Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Importance of Hell in Story Structure

In a email blast from Final Draft (the screenwriting program people) was a link to some video clips of Robert McKee (STORY) answering questions from his fans. At the bottom of the page was an UNLISTED YouTube clip where McKee is being interviewed by HELLBOUND producer Kevin Miller about the importance of "hell" in storytelling.

McKee claims to be an atheist, but that may be a marketing ploy. Here's his answer, which I think is profound in terms of characters, the decisions they make, and the risk of real consequences in the real world in which they live:

I teach writing. I teach story. The root of any story is the choices that the character’s make under the pressure of life to take one action versus another, as they pursue what they want. So if I believe in God again I’d have to believe in hell. You see, if damnation isn’t eternal that leads to junkie logic. (Kevin: How so?) I’ll take care of it tomorrow. Where hell eliminates tomorrow. So you can’t take care of it tomorrow. You have to take care of it today or you die with a mortal sin on your soul and you go to hell for e-v-e-r.    
The notion that there really isn’t hell is simply a wussy effort by certain people to make God a nice guy–because they can’t deal with the dichotomy that god is both a protector and lover, and a punisher. They want to eliminate the punisher. If that’s the case then choice doesn’t matter, everything is forgiven, everybody goes to heaven, and that’s no way to run a society. And so, as an atheist, I think that there are really world consequences of doing good or evil. But a lot of people want to postpone that to the afterlife, but there have to be real consequences. If there’s not, then choice doesn’t have any meaning. And if choice doesn’t have any meaning, life doesn’t have any meaning. And by eliminating hell, these people are sucking the meaning out of life.

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