Story Development – Controlling Idea

As part of the process of developing our story ideas for film we have been introduced to exercises and concepts from the book Story by Robert McKee. One of these concepts is something called the Controlling Idea, which on first hearing made me balk somewhat at the idea of being ‘controlling’ but it has helped me understand the importance of having a strong singular intention at the heart of the film to help inform, support and inspire other threads that arise.


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.
Story by Robert McKee, pg. 115


It consists of value and cause, identifying the positive or negative outcome or value at the climax of the film and the reason that value changed to that state. So for my film I went through a few iterations before coming to the final idea. These included;


Creative self-expression is achieved because the protagonist accepts her past.


Self-determination is restored because the protagonist uses self-expression to define her own reality.


Vulnerability is accepted because the protagonist creates beauty from the darkness.


While I felt that these expressed something within the story, I didn’t feel like they were communicating the nuance of the original piece, the seeking for balance, not an outright victory in the situation because that is impossible in the wider context. So the final one reads as;


The protagonist brings herself to a state of temporary existential
equilibrium through employing the tools of creative self-expression.

This sentence describes for me the struggle that happens throughout the story and helps me to keep in mind that in the end it’s not about some form of a victory, it’s about the process of self-expression as an ongoing resource.


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