Anatomy of Story
One of the most useful, inspirational books I came across during my research was ‘The Anatomy of Story’ a book by John Truby. In this book he really breaks down the aspects of ‘story’ and makes it’s simple to understand what a story needs to be a good story.
It is said that there are three distinct elements of a story; the listener; the story teller and the story that is told.
The story teller makes up the characters and the actions they take throughout the tale. They tell what happens by laying out a set of actions that are completed in some way. Summing up the events and linking them so that they create one unit to the listener (a full story).
Storytelling is about creating and building a series of events that create intense moments which grab the reader’s attention so that they feel involved in some way. If the events are not attention grabbing and interesting in some way then they would be just a bunch of events or memories. Part of storytelling is letting the audience be able to understand the choices and emotions that led the character/ characters to carry out their actions but in a playful or entertaining way.
He compares the story as being like a puzzle, in the way that the audience is trying to figure out what is happening/ will happen, which is controlled by the writer giving certain information and withholding certain information. Withholding information is vital in grabbing the audience’s attention and forces them to figure it out. For example when you might flick to a channel on TV and you start watching something that you would not normally be interested but carry on just because you want to know what will happen.
‘All stories are a form of communication that expresses the dramatic code.’
Dramatic code is an artistic description of how a person can grow or evolve. The code of growth, hidden beneath the character and their actions is what a reader will take from a good story. A story will usually follow a characters wants, what they do to get their personal want, and what costs they pay along the way. Once the characters aim, desire and need has been identified the story can go on.
Follows the main character from beginning to end.
The character has a desire but not an intense one, and will easily go off track and meet new people and events along the way.
A character exploring something and getting deeper and deeper into it, usually used for thrillers.
Exploring different societies fully along the way.
Lots of paths extending simultaneously. Lots of stories happening at once that come together.
Techniques to writing the story
• Seven key story steps
• Story world
• Symbol web
• Scene weave
• Scene construction and symphonic dialogue
The seven key steps
• Weakness and need
• New equilibrium
Weakness and need
At the beginning the hero has a weakness or weaknesses that prevent them from progressing. The weakness is usually something holding them back in some way. So the need is what he hero must do to improve their life/ themselves and overcome what is preventing them from achieving it. Going through a phase of or and growth.
Key point – The hero should not be aware of his need at the beginning of the story.
Key point – Give your hero a moral need as well as a psychological need.
Key point – Keep the problem simple and specific.
A technique suggested is to push the strength so far that it becomes a weakness.
• Identify a virtue, make them so passionate that if becomes an oppressive.
• Find a value that they believe in and create the opposite/ negative version of this.
What the character wants. Like a goal in the story and not in life.
Someone who wants to get in the way of the hero preventing them from achieving the desire, but is competing with the hero for the same goal.
If they have different goals then the conflict between them would be none-existent, each would possibly achieve their goal easily and there would be no story. An important thing to do is ask and identify what the most important thing they are fighting for or about, and make that the main subject in your story.
Key point – The hero cannot be his own enemy as this would really just be a weakness within the hero and not an enemy. (as much as I believe this I also believe that in some situations, especially stories explaining characters with split personalities or a side to themselves they are not aware of, a story can have no existing opponent and have their weakness as the thing they battle against to reach their goal.)
Like the saying ‘Failure to plan is planning to fail’ something I find you get told through life in most situations. Not having a plan in a story is not having a strategy to overcome the opponent/ enemy and reach the goal. The plan can be written out and made clear to the audience or reviled though out the story as the character plays out their actions.
Realization of one’s self that the character’s journey can help to reveal. It is suggested that the best way to show this would be to reveal it through the characters actions rather that writing out exactly what it is they have realized or learnt. Realization of their previous actions comes into play and new actions are taken on their new found moral realization or belief.
When everything has turned back to normal, with the only difference being the situation that the hero is in, this can be either a positive or negative result depending on what happened throughout the story. Positive being self-revelation/ realization and change. Negative being the defeat of the hero or no self-revelation.
I found a writing exercise in the book that would be useful to consider when writing stories.
• Write each step/ event of the story in a single sentence.
• Write these in order which may not be the final order.
• Study the events and identify the seven structure steps.
Start with the self-revelation and work backwards from this. Make it clear and be prepared to change this.