Featured Book of the Month
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
This first book from story consultant and screenwriting guru John Truby is essentially a distillation of what he's been telling us for years in his screenwriting courses. A
400+ page distillation, that is -- which lays out virtually everything you need to know to become a master storyteller. Not just a screenwriter...but a storyteller.
While a bit advanced, you shouldn't have much problem with this book even if you're a complete beginner. It helps if you know the movies used most often as examples -- The Godfather, Tootsie, the Verdict, L.A. Confidential, It's A Wonderful Life -- but anyone of average intelligence should be able to pick up the concepts easily enough.
Truby's goal is to help you to write an organic movie that doesn't feel like something mechanically assembled from a list of principles. To do this he walks you through all sorts of exercises designed basically to tease the story out of your logline and build it up naturally -- devising characters as natural expressions of the story, placing those characters in opposition via weakness, need and desire, and bringing the story to a climax that proceeds logically from all that's come before.
The book's a great way to flesh out an idea -- before you know it, you'll have a web of characters, a designing principle and moral argument, landscapes and symbols which express what you're trying to achieve, and a plot which follows the 22 steps.
The titular 22 steps are the 22 beats of the ideal movie plot. They are expanded from 7 more fundamental beats which chart the motion of any good story from beginning to end. It's a very useful paradigm, and will be enlightening to story neophytes and experts alike.
Three-act structure? Forget about it! "The sooner you abandon three-act structure and learn the techniques of advanced plotting, the better off you will be." (p. 287) And he's right. Think about it: three-act structure has led to a lot of carnage in Hollywood. It gives you a certain number of plot points (anywhere from two to ten), then turns you loose. "Figure it out! Make something up!"
This is why screenwriting teachers are so busy coming up more than three of any particular script unit -- five stages, eight sequences, fifteen beats, etc. The 22 steps may be the most units yet! And at first glance, you might think it's a lot...maybe too much.
Not really The first step is more of a "zeroth" step which occurs before the credits roll. So there are really 21. And the steps are not necessarily meant to follow one after another in flow chart fashion. In many areas, they overlap. They also spread across a grid that services not only plot, but character, story world, and "moral argument" (Truby's refining of "theme", which will be refreshing to those frustrated by themes, morals and messages.)
The 22 steps are basically 22 aspects of a movie, arranged in generally chronological order -- the 22 things Truby has identified as being essential to a good story. And you'd be hard pressed to eliminate any of them.
Along the way you'll find a hell of a lot of great tidbits, most of them in bold italic callouts labeled KEY POINT. You could pick up this book in the store and get a lot of great information just by looking through these -- but do yourself a favor and just buy it. You'll be glad you did. (Note: the paperback version is slated for release in mid-October.)
Drawbacks? The book is long, and it will probably take more than one reading to really absorb all it has to offer. The dizzying array of terms can be daunting. If you've consumed a lot of screenwriting books, you'll find some familiar concepts here already. And a couple of the chapters are thin, offering little more than an introduction to the concepts they cover (padded with abundant details from movies which don't always explain the unexplainable). But these are flaws of abundance -- which is just the kind of thing you want in what amounts to a reference book for every story you will ever write, in screenplay form or otherwise.
A worthy addition to any screenwriter's bookshelf!
StoryPros Verdict: Recommended
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