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The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

4.26  ·  Rating Details ·  1,557 Ratings  ·  188 Reviews
John Truby is one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry, and his students have gone on to pen some of Hollywood's most successful films, including Sleepless in Seattle, Scream, and Shrek. The Anatomy of Story is his long-awaited first book, and it shares all of his secrets for writing a compelling script. Based on the lessons in his ...more
ebook, 464 pages
Published October 14th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2007)
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Pinguino Even if you're a casual writer as a hobby or looking for inspiration, read this. If you never write but are just interested in what makes good stories…moreEven if you're a casual writer as a hobby or looking for inspiration, read this. If you never write but are just interested in what makes good stories good, this is still a great book. For every tip he provides an example of a work that uses it well. (Try to see The Godfather, Casablanca, and Tootsie before reading. They are heavily referenced.)
That said, the book definitely assumes the reader is writing a story of their own. There's a lot of "consider if anything on this list applies to your story." The parts on world-building and symbols might be less interesting to non-writers.

There's a YouTube channel I adore called Lessons from the Screenplay, which is basically the video version of the book. I suggest watching a couple of these, and if you want to learn more, go ahead and read the book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg0kn...(less)
Pinguino The tips generally apply to any kind of story, but the focus is on movies and novels. I can't recall anything from the book specifically about oral…moreThe tips generally apply to any kind of story, but the focus is on movies and novels. I can't recall anything from the book specifically about oral storytelling.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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A.J.
Dec 19, 2008 A.J. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
It's a bedrock truth of writing that the oldest scam in the game is writing about writing. Most writing books are junk, and the reason they're junk is that they push formula, transforming art to engineering. They reduce everything to archetype and suggest logical, linear approaches to what is in fact an intuitive, iterative process. You get recipes.

No doubt the steady appetite for books pushing writing to formula motivated the misleading subtitle of The Anatomy of Story. But there is no 22 step
...more
Mark O'Bannon
I've read over 150 books on writing, and I can throw them all away now. This book is, by far, the best book ever written on the subject of how to tell a story.

The book breaks stories down to seven basic steps:
1. Problem/Need - The problem is what the character is dealing with as the story opens. The need comes from the character's weaknesses. The weakness is something that is ruining the character's life. The need comes out of the weakness. The weakness/need is the wellspring of the story.

2. De
...more
PUMPKINHEAD
All in all, I'd say this book was good. It wasn't great, it wasn't poor, it was just plain good and not much more.

It's a how-to guide basically, for people who want to be writers (particularly screenwriters). There was lots of good advice and insight. The pages are littered with story breakdowns, concepts, and techniques. It dug right into the meat of the matter of storytelling, but to be honest 'Anatomy of a Story' really did come off like little more than an autopsy at some points.

And that's
...more
ياسمين خليفة
A must read book for anyone who wants to be a screenwriter,or a Novelist.
Danny
Sep 12, 2009 Danny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I actually stumbled upon The Anatomy of Story more or less totally by accident while I was searching for online writer's resources. I was sure someone somewhere must have at some point sat down and picked apart great stories, broke them down to their constituent components, and analyzed what elements worked in which plots, and why. I didn't find much. It dawned on me while I was trying to come up with more refined search terms that what I was looking for was the fundamental anatomy of the storie ...more
K.M. Weiland
Apr 05, 2010 K.M. Weiland rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fabulously insightful, practical, hands-on guide to storytelling. Should be read and reread.
Omid Kamyarnejad
Jun 23, 2016 Omid Kamyarnejad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
کتابی است که بیشتربه سمت فیلم نامه نویسی می رود و بحث های ساختارگرایی رمان در آن مورد توجه است.
ایده های داستان نویسی آن بسیار خوب و حائز اهمیت بود. ولی به درد نوشتن داستان کوتاه نمی خورد. شبکه معنایی و نماد های آن بسیار مو شکافانه و دقیق و خب البته دانستن آنها خالی از لطف نیست. در مجموع کتاب خوب و قوی بود
Dani
Feb 07, 2013 Dani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far I would say this has some interesting ideas in it. On the other hand, it's funny how many of these books could really use a re-write. And I think re-writing is not a skippable part of the process to becoming a "master". He mentions you should make your main character endlessly fascinating. In theory, I could see why that would be a good idea. But Truby gives one example on how to do this and then moves on. I guess it's that easy? I'll update more later.

