The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

  Chris George    Jul 31, 2018
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

Level: Intermediate and up. This book isn't about becoming a better writer. It is about becoming a better storyteller.

"My goal is to explain how a great story works, along with the techniques needed to create one, so that you will have the best chance of writing a great story of your own." - John Truby

As a writer, I am always looking for a better way of doing things, especially things that promise to be easier, cheaper, faster, or "the key to it all". If there is one thing I have learned after reading so many "11 Elements of Character" or "The 8 Laws of Foreshadowing" blog posts it is that there is no "easy" when it comes to putting it all together on the page. How do the 11 elements fit into the 8 laws of foreshadowing? Or is it the other way around?

Luckily, "The Anatomy of Story" by John Truby, does not promise to make writing a story easy and really isn't about the mechanics of writing. It is about what makes stories work and how to think about getting that "what" onto the page using your characters, your plot, and your writing. Truby asks questions and the only one who can answer them is you. By the end of the book, if you do all of the exercises, you will have several thousand words of answers to those questions.

Truby has a serious case of hero worship but in a good way. Truby contends that the story is all about the hero's psychological journey and how that journey plays out in relation to all other elements found in the story. Those relationships are what make good stories great. Making them clear in your mind and finding ways to put them on the page creates the magic of brilliant storytelling.

This book has changed how I think about stories. It has also changed how I write. Rather than itemizing what I am including in a story, like character, plot, and setting, I found myself learning to look at the relationships and not just the separate things. How *does* the hero's psychological journey get reflected in the use of time and place in the story? How can I convey that relationship using dialogue? Backstory?

Truby is all about the story. His analyses of popular stories from literature and the silver screen are spot on. To see how those relationships are implemented by other writers in great stories is eye-opening. It clarifies his points and shows writers concrete examples of his ideas at work. They also provide an immediate template for fleshing out our own stories with those ideas.

Highlights

  • Truby uses writing exercises to ensure that the difficult job of thinking about your story has been completed before the end of the book. I recommend reading through the book once and then going through it again with your text editor open.
  • The book is littered with examples from great stories that illuminate absolutely every single point Truby makes, making it clear how each item described works in the story.
  • Truby focuses on the story, not the mechanics of writing.

Should You Buy?

Pros

  • Provides a framework for creating a story. The writing is still up to us.
  • Spurs original thinking about characters, settings, structure, and plot.
  • Ensures that all elements of the story are considered before fingers are put to keyboard.

Cons

  • Represents a lot of work if you stick to his method, much of which won't make it into the word count.

Every writer of fiction will benefit from reading this book. The story is not writing but the story is fundamental to writing fiction. We may be superb writers and horrible storytellers. This book can change how we think about a story and help us get those thoughts where it counts, onto the page.

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