A Review of ‘Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting’ by Robert McKee

In my continuing quest to learn more about story Structure and Pacing, I read this book on screenwriting. It is a somewhat famous book on advanced screenwriting. I found that most of it’s lessons were applicable to novel writing. It is not a book on the basics of writing (grammar, vocab, plot, pacing), but rather the nuance that often gets left on the wayside. This is about character, subtext, theme and being indirect with dialog.

This is a difficult book. The author used elevated language which, when combined with the difficult subject matter, made understanding what the author was trying to say that much more difficult. I just finished the book ‘Save the Cat! writes a Novel,’ so I’ll compare the two. Save the Cat! was of a middle school reading level, whereas this was definitely college level. That’s not to say one or the other is bad; it’s to say that it was easier to make headway into Save the Cat. Reading ‘Story’ required active effort on my part.

For some constructive criticism, the author didn’t provide much in the way of solid advice on how you go about writing in a subtle fashion. I would have liked some more solid advice like ‘Use this method to improve your storytelling habits!’ Instead, the author cited various quality movies and used them as examples. While I valued the examples the author provided, on their own they didn’t provide all the steps required for me to emulate them. That said, I think I can figure out how to do it, but it will take some trial and error.

I suggest you read this if you are an already somewhat experienced author. If you haven’t written a story or two yet, I’d avoid this for now. Once you get some experience under your belt come back to read this, but if you read it while you’re too inexperienced it might blind you to the forest for the trees.  If you are an experienced author, I do suggest you give this a spin. I found it to be very insightful. I don’t yet know how helpful it will be, but it was definitely insightful.

This is a deep and rich text, and I will return to it in the future. I have the feeling that this is the sort of text that demands multiple re-reads to pull out all it’s content.


GRADE: Good for writers who have multiple completed projects and want to level up their writing skill. Hard read, though. As you read this, you need to focus 100%.

Overall Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)



Genres/Tagwords: Writing, editing, outlining, Writing Advice, Pacing, Structure

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