This Reading Review is based on the Lesson 08 reading from Robert McKee’s Story. There are 10 questions. The Review is not graded

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READING REVIEW: LESSON 08


This Reading Review is based on the Lesson 08 reading from Robert McKee’s Story.

There are 10 questions. The Review is not graded.
1. In Chapter 6, Robert McKee says that when this happens, “you think you’re having a religious experience.” What is he describing?


  1. The moment when a story’s structure falls into place

  2. A moment in which an idea and an emotion are fused

  3. The moment when a character realizes his ultimate, secondary goal

  4. The moment you write a screenplay’s climactic scene

Hint: “Life on its own, without art to shape it, leaves you in confusion and chaos, but…” (Page 111, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)


Correct: “When an idea wraps itself around an emotional charge, it becomes all the more powerful, all the more profound, all the more memorable. You might forget the day you saw a dead body in the street, but the death of Hamlet haunts you forever.
“…In life, experiences become meaningful with reflection in time. In art, they are meaningful now, at the instant they happen.” (Page 111, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)
2. According to McKee, story is


  1. Nonintellectual

  2. Anti-intellectual

  3. A clockwork of reasoning

  4. A vent for inchoate emotions

Hint: Scholarly acumen sharpens taste and judgment, but we must never mistake criticism for art.” (Page 111, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)

Correct: “…story is, at heart, nonintellectual. It does not express ideas in the dry, intellectual arguments of an essay. That is not to say it is anti-intellectual. We pray that the writer has ideas of import and insight. …Scholarly acumen sharpens taste and judgment, but we must never mistake criticism for art. …A well-told story neither expresses the clockwork reasonings of a thesis, nor vents raging inchoate emotions. It triumphs in the marriage of the rational with the irrational.” (Page 111, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)
3. According to McKee, a PREMISE is:


  1. The “magic if”

  2. The controlling idea of a screenplay

  3. The center of the story that must remain

  4. Something that must spring from careful planning.

Hint: “A premise… is rarely a closed statement.” (Pages 112-113, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)


Correct: “A Premise, however, unlike a Controlling Idea, is rarely a closed statement. More likely it’s an open-ended question: What would happen if…? …Stravinsky calls this the “Magic if…,” the daydreamy hypothetical that floats through the mind, opening the door to the imagination where everything and anything seems possible. (Pages 112-113, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)
4. According to McKee, a CONTROLLING IDEA is:


  1. Something that should be explained rather than dramatized

  2. The dominant one of several ideas around which a story is constructed
  3. A clear, coherent sentence that expresses the story’s meaning


  4. The single, recurring idea that the characters discuss throughout the story

Hint: Audiences are rarely interested, and certainly never convinced, when forced to listen to the discussion of ideas. Dialog, the natural talk of characters pursuing desire, is not a platform for the filmmaker’s philosophy. (Page 114, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)


Correct: “A Controlling Idea may be expressed in a single sentence describing how and why life undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning to another at the end.
…The Controlling Idea has two components. Value plus Cause. It identifies the positive or negative charge of the story’s critical value at the last act’s climax, and it identifies the chief reason that this value has changed to its final state.” (Page 115, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)
5. How do you find your story’s Controlling Idea?


  1. By listening, like an outsider, to the ideas your characters express.

  2. You don’t. Discussions of theme are the responsibility of critics and audiences.

  3. By tracing backward from the ending to see what value was brought forth

  4. The Controlling Idea is revealed by your protagonist’s First Act Break Choice.

Hint: “This climax of the last act is a final action that excites and moves you, that feels complete and satisfying. The Controlling Idea is now at hand.” (Page 117, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)

Correct: “Looking at your ending, ask: As a result of this climactic action, what value, positively or negatively charged, is brought into the world of my protagonist? Next, tracing backward from this climax, digging to the bedrock, ask: What is the chief coause, force or means by which this value is brought into the world? The sentence you compose from the answers to those questions becomes your Controlling Idea.” (Page 117, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)

6. According to McKee:


  1. A story will dictate its own meaning

  2. A writer must not allow a story to wander into an irresponsible meaning

  3. A master storyteller knows his story’s meaning and structures accordingly

  4. B and C

Hint: “You do not draw action from idea, rather idea from action.” (Page 118, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)


Correct: “In other words, the story tells you its meaning; you do not dictate meaning to the story. You do not draw action from idea, rather idea from action.
“…The Story Climax mirrors your inner self, and if your story is from the very best sources within you, more often than not you’ll be shocked by what you see reflected in it.” (Page 118, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)
7. According to McKee, how does one avoid didacticism?


  1. By clearly defining your story’s good and bad characters

  2. By taking great care to build the opposing sides

  3. By taking great care to avoid accidentally supporting the opposing side

  4. By allowing the audience to teach themselves

Hint: “When your Premise is an idea you feel you must prove to the world, and you design your story as an undeniable certification of that idea, you set yourself on the road to didacticism.” (Page 121, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)

Correct: “In creating the dimensions of your story’s ‘argument,’ take great care to build up the power of both sides. Compose the scenes and sequences that contradict your final statement with as much truth and energy as those that reinforce it.” (Page 120, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)

8. Which of the following does McKee say most often results in films that tend to last the longest through time?


  1. The Pessimist, or “down-ending” story

  2. The Ironic story that ends on neither a hopeful nor cynical note.

  3. The Idealist or “up-ending” story

  4. None of the above

Hint: “…life is rarely all sunshine and strawberries, nor is it all doom and drek. It is both. (Page 128, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)


Correct: “From the worst of experiences, something positive can be gained; for the richest of experiences a great price must be paid. No matter how we try to plot a straight passage through life, we sail on the tides of irony. Reality is relentlessly ironic, and this is why stories that end in irony tend to last the longest through time, travel the widest in the world, and draw the greatest love and respect from audiences.” (Page 128, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)
9. McKee cautions the writer to avoid the temptation to take the Controlling Idea too seriously. In the end, a writer is simply creating entertainment.


  1. True

  2. False

Hint: “Once you discover your Controlling Idea, respect it.” (Page 129, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)


Correct: “Once you discover your Controlling Idea, respect it. Never allow yourself the luxury of thinking, ‘It’s just entertainment.’ Entertainment is… investing tremendous concentration and energy into what one hopes will be a satisfying, meaningful emotional experience.

“…No story is innocent. All coherent tales express an idea veiled inside an emotional spell.” (Page 129, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)

10. In 388 B.C., Plato urged the city fathers of Athens to exile all poets and storytellers, asserting they were dangerous people. McKee says he was right. Why?


  1. Writers conceal ideas inside the seductive emotions of art

  2. Effective stories send a charged idea out to us, compelling us to believe.

  3. Effective stories may persuade us to believe things that are morally repellant.

  4. All of the above.

Hint: “Writers deal with ideas, but not in the open, rational manner of philosophers.” (Page 129, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)


Correct: “Writers deal with ideas, but not in the open, rational manner of philosophers.

“…Artists threaten authority by exposing lies and inspiring passion for change. This is why when tyrants seize power, their firing squads aim for the heart of the writer.” (Pages 129-130, Robert McKee’s Story, 1997)
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