We Change and Change Again

I’m reading through Robert McKee’s book on film writing, Story, which came recommended to me through a gaming podcast (that was discussing writing RPG modules of all things). I’m enjoying it so far, finding that most of it resonates with my own ideas of story, while also picking up some gems of insight.

McKee said something about the differences between the optimistic Hollywood approach to story versus the pessimistic European “art film” approach:

Americans are escapees from prisons of stagnant culture and rigid class who crave change. We change and change again, trying to find what, if anything, works. After weaving the trillion-dollar safety net of the Great Society, we’re now shredding it.

This statement seemed to mirror some of my own attitudes, particularly in my youth, when I was constantly challenging everything, often before I even really understood it. I would change a writing convention just because, at a subconscious level, I believed change was somehow in and of itself good. And honestly, although this may have been a personal rite of passage that I had to go through, I feel this wasted a lot of my time.

That’s not to say that I believe in adhering to traditional standards, because “they work damn’t!” It’s just to say, I wish I had understood some things about the way art works better with a thoughtful consistency and structure (whatever that arbitrary consistency is).

It’s not that change is bad. It can be wonderful. But it just seems like the wrong focus, that pulls energy away from where your artistic sweat and blood should be going. A good artist doesn’t lose sleep over whether his message is the arbiter of change. He worries about whether it’s the right message. Or least, an interesting one.

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