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on 23 March 2013
First a quick note about me: I'm a ghost writer by profession with more than thirty-five novels under my belt at this point, some of which have done quite well. I need to understand the craft of writing to do my job, and this is as good a starting place as any.

I first read this at university, when I was working on one of my first novels. I liked Truby's emphasis on using the strength of the premise to keep other story elements such as plot, character, setting and so on coherent. I still find his seven basic structure steps quite useful when I'm in a hurry and if you're looking to learn how to approach structure in a formal way, this is a clear, straightforward, reasonably practical guide that offers a valid alternative to options like the Hero's Journey approach.

In terms of voice and presentation, I generally like the book. Most of what is here is quite clear, and most of it makes a certain amount of sense. Seemingly inevitably in this kind of structure book, Truby suggests that his approach is the only one that 'really' works, which is one of my pet hates, since people can and do produce beautiful works with all kinds of different approaches. More than that, I don't think anyone can ever really claim they're giving you a magic paint by numbers set with which to produce Old Masters.

So there are the usual general warnings with this sort of thing. Remember that when writers like this analyse stories and find their own system at their heart, you could just as easily turn around and find several others. Remember that an analysis of great storytelling does not necessarily equate to a guarrantee that by following those steps you will produce great work. Remember that like all books in this genre, this one is necessarily general. And remember that you can overdo it.

Having said that, I do like this book a lot, both because its approach is slightly less formulaic than some others, encouraging you to think about your story for yourself until at least the back end of it, and because it shows that there are other analyses out there beyond the standard ones.
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on 17 January 2016
This is a really interesting read, and a compelling post-rationale about what makes great stories great. However, as a guide to how to write a great story, I'm unconvinced. I doubt that anyone uses this system consciously to write stories from scratch - rather great stories just happen to have these qualities about them.

The system is quite unintuitive, and leaves the writer in something of a chicken-and-egg scenario, which makes it difficult to know where to start. I think this is actually better put to use in trying to determine what is *not* working about a story that you've already written, rather than in trying to plan something from scratch.

The book is unnecessarily long and very repetitive, and many of the examples he uses - whilst doubtless examples of great storytelling - aren't particularly strong examples of the techniques he puts forward. It's almost like the can't think of any good examples of some of the techniques, which leads me to question the wisdom of what I'm being told.
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on 9 November 2008
I bought the hardback from Amazon when it came out last November - and I would highly recommend the paperback version now it's published. As the previous reviews here (and elsewhere) will testify, you either love Truby's 22-step paradigm or you hate it (and prefer to stick to the three-act structure propounded by Field, McKee et al). I happen to fall into the former category and agree with Truby's view that stories grow "organically", not dictated by a structure that's more appropriate to theatre than movies or novels. However, what makes Anatomy Of Story so good is the very clear and practical way in which he sets out and explains his principles in a logical pattern with many examples from a wide range of works, both movies and novels. He digs deep into the core of what makes not just a good story but one which "rises above the ordinary" - and this is the main character's change, his/her moral journey and self-realisation (which needs to be identified at the start of the story development process so you know what you are working towards). The book is a perfect companion to Truby's Blockbuster program.
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on 26 August 2013
In understanding how the puzzle of storytelling works, others have managed to put many of the main pieces together. This book puts them ALL together. I haven't seen any other book or theory do this.

Some of the pieces include: premise, theme, plot, character, arc, symbols, dialogue. You may have just read those terms and thought to yourself "yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm familiar with those words", but it's likely that you along with most theorists have fallen at the first hurdle of not defining each word in a way that allows them as moving parts to fit together into a clear and integrated whole. A synchronised and beautifully-designed organism. For me, 'theme' has the most enlightening definition...

That's why his model is definitive. It is the ONLY comprehensive model out there.

Shouldn't that seem enough, Truby excels at tackling a huge puzzle piece that others are consistently vague about: genres (by the way, what I'm telling you now goes beyond the contents of this book). Genres aren't covered here because they overstretch the scope and length of the book. The way they work, however, is by taking the basic storytelling code (not formula) explored in this book and then by elaborating on or twisting certain 'beats' of the code to make that genre what it is. This is vital for your own originality, which is achieved first through gaining awareness of what might be derivative and why. All producers are looking for this. It's similar to knowing the basic structural elements common to all buildings, which can then allow you to create different types and variations of building. The 'beats' for each genre are sold separately - a good business decision by Truby - but if you are serious about seeing any film and understanding the full storytelling code, they are a must buy.

