Robert McKee

Tom Cruise gives a wonderful performance in EDGE OF TOMORROW, with a combination of heroism and “are you kidding me?”

We know that a time travel film is a convention of absurdity so there’s often a comic, tongue-in-cheek sense of “look, you and I know this is rather ridiculous but let’s agree that it’s not for the sake of this story.” Here is how you know a film is in the spirit of comedy: when the film is over and when the hero makes the world right again, no one actually got hurt. In EDGE OF TOMORROW you see a lot of dying, constant deaths, but ultimately no one is hurt. Other good examples of this convention are BACK TO THE FUTURE and TERMINATOR.

However, in films like THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE and SOMEWHERE IN TIME, time travel is used as a romantic device. For example, time travel in SOMEWHERE IN TIME is not some sort of sci-fi device, there is no time travel machine, no DeLorean car that goes to the future or the past. In SOMEWHERE IN TIME, you will yourself back into the past. And the ability to will yourself into the past is based on how deeply you love. And so it’s kind of a psychic time travel based upon love, and passion.

EDGE OF TOMORROW is also a perfect example of multiplying the forces of antagonism. Just when you think they have reached the limit of these forces of antagonism, it builds again in a spiral and you think there is no way out of this. Turning points keep spiraling up and constantly surprising you, keep on building the negation of negation right to the edge. And finally, when you’re saying enough is enough, they switch gears again and end the film brilliantly.

I highly recommend it.

Robert McKee – Oct 15, 2014

What Is a Testing Plot?

In this two-part Q&A, Robert McKee discusses the inciting incident and struggle of this somewhat rare story. In Part 1, McKee explains the nature of a testing plot.

If you’re considering using a testing plot,  recall that these can often be mixed with other plots, as in the examples McKee provides in Part 2.


Quote of the Week:

“In the old times, character and dialogue were essential tools in the film-maker’s kit. Now they are the last things they consider after special effects and car chases.”

- Richard Dreyfuss




How Do I Write the Opposite Sex?

Can a female author write a convincing male character, or vice versa? What would a man do in this situation? What would a woman do? Robert McKee explains what either one would do and how a great writer can capture the truth authentically.



Quote of the Week:

“If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom,   but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”

- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


Featured Articles:

“Alice Munro: In Her Own Words”

An interview with Nobel Laureate Alice Munro, in which she discusses many aspects of the writing process that eventually garnered her the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature.


Huffington Post Interviews William H. Macy

Actor / director William H. Macy talks about his new film RUDDERLESS, his writing process, and the advice of Robert McKee.




What? You Want to Tell Them the Ending First?

Can a film still be enjoyable if the audience knows how it will end? Sometimes the audience wants to know what will happen. Sometimes it already knows but still gets something out of the film. Robert McKee explains the difference.


Quotes of the Week:

Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further.

- Rainer Maria Rilke


Do not drown your script with endless dialogue and long speeches. Every question does not call for a response. Whenever you can express an emotion with a silent gesture, do so. Once you pose the question permit it to linger before you get a reply. Or better yet, perhaps the character cannot reply, he or she has no answer. This permits the unspoken response to hang in mid-air.

- Philip Yordan


Featured Article:

“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and… Interviewed McKee” 

In this interview with Evening Express film reviewer Callum Reid, McKee debunks the oft-repeated influence of Joseph Campbell on George Lucas’ STAR WARS, defines the differences between ‘form’ and ‘formula’, compares THE LEGO MOVIE to THE WIZARD OF OZ, and more.



Should Comic Characters be Soulless?

It seems that it could be hard to laugh at a character’s misfortune if you empathize too much. Robert McKee explains what distinguishes a comic character from a dramatic character.



Quotes of the Week:

“The analysis of character is the highest human entertainment.”

- Isaac Bashevis Singer


“Nothing in man is more serious than his sense of humor; it is the sign that he wants all the truth.”

- Mark van Doren


Featured Article:

“Woody Allen: The Art of Humor No. 1 “ – The Paris Review 

The Paris Review‘s Michiko Kakutani talks with the acclaimed writer / director of ANNIE HALL about the craft of comedic storytelling.



Could My Story Have Two Inciting Incidents?

When it comes to starting a story, is less more, or is more more? Robert McKee explains why any writing question that starts with “Could I?” has the same answer, then provides insight into inciting incidents.



Quotes of the Week:

“When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is that much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier.”

- Ernest Hemingway


“Story is choice under pressure.”

- James McCabe


Featured Article:

“Undeniable Proof That ‘The Walking Dead’ And ‘Toy Story’ Have The Exact Same Plot”