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The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  595 ratings  ·  107 reviews
The Secrets of Story is a revolutionary and comprehensive writing guide for the 21st century, focused on clever ways to get an audience to fully identify with an all-too-human hero. Authors will learn to how to cut through pop culture noise and win over a jaded modern audience by rediscovering the heart of writing: shaping stories that ring true to our shared understanding ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published November 1st 2016 by Writer's Digest Books (first published 2016)
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Average rating 4.42  · 
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K.M. Weiland
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I think this might be my new favorite writing guide. Deeply practical, slightly anti-authoritarian, and ruthlessly insightful, it's a very real look at what goes into creating a solid and entertaining story. No vague truisms here. The author gets down under the hood with clear thinking and solid technique. It gave me quite a few new gems to think about it. ...more
Lou Anders
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in writing
I have read dozens, if not hundreds, of books on writing (though not, ironically Stephen King's ON WRITING yet). I can count the ones I think have been truly worth the investment of time it takes to read them on the fingers of one hand. But I found Matt Bird's The Secrets of Story to be densely-packed with practical, useful, helpful, implementable advice. Recommended! ...more
Jon Ureña
The best book on writing I've read in a couple of years. It's oriented towards those that have read about narrative structure and the remaining aspects of writing stories, and have learned many rules about what works and doesn't. The author, someone with plenty of experience in the field by the looks of it, dismantles many misconceptions and contributes many new techniques based on careful observation.

I'm great at working with details but generally terrible with the big picture stuff; knowing th
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
122 piece nugget meal, please

This book made me fat with knowledge. I just couldn't stop devouring its nuggets of story-craft-know-how. There is so much to sort through. This book will require you to keep coming back for more useful bites of truth that will make you and your stories stronger. There is a lot of spice and very little rice, and even the rice has a memorable flavor. Ok, in all seriousness, if you want to write better stories--read this book. If you want to raise your awareness about
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has fantastic advice for writers. The author is a screenwriter, and some of the advice works better for scripts than for novels, but most of it applies to both. I went back and forth between the audiobook and the Kindle book and enjoyed both.

I may end up rereading this book; it's so much to take in, so I know a lot of it didn't "stick." But here's some of the best advice I remember from it:
*The four-quarter story structure is so helpful. (It's basically the same as the three-act struct
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Some great, practical advice in here, but I am knocking off a couple of stars because the irony of a poorly written writing book is so distracting. The phrase “au contraire!” is used approximately 54 million times in this book, give or take a few. Au contraire! I may be exaggerating, but it is hard to focus on the good info when the phrasing and language is so awkward.
Xina Uhl
Apr 04, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I stopped reading after one of the many ridiculous claims by the author. Just because he went to some fancy school does not mean he has anything particularly interesting to say. I found him to be smug as well. Did not finish.
Carina Pereira
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
I got this an audiobook.

I thought this was directed for novel writing. Instead, it was a guideline on writing movies/series. It was still a worthy read, with many useful tips and interesting movie references.
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I'm sure I'll come back to this. It's one of those books you'd need to read more than once. The checklist at the end is print-out-stick-on-wall worthy.

I've already read (and studied) quite a few books on storytelling. Voice comes naturally to me, but plotting definitely doesn't.

The book that resonates most with me is John Truby's The Anatomy of Story. That book really opened my eyes. Secrets of Story builds on that. Matt Bird comes in from an original angle, and in places this book reads like a
Shawn Inmon
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a writer, I have read dozens of craft books. Most are well-intended and have a few helpful nuggets scattered throughout.

Then there's "The Secrets of Story." It is the best book on writing I have ever read. Here's a confession. I read this book a number of years ago, when I was an early-stage writer. I got a few things out of it, but much of it whizzed right by me without leaving a mark. Skip ahead four years and a dozen novels later, and when I picked it back up again, I was stunned.

Matt Bir
Jan 25, 2018 added it
A super applicable, nuts-and-bolts sort of writing craft book. It even comes with a checklist. It's definitely more on the "craft" than "art" side, but in my opinion, there's room for both. The author is primarily a writer for film and television, and that shows a lot in his examples although he does (successfully) point out how his ideas apply to other kinds of writing too. Many of his points are not common-sense things you could figure out on your own but more like interesting tricks of the tr ...more
Camille Dent
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook

I listened to this on audiobook during my work commute, and it was captivating! I looked forward to turning it on each morning and evening in the car, and I learned something from it every day. I even replayed some chapters and learned something new the second time too! It is technically "intended" for screenwriting, but the concepts are applicable to all writing, especially in an era where all fiction is heavily influenced by film! I loved his approach of evaluating story through a very hu
Syd Markle
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I guess you could say I’m a wannabe. But I’m tired of just wanting to be something and ready to take action. I was a few weeks into a shiny new creative writing habit when I started to wonder why my writing was so flat. I was struggling to muster any interest in my own ideas. That’s the moment I came across Matt Bird.