P.s. I have read virtually every criticism about the book, and am yet to find one that can't be easily rebutted. I would be more than willing to respond to any criticisms put forward or even about this review itself :)
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on 18 February 2010
If you've stumbled across this book on Amazon a few times but were uncertain, or if someone recommended it to you but you weren't sure it was for you; stop kidding yourself! This is the most important book on how to write -- not just screenplays but any story. I've read around twenty screenwriting books from Robert McKee's to the late Blake Snyder's and none of these authors come close to touching on the brilliance of Mr Truby. This book cuts through the pretentious preaching of three act structures, seven story types and archetype protagonists and actually gets you writing.

He doesn't tell you what makes a bad story, which so many of us love to do. 'Oh that movie was terrible!' we laugh. He doesn't just tell you what makes a good story, which is even harder to define, no... he tells you how to write your own great story.

'Nine out of ten writers fail at the premise.' J Truby.

Which oddly enough is considered to be the ratio of writers in the industry today that won't get paid or have it made.

Buy it, read it, do it!
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on 5 April 2008
What Truby has over other story gurus is his focus on creating GREAT stories - stories with emotional, moral and psychological depth.

He says: "A great story is not simply a sequence of events or surprises designed to entertain an audience. It is a sequence of actions, with moral implications and effects, designed to express a larger theme."

Many other story gurus merely concern themselves with story formulae or working methods. They help you put the standard story steps onto your pages. But Truby shows you how to pinpoint the MEANING of your story and how to design it into your story - premise, characters, plot.

If you want to improve as a screenwriter or novelist, and want to make your story mean something to an audience, read Truby.
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on 22 May 2014
Forget the three act structure, the inciting incident, the mid point and all the other mechanics or story structure we have come to regard as sacrosanct. John Truby's detailed and highly referenced analysis of what makes a compelling story provides a roadmap for writers of screenplays and novels. My only regret is that I did not come across it a long time ago, it would have saved me megawatts of wasted effort. I can also highly recommend his courses.
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on 20 February 2008
I discovered John Truby ten years ago when a friend told me about his story structure audio-course for screenwriting. I studied Truby's principles for a year and -- using them -- I wrote the first draft of The Thieves of Ostia in two weeks. I go back to his audio teaching before each new book I write; that number is now fifteen. Each time I study Truby, I learn something new. This book contains all his best insights from the audio course plus lots of new gems.

Here is one of his great insights: 'As a creator of verbal games that let the audience relive a life, the story-teller is constructing a kind of puzzle about people and using the listener to figure it out. The author creates this puzzle in two major ways: he tells the audience certain information about a made-up character, and he withholds certain information. Withholding, or hiding, is crucial to the storyteller's make believe.' (page 7)

If you get only one book on writing, buy this one.
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on 9 September 2015
Reviewed by C J Singh (Berkeley, California)


The publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) on the book’s jacket says: “John Truby is one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants…”

On page 5, Truby says, "My goal is to explain how a great story works, along with the techniques needed to create one.... I'm going to lay out a practical poetics for story-tellers that works whether you're writing a screenplay, a novel, a play, a teleplay, or a short story. I will show that a great story is organic -- not a machine but a loving body that develops; treat storytelling as an exacting craft with precise techniques; work through a writing process that is also organic meaning that we will develop characters and plot that grow naturally out of your original story idea." Promising: organic story that grows "naturally out of your original story idea."

ORGANIC STORY is the core concept of Truby's master storytelling, lucidly emphasized throughout the book as story that's internally logical, arising out of characters' psychological and moral weaknesses or needs. The two kinds are differentiated as needs that hurt the character individually (psychological) and needs that hurt others in the story's world (moral).

In support, Truby presents back-engineered craft analyses of films and literary works. Films like “Tootsie,” “The Godfather,” "Casablanca," "Citizen Kane," “Cinema Paradiso," “Pride and Prejudice," “It’s a Wonderful Life.“ Literary Works Jane Austen's "Emma," Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," Emily Bronte's "The Wuthering Heights," Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," and James Joyce's "Ulysses."

On the opening page, Truby notes: "Terms like 'rising action,' 'climax,' 'progressive complication,' and 'denouement,' terms that go as far back as Aristotle, are so broad and theoretical as to be almost meaningless." And on the next page, "The three-act structure is a mechanical device superimposed on the story and has nothing to do with its internal logic." (On page 287, Truby trashes the three-act structure as "lousy plot with no chance of competing in the real world of professional screenwriting.")

In the above quotes, the phrases "almost meaningless," "nothing to do with its internal logic," "lousy plot" sound strident. In fact, during drafting, structural guidelines do contribute -- contribute interactively -- form to content, content to form. Moreover, the classical three-act structure is invariably the audience's psychological experience of conflict in any dramatic story: beginning, middle, end -- including stories that present the conflict in a different order. Truby, I think, meant to say that citing the three-act structure is not one of the 22 steps in his book's subtitle.

From the questions I asked the author at his reading this afternoon at Mrs. Dalloway's, a Berkeley bookstore, I learned that he also markets a writing software, Truby Blockbuster, upgraded to match this book. (In his presentation, none of the above stridency -- he's an elegantly persuasive teacher.)

