“Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what’s worth living for, what’s worth dying for, what’s foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth– the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism– a great confusion of values… This erosion of values has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story. Unlike writers in the past, we can assume nothing. First we must dig deeply into life to uncover new insights, new refinements of value and meaning, then create a story vehicle that expresses our interpretation to an increasingly agnostic world. No small task.” – Robert McKee
Story, by Robert McKee, deals primarily with screenwriting, but it’s a valuable read for any artist, regardless of their chosen medium.
It’s my opinion that story is what really makes or breaks any creative endeavor. Writing– or film or poetry or art or anything, for that matter– is just a means to an end: the ‘vehicle’ through which a message is relayed.
Sometimes writers get so caught up in the act of creation that it takes precedence over the output. For them, words like structure, theme, and composition can border on vulgarity. What they forget that while the process can be grand and romantic, the truth of storytelling is not in the pounding of the keys. It’s in the sharing of something we feel needs to be shared.
As McKee notes above, subjectivism and relativism can create massive boundaries between what reader and writer might consider ‘true’. But these boundaries are not insurmountable. The solution is not to dismiss the existence of truth. That leads to erosion of story– the creation of cardboard characters who pull punches, and paper-thin plots that avoid values and morals like the plague, for fear of offending anyone or assuming anything. What we storytellers must do instead is to dig deeper than ever; to ‘uncover new insights’ about the meaning of existence– to discover what’s worth living for, and what’s worth dying for.
Write long, and prosper. – CB