Once again Mckee delivers an outstanding book about developing and portraying characters in fiction. Well done, with great insight. All potential authors should read this book to improve their writing craft. McKeey shows how to show characters in a nuanced way and a way to give them depth and texture and make them memorable to the audience.
Robert McKee's acclaimed book Character explores the elements of compelling character creation in screenwriting and storytelling. Originally published in 1997, the book has become an essential guide for writers in film, television, theater, and novels. The version I reviewed here thanks to NetGalley is the updated version from 2021.
At the heart of the book is McKee's in-depth analysis of the drivers of human behavior and motivation that shape personality. He delves into the complexities and contradictions of the human psyche to illustrate how multifaceted, believable characters come to life. McKee eloquently argues that a well-written character "is an original human being, larger than life yet true to life."
Although the book focuses mainly on protagonists and major characters, McKee also provides insight into crafting strong antagonists, minor characters, and ensembles. He emphasizes the importance of understanding a character's inner values, motives, and weaknesses to drive the story forward.
Character offers a thought-provoking mix of philosophical discussion, examples from classics of literature and cinema, and pragmatic advice for writers. McKee's innovative perspective transcends basic notions of good and evil to create characters full of nuance, depth and truth. The book equips writers with strategies, tools, and principles for the entire process of character creation.
More than two decades after its publication, McKee's Character remains a tour de force exploration of the the elements of effective character development and persuasive storytelling. Writers across all genres will find tremendous value in revisiting this modern classic.
Overall, McKee's books are foundational texts for anyone interested in the art of storytelling. While the books may have been intended for screenwriters, I think novelists would also gain a lot of insight into writing effective characters as well.
When it comes to writing reference books, Robert McKee's story comes highly recommended. One of the challenges I had with this writer's reference book was the delivery of characterization within tv, film, and book references. While there was some detail as to how to apply these concepts, I found the book dry and hard to follow at times. But I'll surely return to it in the future.
Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
I'm honestly unsure on this book. I had mixed feelings about it but it was still a good book to read. 3.5 stars. Unsure if I'll reread this book. Unsure who to reccomed it to.
Review of Character: The Art of Role and Cast Design for Page, Stage and Screen by Robert McKee
Thanks in advance to Net Galley and Twelve Books for an advance pre-publication copy of this book.
Ever since Moses came down from Mount Sinai with ten commandments written upon two tables of stone, mankind has expected clear and concise standards in every aspect of their lives. Approximately, twelve centuries later, Aristotle, codified what he felt were the rules of drama in Poetics. Shakespeare, the greatest playwright ever, penned what he considered to be the essentials of drama within his own play, Hamlet, when he said: “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue… suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” In our day, the gauntlet has been thrown down as to as how to codify guidelines for modern cinema and television. One of those brave souls, Robert McKee, has taken upon himself, as almost a life mission, the challenge of writing three handbooks for the screenwriter. In his first book, Story, Robert McKee encapsulated his renown lectures; the second, Dialogue, and the third now which will soon be available for writers everywhere, has been titled, Character.
The subtitles of the three books may well tell us something more about the author’s intent of the books as they have been written. That which I would call tone. The first, McKee targets the screenwriter. The second book is for the writer of the page, stage and screen. This long anticipated third volume, Character’s subtitle: “The Art of Role and Cast Design for Page, Stage and Screen,” suggest that text has been written for an even wider audience than the first two volumes of McKee’s trilogy.
In this latest book, Robert McKee states: “People wear masks; characters invite intrigue.” “A story is a metaphor for life that expresses the nature of being; a character is a metaphor for humanity that expresses the nature of becoming.”
In this book, McKee discusses the circles of human interaction as it relates to character. He explores inner character, outside-in motivation, true character choices through dilemma, antagonism, emotion, reactions, free will and talks about the dimension of character in six dimensions.
For me as a screenwriter, what I found of value are the illustrations and chart diagrams which McKee has interspersed throughout the book. They remind me of maps of the dimension of human character, the layers of characters interaction and relationships in the dramatic journey within a story whether written for the page, the play, the feature film, or television series.
My only criticism of the book would be that which probably rests with the trend in the publishing world today, that of less pages, per book. Story had 466 pages, Dialogue, 312 and the pre-publication copy of Character—without the index at 289 pages. Having had the opportunity of being present at a weeklong session of Robert McKee’s on Genre, I’m certain that his initial draft of Character was much longer. It would have been great to have more case studies from classical feature films and more of Shakespeare’s plays. Well, enough said from my part, except that if a reader wants to understand more about the movies, he/she loves to watch, all three of these volumes should be on his/her nightstand.
Character by Robert McKee is a scholarly discussion, to be savored and reflected upon, not an easy-to-flip-through quick reference of fluff. Rather than telling how or what writers should do, this book shows pertinent topics through a thought-provoking deep dive into why. I enjoyed the circles of characters, foil characters explanation, and analysis of narrators. But what I really loved: discovering the case study of Sex and the City positive arcs and Breaking Bad cast design. I'm in awe. This was an excellent book!
Thank you to both NetGalley and Twelve Books for providing me an advance copy of the third installment in Robert McKee’s ‘on the art of fiction’ series, Character, in exchange for an honest review.
Character is an eponymously titled reference work on…drum roll please…creating characters. The book is divided into four main sections that each contain one to three chapters, with the exception of part two which has ten chapters and is the primary focus of the work, namely, building characters. Every chapter is then further split into bitesize subsections. This format can be convenient for those who intend to use this book as a reference guide.
Part one offers a discussion on characters versus humans. The author posits that examining this dichotomy can train writers to become more observant, which in theory, will help them reach maximum creativity. He also debunks the character versus plot debate in this section and explores the two grand theories (i.e., intrinsic vs. extrinsic) through the lens of various cultures.
As mentioned, part two contains the meat of the work and is where the reader learns how to build unconventional characters. The author uses a plethora of examples from various mediums to demonstrate how a writer can draw on inspiration that stems from five concentric spheres: external, internal, genres, backstories, and reality/self.
Chapter five includes some great examples of the “four selves” as applied to the cast of Mad Men; which I never watched, but the break down of each character using this method was intriguing. He also conducts character studies of Odysseus and Tony Soprano in chapter nine to convey how multidimensional characters are created, as well as provides snippets of how a positive arc operates with the women from SATC. This is just a quick summary for review purposes. There are many more examples throughout the text.
Part three examines characters based on the genre of a work, their actions, and from the perspective of the intended audience. Here, readers learn about the ten plots of fortune and the six plots of character, or alternatively, the sixteen primary genres. There is a wealth of material in this section that may or may not be useful, depending on how advanced you are as a writer.
Finally, part four looks at how to map and design a work’s cast of characters in a way that will benefit the protagonist or co-protagonists. Fortunately, there are many case studies in this section to demonstrate how such character maps operate. Just beware that if you have not read or seen something yet, there will be spoilers.
In short, the idea of contradictions runs rampant throughout the text. There are dozens of examples that the author pulls from, despite claiming that this is a “what is” and not a “how to” book. There are also some bits of amusing commentary scattered in different sections, which a reader might miss if they are not paying close enough attention. For me, those little jabs made it easier to tolerate some of the hyperbolic absolutisms being preached by the author in that he may not be as sanctimonious as those statements would lead one to believe. Overall, fascinating work!