His book not only gave me a map of the world but a compass to find my way through it. With super clear structure, and examples to illustrate his points, The Secrets of Story, unloc
Rachel Brune
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommend this more for the screenwriter than the novelist, but had some interesting thoughts. Definitely jarred some ideas out of my head!
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great tips & inspiration
Dec 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
My only problem with this book is that it has so many information that you need to read it at least thrice , before you learn at least half its secrets !
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, 2-star
Unreasonably long, but has a few nice thoughts.
Sydney Young
Fantastic. Many points I’d not thought of before or points rephrased for a new meaning. And they have a podcast! This is going to go on my — listen again with new writing project— list.
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Willian Molinari
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great book on how to write books. 4.5 stars.

The book goes through many problems and misconceptions behind writing a fiction book.
In the book blog, you can find a big checklist with many questions your book has to answer:

There are many examples around each of these topics throughout the book. Here are some notes:

* When you're telling a story, you are that guy in the airplane that tries to talk to you before you plug your earbuds. Nobody wants to hear you
Michele Cacano
Dec 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-on-writing
I will be referring to this for ages. Very useful information and ideas. A lot to digest, but so much really changed the way I look at story building.
Calvin D.
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: december-15-2016
I have been writing short stories and unpublished novels for ten years and I have read and purchased dozens of writing books. Some sit on the shelf next to my desk for easy reference. Many more sit in the basement or were sold. Only a few are so extraordinary, I recommend it to every writer I know or buy copies to give away as gifts.

This is one of those books.

My copy is tabbed and highlighted and dog-eared after only a month. I have both the Kindle version and Audible version so I will never be
Steve Alcorn
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply put, this is the best book I have ever encountered about writing--and I have been teaching fiction writing for nearly twenty years. I have to admit, it is even better than my own book, How to Fix Your Novel!

Reading this book was in many ways like listening to my own lectures about story structure, but Matt Bird has injected some original ideas of his own, and has filled this book with hundreds of very specific examples, taken mostly from modern movies and television series. These examples
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a comprehensive examination of what writers need to know to tell a good story. It reminds me of those survey classes in college where we tried to cover a wide range of topics in a single term. As a result, it's hard to know who the best reader is for this book.

On the one hand, if you're just learning to write a good story, you'll find a ton of useful info and advice here. But, depending on where you are in your journey, it might or might not have enough detail to get you where you w
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Matt Bird has an MFA from Columbia and has been working as a screenplay writer since then. In this book he tries to capsulize what he learned after Columbia as well as some of the things from Columbia he had to reject once he began his career.

This book is filled with interesting advice using real world examples, both from Bird's own experiences along with some notable and expensive Hollywood failures from a variety of writers. The focus of the book rarely crosses out of film into novels and stor
Isaac Butterworth
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-craft
All the Secrets Revealed

“The Secrets of Story” by Matt Bird reveals to the reader-who-would-be-writer the secrets of telling a story that others will want to read. It is no easy task, but it is worth the effort. “Writing doesn’t spring from your genius, fully formed,” Bird says—“you cobble it into shape with a lot of sweat and elbow grease.”

And his book shows you how. It is in many ways a “ work order” for writers. And the first task is to make sure you’re writing for your readers. They must al
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I don't like marking this read when I didn't finish it but there's no "bailed 75% of the way through it" button.

I really loved the start of this. It had a great, dynamic, engaging voice and said many things that resonated. But then... it just went downhill from there. It's like this book was a screenwriter's instruction book that was re-branded to sell it to all writers. The fit was a disservice to both goals. The best passages were the ones that pretty much talked about blocking scenes and cam
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant and a boon to aspiring writers. With a structured list of direct and specific rules, beliefs, and guidelines about story craft, I'll be returning to this time and again if I see myself straying off-course in my own work.

This book covers character construction, story beginnings, middles, and ends, and the elements of fiction that your work needs to possess if you want it to resonate with strangers. Moreover, it uses contemporary and classic examples from film, television, an
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars, actually.

This was a super helpful book for improving my writing! I've rewritten the same book 4 times in the past 3 years and have never felt like I've gotten it right. I've watched all the writing tip youtube videos and read article after article and until this book I couldn't pinpoint exactly where I was going wrong. This book helped me create a strong outline that I could stick to.

My one complaint is more of a nitpick. The author uses examples from movies, books, and shows to illus
Kelsey Hlavaty (readingwithkelsey)
This was one of the best books on writing that I have read so far. I think what really pulled me in is how ~relatable~ Bird's examples and advice were. Most of the writing nonfiction I have read in the past read very obtuse and have no real correlation or examples for writers of today. Most of the examples used in this book were from movies/tv shows/general pop culture references that I have either seen or heard of, so understanding and following along to Bird's advice was easy. I also really en ...more
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  If you listen to NPR regularly, you’ve likely heard the voice of Shankar Vedantam, the longtime science correspondent and host of the radio...
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“Never let up. In stories, things go from bad to worse, even if nobody wants them to. If she wants to apologize, interrupt her. Whenever anyone is about to release tension, interrupt her. Is the couple on the date about to kiss? Pull them apart. You migh think the audience will love you if you give them what they want. Not true. Make them want it, then yank it away.” 1 likes
“Why did they insulate us from criticism? Why didn't they load us up with useful tools? Why didn't they teach us to satisfy an audience? I realized I had been scammed. They wanted us to feel as good as possible for as long as possible in order to get as much money out of us as they could. The way to do that was to assure us we were already geniuses.” 0 likes
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