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review 2018-03-01 16:54
Not quite perfect. Good, even very good, but not perfect
Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character - David McKenna,Christopher Vogler

Previous reviews and updates:










I finished this re-read around 4:30 this morning, after waking up waaaay too early.


The last sections of the book on vaudeville were less interesting and in my opinion less helpful in terms of understanding story construction than the rest of the book.  That material felt almost as if it had been added on to showcase the authors' special knowledge.


I did, however, find it delightful that they knew about Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat and the stunts in The Flame and the Arrow.  Guess who has that on DVD?



I also found it interesting/coincidental that McKenna mentioned Ann Corio.  Not only did I know who Corio was, but I had picked up her autobiography in that huge haul of Kindle freebies from Open Road Media in 2016.



But I just didn't see really clear application of the principles of "routining" a vaudeville show to the structuring of a story.  Maybe, maybe, to the structuring of a film screenplay, but less to a novel.


Still, on the basis of the rest of the Memo, and especially the Environmental Factors, I do highly recommend this for writers, though Vogler's  The Writer's Journey is by far more valuable simply because its focus is on the creation of the written project and less on evaluation or analysis of something someone else has created, whether written or video.

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text 2018-02-28 22:30
February 2018-That's a Wrap!
October - Michael Rowe
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere 1) - Meg Elison
Vision (2015-) #10 - Tom King,Gabriel Walta,Mike Del Mundo
Tarnished City (Dark Gifts) - Vic James
Daytripper - Fábio Moon,Gabriel Bá,Craig Thompson,Dave Stewart,Sean Konot
Edging - Michael Schutz,Michelle.Thompson
The Night Child: A Novel - Anna Quinn
West Cork - Audible Originals,Jennifer Forde,J.H. Bungey
All the Names They Used for God: Stories - Anjali Sachdeva
March: Book Two - Andrew Aydin,Nate Powell,John Robert Lewis

I've read 16 books this month!


Graphic Novels

March: Book Two by John Lewis 4*

The Vision: The Complete Series by Tom King 5*

Saga: Volume One by Brian Vaughan 5*

Saga: Volume Two by Brian Vaughan 4.5* 

Daytripper: Deluxe Edition by Fabio Moon 5*

Total: 5



October by Michael Rowe 4.5*

Total: 1



The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison 4.5*

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 3*

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modern Day Bestiary by David Sedaris 3*

West Cork by Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde 4*

Total: 4



The Night Child by Anna Quinn 4*

All the Names They Used For God by Anjali Sachdeva 4*

Tarnished City by Vic James 4.5*

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone 3.5*

Total: 4


Random Reads

Corpse Cold: New American Folklore by John Brhel 3.5*

Edging by Michael Schutz 4*

Total: 2




Horror Aficionados Mount TBR Challenge:

Challenge: Read 40 Books Already on my TBR

1. City of the Dead by Brian Keene

2. The Warblers by Amber Fallon

3. October by Michael Rowe

Status: 3/40


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text 2018-02-28 18:43
Reading progress update: I've read 68%.
Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character - David McKenna,Christopher Vogler

Previous updates and comments:






I began this re-read to refresh my memory of how Chris Vogler and -- though to a lesser extent -- David McKenna had analyzed Story. 


Both of them are primarily analysts of the already-written Story.  When applying their template to a familiar film, such as Casablanca or The Princess Bride, the student is readily able to see the various archetypes and details at work. 


For that reason, Memo from the Story Dept is an invaluable tool for the critic or even the teacher.  It's less useful, however, for the writer.


Until Chapter Fifteen, that is, when McKenna takes over with his Environmental Facts analytical technique.


For me, writing has always involved several distinct but integrated lenses through which a story is viewed.  It's like zooming in with a camera and having to change the lens or tighten the focus as the writing narrows in from overview to final draft.


First is the plot structure that moves the action from opening scene through various conflicts and obstacles to final resolution, in a kind of "this happens, then this happens, then this, then this, then this, and they all lived happily ever after" sequence.  This can be done in an outline or synopsis of anywhere from two to two hundred pages, but usually the shorter is better, even if it's no longer than the back cover blurb.  The skeleton, so to speak.  The long distance overview.


Second is the characters and their respective backstories that bring them to the point of what happens on page one.  This starts to flesh out the framework and is usually longer than the synopsis.  We're starting to focus in now on what's happening and to whom it's happening and why it's happening.


Fourth is the actual book, with all the nuances of style and dialogue and action and language and research and so on.  This is the final product, the intimate close-up lens that puts the reader in direct contact with what the writer envisioned.


McKenna's "Environmental Facts" chapters fill in the third lens.


At first, I barely remembered reading this section previously, but then various details resurfaced, and in the process reminded me why I had found this book so valuable.


If you're a reviewer just reading and writing reviews, you probably don't need to get quite as analytical as this information suggests.  It's enough to just like or not like a book.


On the other hand, if you want to better understand what makes a book click for you or not, McKenna's chapters could provide the needed insight.


And if you're a writer, at least give these chapters a careful read.  They gave me a better understanding of certain techniques I tend to take for granted.

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text 2018-02-28 17:02
Reading progress update: I've read 59%.
Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character - David McKenna,Christopher Vogler

This is a re-read for me. 


Disclosure:  I purchased the Kindle edition of this book at full retail price.  I have met one of the authors, Christopher Vogler, once, in 1995 when he was a speaker at a conference I chaired in Los Angeles.  I do not know David McKenna.  I am an author of historical romances, contemporary gothic romances, and miscellaneous non-fiction.


I wasn't going to post a status on this reread, but then decided last night that it might be a good idea.


Memo from the Story Department is a follow-up to Vogler's The Writer's Journey. Although Memo reprises a lot of the information in TWJ, I strongly recommend reading TWJ first.


There is a great deal more information in Memo regarding story and mythic structure, but in fact there's so much more that it becomes almost confusing for someone who's not familiar with Vogler's take on the (somewhat) original Joseph Campbell theories.


The back-and-forth style of Memo - parts are written by McKenna and then Vogler adds commentary, other parts are vice versa - can also be a bit confusing. 


Reading this, however, has prompted me to wish I had both Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment.  Maybe I need a trip to the library.



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text 2018-02-27 18:48
The grand project, or, a method to my madness
Half Heaven, Half Heartache: Discovering the Transformative Potential in Women's Popular Fiction - Linda Hilton

As intrigued as I am by the Kill Your Darlings game, I decided last night that I have to discipline myself and Just Say No.  There's just not enough room in my life for it right now.  I'll have to play along vicariously through everyone else.


As I wrote in a previous posts here and here about Pamela Regis's A Natural History of the Romance Novel, I was giving serious consideration to picking up my 2000 undergrad honors thesis and expanding it the way I had planned to then.  That "serious consideration" took a step in an even more serious direction yesterday, when I began assembling some of my old notes and subsequent text expansions.  I've already purchased a couple more reference books, and started re-reading some of the material already on hand.


My personal life has also presented some new challenges.  My financial situation is a tad  more precarious than it has been, and I am at an age where that is not easily remedied. I am not destitute, at least not yet; nor am I without resources.  My last big art show is coming up in early April, and much of my energy until then will be directed toward that.  Then comes the long, hot summer, when supplemental income is less reliable and expenses can mount significantly.


Another of those resources is this project, if I can gather my discipline and determination and Just. Do. It.  I should have been doing it for the past several years, but there's no changing that.


The romance genre has expanded since 2000, and I know I have a great deal of work ahead of me.  I guess I'd better get to work.




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