And now I face the final curtain…

As a new forensic thriller writer, I don’t have much in the way of great writing advice to give – I’m still trying to hoover up all that I can find. But I can take up Michael Koryta’s suggestion that we share feedback of programs that might benefit other writers. Actually, I think Michael suggested sharing the love we had for programs from which we’d benefited; this is going to be a slightly more ambivalent critique of a prominent program.

Robert McKee’s book and lecture series on Story have a huge following in Hollywood and elsewhere. The seminar, which runs three days and costs over $500, promises an intensive introduction to the art and craft of screenwriting and story creation, and boasts alumni from John Cleese to The DaVinci Code‘s Dan Brown. Many rave about the seminar, but my own experience was decidedly mixed.


The biggest problem is that McKee loves to hear himself talk, and fills much of the first day with McKee-related puffery (much as I’ve done today, to be fair). After that, things get a little smoother and more interesting, and by the time the final, four hour, scene by scene breakdown screening of Casablanca comes around, you’re rushing to scribble down as much information as you can – and cursing McKee for having wasted so much time on blather at the beginning when he could have been transmitting the good stuff at a more relaxed pace.

I should admit that I might have had rather specialized issues with the teacher. To recap, I am an English forensic pathologist who writes for Martha Stewart Living; the Venn diagram of Englishness, forensic pathologist-ness and writing for Martha Stewart Living-ness has a lonely overlap – me. So it was with growing surprise that I sat there as McKee roundly and repeatedly insulted the English (perhaps not surprising for a man who claims Irish ancestry; although I suspect that I, with three Welsh grandparents and one Irish one, am more Irish than he is), then continued on to use Martha as a leitmotiv for his japes. The crowning moment came when McKee announced that studies had shown that approximately three quarters of people who work with the dead are necrophiliacs.

In truth, I was more amused than offended. I don’t know how much I got out of the program – certainly not as much from reading Stephen King’s On Writing, which I found more inspirational than instructional. But part of the problem with the McKee thing may have been that for much of the three day stretch I was trying to figure out who among my twenty colleagues were the fifteen necrophiles…

Anyway, that’s me done for the day. I’m slightly sneaking into Thursday, but we went and saw the new Bourne film, so I figure I get a little leeway. Thanks for reading, and please take a look at Precious Blood this autumn – you’ll make my dear old mum so proud!