At home, I looked up the amazon software-reviews of Truby Blockbuster. The software is expensive: three-hundred bucks upfront plus hundreds more for add-ons. One reviewer of Truby's software, Razzi "the working screenwriter," writes on amazon reviews: "You have to take Truby's ideas with the knowledge that Truby himself was never able to successfully apply them. His sole pro credit is as a tv writer on a series made over a decade ago. But that doesn't stop Truby from pontificating on all the 'mistakes' made by writers far more successful than himself."

Well, well, Mr. Razzi: A craft teacher can be effective without being a high performer in the art. I feel that in fairness to Mr. Truby, we must not forget that Aristotle, the pioneering guru of the drama-writing craft in Western literature, did not write any drama. Truby's major experience is as a story-development consultant. Very successful professional. And that's the focus of this book as well.

It's Truby's brilliantly illuminating analyses of craft in numerous screenplays, novellas, novels that make this a superb five-star book. As to the book's subtitle, "22-Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller," twenty-two steps portend micromanaging. I have not done the exercises yet.

I believe writing-craft books can help you learn the craft, not the art that raises a story to the "master" level. And Truby's book teaches the story-development craft that only an eminent story-doctor like him can teach. Highly recommended.

-- C J Singh

(After doing the exercises)

The book sequences chapters on "techniques of great storytelling in the same order that you construct your story."

Premise: State your story idea in a single sentence. An excellent innovation by Truby is to write down your "Wish List" as Step 1 in developing your premise line: "A list of everything you would like to see up on the screen, in a book, or at the theater" (p 19).

Weakness and Need; Desire; Opponent; Plan; Battle; Self-Revelation; New Equilibrium.

Create characters from your premise, characters with psychological and moral needs. Psychological need is character’s wekness; Moral need is character’s weakness in relating to others. The four-way opposition in the character-web brilliantly explained.

Outline the theme or moral argument inherent in your premise. Excellent exercise.

Create the story world "as an outgrowth of your hero."

"We'll figure out a web of symbols that highlight and communicate different aspects of the characters, the story world, and the plot."

Create your plot by following the 22 steps of the book's subtitle. "The steps... provide the scaffolding you need" to create an organic story design. Truby presents persuasive analyses of "Casablanca," "Tootsie," and "The Godfather." My initial reaction to this exercise was it's micro-managing that'll hinder creativity. Not so. Actually doing these steps can facilitate discovering the organic form of the story as promised on page 15: "Using the twenty-two story structure steps, we will design a plot in which all the events are connected under the surface and build to a surprising but logically necessary ending."

To prepare for writing scenes, first: "Come up with a list of every scene in the story, with all the plotlines and themes woven into a tapestry." Truby presents a brief example comparing scene weaves from an early and the final draft of "The Godfather" as well as fuller examples from "Pride and Prejudice," and "It's a Wonderful Life," Highly instructive exercise on using jumpcuts for screenwriters as well as novelists.

Construct "each scene so that it furthers the development of your hero. We'll write dialogue that doesn't just push the plot but has a symphonic quality, blending many instruments and levels at the same time." The chapter includes instructive brief examples from "The Seven Samurai," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and a detailed example from "Casablanca."

In sum, Truby's THE ANATOMY OF STORY is a truly sophisticated story-development guide, applicable to writing screenplays, novels, novellas, and short stories. I am using it for planning short stories and, later, for a novel.

12 July 2014

Today, I heard a live 2-hour Webinar by John Truby and Leslie Lehr on structuring novels. In the opening thirty minutes, Truby presented a lucid overview of his acclaimed book THE ANATOMY OF STORY and explained the benefits and drawbacks of using multiple narrators in novels. Next, Leslie Lehr explained 15 different techniques used in contemporary novels to strengthen the benefits of multiple narrators. She began by citing her novel "Wife Goes On." Among the many other examples, she cited: Caroline Leavitt's "Is This Tomorrow," Ian McEwan's "Atonement" and Michael Cunningham's "Hours." The webinar included questions from the online audience and is a great complement to Truby's book.
-- c j singh
30 Aug 2015
John Truby and Leslie Lehr will be presenting their Novel Class in San Francisco on 19 September 2015.
Look for details at I've enrolled and will post my review here as the next addendum here.
Truby's book will be the focus-text in the no-fee meetup "CreativeWritersBerkeley." (I started this meetup in Dec 2013.) Accessible at The ten weekly Sunday meetings will be from 27 Sept. to 6 Dec 2015.
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on 24 May 2014
I return to this book every time I begin planning something new, then go back again to add new layers to the second, third fourth draft . It's invaluable and the best advice around on creating story, turning the process into a delicious puzzle I am keen to solve.
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