I’ve appreciated Robert McKee’s work for a long time now. As a screenwriting lecturer, a lot of his work relates well to fiction writing because his focus is firmly on how to tell a good story and I recently watched a short video where he gives his views on an important question: At what stage of writing should you show the work to someone? Again, he’s speaking specifically to screenwriters and for them, it’s common to articulate the story and almost practice the pitch before a word is written but I think his point about nailing the ending is a good indicator of how thoroughly you have to know your work before opening the door to the opinion of others.
This is a question for anyone considering joining or starting a writers’ group so I thought I’d write up a brief summary of his answer below but please check out the video too (as well as his website!)
You might, when an idea comes to you and you have a notion…(a) premise might be something you take to people just to hear their reactions and if they say I’ve heard that story before…then, at that point, people’s reactions would be very important to you, to encourage you or discourage you because the idea either strikes them, the premise is very unique or the premise is very cliche.
The most common point, however, when you want to hear people’s reactions is when you have outlined the story, you’ve got the inciting incident, you’ve built the progressions and you’ve got what you feel is an ending. When you really feel that you have finally found your ending, it’s at that point that you want to sit people down and tell them the story, scene by scene, event by event, so you can watch their reactions. Are they interested? Are their eyes wandering? Have I hooked them? Am I building their involvement? And, very importantly, when I get to the climax, do I get out of them, the one strong reaction that I want to the climax to my story? Do they then sit back and say, ‘wow! What a story.’?
When the ending finally delivers, then you want to try it out on as many people as you can, to be certain that they all (or most of them, say 7/10) to listen to your story and its ending, then just react with, ‘wow, what a great yarn.’ Then, you know you’ve got a story. Now you can move to the writing.