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.