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Search tags: sociology-of-reviewing
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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 17:19
A quote for readers as much as for writers
Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character - David McKenna,Christopher Vogler

The terms are these: They agree to give you something of value, their money, but also a much more valuable consideration, their time. As a screenwriter you are asking them to pay attention to you and you only for ninety minutes, and as a novelist for much longer. Think about that! Focused attention has always been one of the rarest and most valuable commodities in the universe, and it's even truer today, when people have so many things fighting for their attention. So for them to give you even a few minutes of their focus is huge stakes to put on the table, worth much more than the ten bucks or so they shell out for a book or a movie ticket. Therefore, you'd better come up with something really good to fulfill your part of the bargain.

McKenna, David and Vogler, Christopher.  Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character (Kindle Locations 454-459). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.


Emphasis is mine.


Dear Readers:  If the author doesn't keep his or her "part of the bargain," you don't owe them anything further.  Not kindness, not praise, not consideration for the time they put in.  They are like any other purveyor of goods or services: If the product is bad, you have no obligation to lie to protect their feelings.

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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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text 2018-02-21 20:46
Modeling agencies
A Natural History of the Romance Novel - Pamela Regis

I could do this as a "currently reading" title with periodic updates, but too much is going on, so I'm just going to leave a few notes here and there.  You can follow, or not, as you choose.



Regis bases her analysis of the content of romance novels on the literary theories of mid-20th century critic Northrop Frye.  She seems, therefore, to be trying to fit the popular fiction form of the romance novel into the academic model of "literature," as though the two were almost entirely distinct.  Any prose narrative that has already been accepted as "literature" by the credentialed academic community -- such as Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre -- has been granted respect.  Regis seems to be attempting to squeeze romance novels into the same mold while at the same time insisting they are so different from literature that they cannot be considered literature, but if they can be seen to share some characteristics, then they might be worthy of some respect.


Yes, it's contorted logic.  But Regis never comes out and admits romance novels -- as they are written, published, read, and enjoyed today -- are essentially no different in content or form from "literature."  That would be academic sacrilege.  A kind of "separate, but sort of equal" compromise that would allow her to sell her book without losing her academic standing.


Jane Austen didn't write "literature."  Neither did Charles Dickens.  Neither did Wilkie Collins or Victor Hugo.  Maybe it's time to look at more than a few samples from "literature," samples which already have the stamp of "romance novel," and look at more than a few samples of real romance novels from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and compare them to a more neutral standard, and perhaps a more universal standard.  Then see how both of them stand up.

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