Story – Robert McKee's Creative Storytelling Magazine Issue 005 – Drew Carey - Page 23

YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY A few years ago, a very talented line-by-line writer came to me for help. A publisher I respected had recommended her to me. The publisher believed (rightfully) that the woman had what it took to write bestselling thrillers. The publisher had passed on a number of her books – not because he didn’t find them compelling, but because ultimately they “didn’t work.” The writer asked me to work with her from first idea to final draft. That is, she wanted to start from scratch – seek my opinion about the right kind of character to feature, the particular genre of thriller that I felt was the most underserved and to basically engineer a new novel from start to finish using The Story Grid. She could not afford to pay my usual editorial fee, but I too believed in her, so we came to a profit-sharing relationship. We would be business partners, just like a couple of scientists figuring out how to create a new kind of light bulb. I’d done this sort of thing before with narrative nonfiction as well as fiction and while the work requires a multiple year commitment, I’ve never regretted taking it on. I always learn something new. We got to work. I walked her through The Story Grid, how I work, etc. and she was over the moon. It turned out that she was as much of a story nerd as I was. She had read and studied many of the same Story experts I had, so we spoke the same language. She immediately understood my principles and jumped right in to the process. We began by both agreeing that she’d write a contemporary thriller that would introduce a brand new series character, a woman with a Jason Bourne-like ignorance of her past. While the external genre was “spy thriller,” the internal genre of the book would be a “disillusionment plot.” (More on this later) Coincidentally, she told me that she had a draft of a book she’d written with a similar character in her closet. She suggested that we begin with that draft to see if there was anything salvageable from it. This is when I started to get nervous. But I relented. Maybe the manuscript could give us some direction – never say never, right? Why reinvent something that has already worked? I read her abandoned book and it had some really great moments. Innovative turns of phrase, some seriously frightening scenes. Overall, it gave me even more confidence in her abilities. But Story Magazine // Issue 005 it most certainly did not work. It never paid off the promise of the hook in an inevitable, yet surprising way. She did not disagree. I ran it through The Story Grid and then we sat down to go through the places where it went off the rails. Weeks later, I thought we had a very clear understanding that the new lead character for our reverse engineering project would not be based on the character from her previous unsold novel. Rather, we’d use a few of the scenes from the novel that really worked and perhaps adapt them to suit as major turning points for the new novel. I left her with a working map of about 60 scenes/chapters that included all of the conventions and obligatory scenes of the spy thriller form (more on this later on). I thought the conventions and obligatory scenes that we’d sketched out were uniquely twisted and innovative to a degree that would delight a thriller fan. I even cold pitched the story, like Hollywood screenwriters do, to a few friends who held very high editorial positions at Big Five publishing houses. These friends had purchased millions of dollars worth of stories from me before, so I knew they had zero interest in humoring me. They wanted me to give them the first crack