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The Anatomy of Story

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The Anatomy of Story

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The Anatomy of Story
22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
By John Truby
Faber and Faber, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-86547-993-7

Reviewed by Richard S. Rodgers - November 10, 2017

Becoming a master storyteller takes two main ingredients - learning the fundamentals of storytelling and lots, and lots of practice. The practice you will have to do on your own, however the fundamentals of storytelling can be learned relatively easily. One method is by studying and reading a lot of great stories, another, quicker method (but one that should be used in conjunction with reading great stories) is to read a book or take a class designed to teach you these fundamentals. One such book is John Truby's The Anatomy of Story. Although designed to teach the fundamentals of storytelling to scriptwriters, the information presented in this book also applies to writers of both genre and literary fiction.

In The Anatomy of Story, Truby delineates what he considers to be the 22-steps that you need to master in order to become a master storyteller. He also provides a detailed overview of the primary structure (i.e., anatomy) of a story, a structure that you need to master in order to construct a gripping story. It is also a structure that you need to master in order to determine when, and if, your story will work better if you vary the structure. In the process of teaching the story anatomy, he also covers such essential story elements as developing a concrete premise and constructing believable characters, creating a story world, plotting your story, how to create an ending that will bring your audience back for more, and so much more. Because this book is aimed toward screenwriters, the examples that Truby uses throughout the book are garnered mostly from blockbuster films, such as Casablanca, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby, Jaws, Tootsie, and far too many more than can be listed here. He also looks at film adaptations of such classics as Shakespeare's King Lear and Emily Brontė's Wuthering Heights.

While most writing books, especially those dealing with screenwriting, tend to focus on the three-act structure, Truby's book shows that to truly construct a gripping and memorable story you have to include more nuanced steps into your story construction. It also shows that unlike the simplistic outline of a three-act structure, to truly become a master storyteller you need to look more to what motivates your characters, and your audience, and to more fully flesh out your story than you might otherwise do when just following the three-act structure. In this book, Truby breaks down every element of his 22-step writing technique, and using a plethora of examples, clear explanations, and insights on what works and doesn't work, he offers writers a solid foundation upon which to build their stories, and writing careers.

Truby is not only a skilled and articulate teacher, but he is also a talented writer of screenplays and he has worked extensively as a script consultant (script doctor). He has taught a masterclass on the anatomy of a story and the 22-steps outlined in this book to thousands of students (by some reports 40,000+ students) both in person, and online. Now, with the publication of The Anatomy of Story, writers at every level of their career can avail themselves of Truby's knowledge in the comfort of their own home, and at their own speed. The only drawback to this otherwise excellent book is that the print size is very small, and the print is very light in color, making it difficult to read. However, even if you have to use a magnifier to read this book, it is worth the effort as even seasoned writers are likely to uncover some kernel of information that will improve their writing acumen.


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