Heidi Rice talks about why learning something new can actually be surprisingly good fun, if you have the right teacher. And there really isn't anyone better at teaching the art of Story than the incredible Robert McKee... Add in some gorgeous Killarney scenery and you're all set for an amazing long weekend.
|Two go mad in Killarney!|
Many years ago, in a galaxy far far away I finished my American Studies degree at Warwick University and then ceremonially burned all my essays and notes, determined never to have to sit through another seminar again in my lifetime. I was now officially a grown up. Which meant I didn't have to do that boring shite ever again. And now here I was signing up for classes again. What had I been thinking? This could end up being the opposite of fun. Would my brain explode trying to learn something new after all this time?
|Ready to get down to business...|
Now, that said, McKee's four-day retreat is very full-on, very intense, and extremely hard work. What you're talking about is eight hours of lectures a day, with only two half-hour breaks and a one-hour break for lunch for FOUR consecutive days. I can tell you for a fact, I never had to work that hard at college. But the Story seminar is also fascinating, thought-provoking and delivered by a guy who knows how to hold an audience. McKee - an old school alpha male who can happily name-drop John Cleese and Kirk Douglas as past students - makes no bones about the fact that he is the guy in charge. No interruptions or questions are allowed during the lectures (although you can go up and ask him in the breaks), also no chit-chat, no late-comers and if your mobile phone goes off, you're in deep shite. Then again, as McKee explained, everyone had paid serious money to be there, and anyone who thought it was okay to interrupt another's learning experience was going to get short shrift from him, and frankly I was with him on that... It's not that hard to turn off a mobile phone.
|Subplots and how to use them.|
|Good omen on Day 3|
McKee's basic lesson though to writers can be encapsulated in one particularly enlightening sentence (which I'm going to attempt to para-phrase here from my FIVE notebooks full of notes - uh-huh, FIVE. I am such a swot!):
Your characters reveal who they really are through the choices they make under pressure while trying to obtain their object of design against the forces of antagonism.
|Lunch break by the lake in lovely Killarney.|
Ultimately, it turned out to be a pretty emotional four days. Because McKee imbues a lot of his own life and opinions into his teaching - and he shoots straight from the hip (i.e.: expect to hear the f-word creatively used on occasion!). After a six-hour dissection of Casablanca on our last day (that movie has five subplots!!!) I was exhausted, while at the same time feeling energised and excited about the stories I'm currently working on.
Best of all, am pleased to announce me and McKee appear to be kindred spirits when it comes to film appreciation, because he loathed Titanic as much as I did. One comment on the movie is somewhat unrepeatable (something about floating turds but ruder) but I had to wholeheartedly agree with his main observation which speaks to the heart of what he was saying about honest story-telling: "Why did she let him die? Didn't we all think there was enough room on that pallet for the both of them?"
Of course, the movie was a huge hit, so McKee isn't infallible, and he does point out that his theories are guidelines, rather than hard and fast rules - but that comment still made me chuckle!
Special thanks go to Abby Green and Katrina Cudmore for joining me on the journey (and bringing wine and orange flapjacks as required)!
Heidi is currently working on her next novel for Harlequin Presents after being offered a new contract! And getting over excited about the release of her first longer book, So Now You're Back in Feb 2016. You can contact her on Twitter (@HeidiRomRice), Facebook, her blog or through her website if you want to know more.