Okay, I'm a little further along. Wh
...more
Anton Tomsinov
Nov 08, 2013 Anton Tomsinov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've devoured a lot of similar books, but that one I currently find the most useful (my previous personal favourite was Sol Stein). Truby has succeeded in shifting readers' focus from exterior of stories to their inner meaning, from outward hero change to Weltanschauung clash. Truby's psychological plan of conflict and self-revelation makes character and plot concoction much easier, as if from aimless wandering in a foreign city you turn to a well-prepared journey with pack of maps and backgroun ...more
Julie
Sep 19, 2009 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is arguably one of the only books necessary for learning the art of Storytelling. John Truby begins this book by simultaneously praising and denouncing Aristotle's Poetics. He mentions that Aristotle perpetuates vague terms like "rising action" or "climax." In actuality, this makes it difficult for writers to apply. This kind of theorizing leaves little impact or support for those who are actually attempting to write. Along those lines, this theorizing tends to be streamlined while teaching

...more
Abbe
SUMMARY: John Truby is one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry, and his students have gone on to pen some of Hollywood’s most successful films, including Sleepless in Seattle, Scream, and Shrek. The Anatomy of Story is his long-awaited first book, and it shares all of his secrets for writing a compelling script. Based on the lessons in his award-winning class, Great Screenwriting, The Anatomy of Story draws on a broad range of philosophy and mythology, o ...more
Jacob
Whew... this was more difficult to get through than I expected, and I'm still not sure why. Maybe it was just too many dry passages of abstract discussion that was mostly meaningless. Maybe not, though; I don't remember there being that much of it. And most of it isn't dry, or too abstract, or meaningless.

Some key things are, though. Truby's instruction to come up with a designing principle is very important, but he can't for the life of him nail down what a designing principle is. He starts wit
...more
Steven
Oct 22, 2015 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Truby presents one hell of a process and I think any lengthy fiction project, whether it be novel or screenplay, could certainly benefit from the rigorous story and character work he sets out. I was schooled, however, in the "don't think, just write" philosophy and this structured approach, where so much planning and thinking about what you will eventually write is the whole point of the process was exceedingly foreign to how I've written previously and that made it hard for me to go all in with ...more
Rose
Aug 21, 2011 Rose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful writing guide that takes apart a story by its bare bones and teaches you how to vet plot, characterization, among other aspects to make them more dimensional. This is an invaluable guide for fiction writers, filmmakers and storytellers, but probably not for the beginning writer because the concepts in themselves may seem a bit overwhelming to take in all at once. One of the things I found refreshing also about this guide is how it doesn't necessarily rely on the three-act structure for ...more
Daniel Sadicario
"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" (page one).

Thus starts 400 pages of practical tips on how to structure and design a great story. The book can't possibly have every last bit of advice on how to write a screenplay, but this is by far the best foundational text I've seen out there. I have not read "Save the Cat!" but I've read McKee's "Story," and I
...more
მინდია არაბული
მხოლოდ ეს წიგნი რომ არსებობდეს და სხვა წერის სახელმძღვანელოები არა(კინგს თუ არ ჩავთვლით), საკმარისი იქნებოდა
Peter Ayscough
Dec 25, 2016 Peter Ayscough rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got roughly half way through this book and then inadvertently left it in my pack after a hike and it wasn't until my next hike 4 months later that I rediscovered it and finished it. I bought this book after sitting next to a man on a plane who saw me reading "Story" by Robert McKee https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4..., and recommended it.

I've been writing my first novel while reading this book, which has made for an interesting reflective process. As I have covered the theory in Truby I've
...more
Eustachio
Se sei un aspirante scrittore e ti sei ritrovato ad avere un'idea di partenza senza sapere come svilupparla, oppure a cominciare spedito a scrivere per poi non sapere come continuare, The Anatomy of Story fa al caso tuo: l'autore, analizzando storie di successo, spiega quali sono i meccanismi che le hanno rese tali, e dà consigli pratici su come fare lo stesso. Basta con i tre atti di Aristotele, il segreto è nei ventidue passi del sottotitolo.
L'ho trovato molto utile. Ho riempito pagine di appu
...more
Nic
Aug 31, 2016 Nic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I rated The Anatomy of Story 4 out of 5 Biscuits. (Inspirational AND Useful!)

I received this book as a gift from Mia at Against Idleness and Mischief. I had never heard of this book, or of John Truby, unsurprising considering I had never delved into non-fiction books on writing fiction.

