Saturday, March 5, 2011

Anatomy of Story by John Truby

This book is amazing. It was recommended to me by one of my writer-friends at some point during my revision process (thanks Gina!). If there's ever a time in my life where I remember saying, "Gee, I'm glad I listened to that person," this would be one.

Anatomy of Story was like applying the scientific method to literature. Which is also exactly why it's gotten some flack (Amazon reviewers...). Come on Truby, how dare you stifle creativity with something so formulaic? But that's the beauty of it. Truby has set up a sort of "gold standard" for stories. You can dream and plot to your hearts content. And, like the scientific method, as long as you stay within those parameters (22 steps of parameters), you'll end up with a solid product that has been tried and tested against every foe you ever imagined. Plot holes? Try and find them!

Truby uses many familiar stories--Star Wars, The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca, Shrek, Aliens, Harry Potter, etc--to compare commonalities. Why people love them and why they last. They have an "organic" quality to them. And, he helps you figure out how to do it yourself.

Here's how his book is broken down:

1: CREATE YOUR PREMISE. State your story idea in a single sentence.

2: USE the SEVEN KEY STEPS of STORY STRUCTURE. Weakness and need; Desire; Opponent; Plan; Battle; Self-Revelation; New Equilibrium.

3: CREATE YOUR CHARACTERS. Create characters from your premise.

4: OUTLINE THE MORAL ARGUMENT. Outline the moral argument or theme inherent in your premise.

5: CREATE THE STORY WORLD. Create the story world "as an outgrowth of your hero."


7: CREATE YOUR PLOT. (He's got 22 steps for this!)



At the end of each chapter, there's an exercise for you to work through using your story. He really makes you disect your story--get to the heart of the issues and themes. Really get to know your characters (Ever talk to yours? Go ask them how they're feeling today.) And what you find--at least what I found--is that your story will be richer, you'll have characters that are much more nuanced and believable, a plot that seems like there was no other possible way for it to unfold, and a consistency that I think every writer should read this book. It's an invaluabe tool for creating.

What resources have some of you used while developing your story?


  1. This book sounds fantastic, and I must check it out. I'm a fan of books about writing (even ones that treat it like a science) and one of my favorites is Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. Very helpful!

  2. Thanks for sharing!--I'll have to go check out that one as well. Donald Maass has some fabulous insight.


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