The finest writing not only reveals true character,
but arcs or changes to that inner nature, for better or worse.
In 1998 McKee signed my first edition hardback of STORY. He wrote:
“To Karel: Tell the TRUTH!”
Ironically with the quote at the top of this article, McKee is not telling his own truth.(*)
He contradicts something he teaches in his art film seminar. On Ingmar Bergman’s THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY(**), McKee makes the point that Bergman
“set out to prove what he desperately wanted to believe and carefully designed this film as a rhetorical argument in dramatic form to make his point. But then his instincts, his integrity, his sense of truth overwhelmed his intellectual ambitions and somehow all the scenes that say the opposite of what he believed overwhelmed the other and as a result the film says that rather than love showing the way to happiness, the more likely fate is that you will end up alone, desperate, blinded with self deception.”
In other words:
If you don’t believe the happy ending, don’t write it.
If you don’t believe characters change in the real world, don’t make them in your screenplays. Tell the Truth.
You don’t have the option to choose between a-protag-with or a-protag-without arc. You must write what you believe in.
Bergman, one of the great storytellers of all time, tried to end THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY on an uplifting note.
He didn’t believe it. It didn’t work.
(*) Earlier this year, Mystery Man refered to the same quote before building his brilliant Case AGAINST Character Arcs. MM substantiates his point with numerous classic films.
(**) Full transcript of McKee’s television introduction to that movie in my next post.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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