The Anatomy of Story is a detailed step by step guide on how to write fiction. It is difficult to go into detail about the contents because there is just so much information from cover to cover. I thoroughly enjo
...more
Hundeschlitten
Oct 19, 2011 Hundeschlitten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ostensibly a book about screenwriting, John Truby somehow manages to capture the essence of story craft within a fairly contained set of rules and guidelines. There were moments when reading this that the scales fell off my eyes, and I felt like shouting, "Eureka! I understand now." I've always balked when it came to formulae like symbolism or following a certain narrative structure, but Truby manages to present them in such a way that I didn't feel like he was inviting me in for a lobotomy at t ...more
Kat
Dec 27, 2015 Kat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an absolutely marvelous book on plot and its relationship to character. So many writing books separate each part of a story into separate elements - plot, character, dialogue. Truby points out how a character's moral problem drives every other part of the story and breaks this down using easily
accessible examples.

He offers in-depth ways of structuring your book, breaking each part down into steps that will challenge you as a writer. I found it most useful for breaking down preconceived
...more
David
Dec 31, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Intermediate to Advanced Writers
An excellent how to book that suffers from minutiae...novice writers might get lost in the ends rules and subdivisions of these, but for a most part a clear explanation of how to create a functioning story.

How a Designing Principle is different from a Premise is very vague, almost metaphysical, and examples don't really help. This isn't to say there is no difference, but just how they are different and how to create a Designing Principle needed to be more clearly explained.

On the, whole, howev
...more
Eileen Iciek
Aug 03, 2016 Eileen Iciek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good reference book for writers working to craft a story - either for novel or script. I learned a lot from it, but my one complaint is that the book lacked succinctness. The author gushed with references to movies and how certain movies successfully told their particular story. Towards the end, I skimmed some of his more elaborate explanations. It got too analytical at times and I was confused - were there 7 steps, or 22 steps, or both? If both, how do I combine them? Also, he did not have much ...more
Michelle
Mar 24, 2014 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
4.5 stars. Great breakdown on storytelling and how to create a strong and gripping narrative. It also inspired me to watch Casablanca for the first time ever, which I loved. Like many how-to's of its type, this got a little repetitive at times but I found it quite valuable. It even changed the way I am approaching my current novel (including who the protagonist is!) One of those must-reads for all writers, in my opinion.
Helen
May 31, 2015 Helen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably the best book on writing that I've ever read. Even though most of his examples are from screenplays, the author's insightful analysis of stories we're all familiar with makes his points crystal clear.
Doug
Mar 09, 2010 Doug rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film
Good and helpful. Truby seems best on the detailed aspects of screenwriting, and that continues here. Overall, though, this treatment isn't as strong or succinct as Snyder's Save the Cat. Still, you'll miss some handy details by skipping it.
Stella
Nov 03, 2014 Stella rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing, 2014
Too much (and repetitive) info.
Way too complicated for what it is trying to do, but still useful.
I liked the analysis of other famous works.
Jerry Foster
Jan 05, 2009 Jerry Foster rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is equal in value--and a great companion--to Robert McKee's Story. Both are for serious students of fiction writing. I should have learned these principles in my MFA program, but did not.
Nico
Nov 26, 2016 Nico rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-skills
Very... thorough. My only niggle is that he uses a lot of movies for example, that were out since the 50s, but not everyone is going to be fan of the oldies. How many people exactly know Big, Butch and Sundance, Big, Tootsie, Casablanca, Death of a Salesman...

I mean they are familiar enough, but he references Tootsie throughout the book. and I have not read it, or watched it and it doesn't sound in any way awesome at all, and that makes me question, exactly how valid is this guy's advice?

but he'
...more
Anthony
Jan 22, 2017 Anthony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helpful and Insightful Book on Structure

The most powerful point made in this book is that of the importance of structure. Trust argues that you shouldn't even begin to write until you have gone over the structure so many times that it's engrained in your brain. Perfect it. The dialogue is the last thing you touch. This point was revelatory to me and I benefited from it greatly. The book is not particularly helpful in the particulars such as dialogue and pacing, but it is helpful in aiding your p
...more
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  • Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing
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“Audiences love both the feeling part (reliving the life) and the thinking part (figuring out the puzzle) of a story. Every good story has both.” 8 likes
“Good storytelling lets the audience relive events in the present so they can understand the forces, choices, and emotions that led the character to do what he did.” 7 likes
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