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

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  417 ratings  ·  75 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, 360 pages
Published November 1st 2016 by Writer's Digest Books
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4.43  · 
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 ·  417 ratings  ·  75 reviews

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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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Shawn Scarber Deggans
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Matt Bird's The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers is a treasure trove of sound story reasoning. Matt has forged a very strong opinion about story and the function of story in relation to audience expectations. He's done an excellent job of breaking that opinion down into the component parts of story and making excellent arguments (with numerous illustrations taken from familiar films) for why these opinions generally hold true.

Many how-to wri
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
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
If I were thinking of writing fiction at this time in my life, I would wish SOMEONE would force me to read this book--before, during and after. Well written, Matt Bird--and "almost thou tempts me" to be a writer!
Dana J. Moore
Best book on writing I've ever read. And I've read a lot. HIGHLY recommend.
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
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
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
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
This book is probably one of the best books on writing I've ever read. The author's background is writing screenplays, and he makes that clear from the beginning. Still, the advice that the author provides is relevant to traditional fiction writing. The layout of the book is linear - from start to finish of a screenplay or book manuscript - from idea to polished material. The author provides numerous "au contraire" sections where he first states a commonly held misbelief. Then he says, "Au contr ...more
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A friend recommended this craft of writing book to me after raving about it. I’m in the middle of revising a YA book so I bought it. It’s taken me months to finish because it covers a lot of topics. Generally, I think it’s a really helpful craft book. I don’t agree with everything he writes, but he makes a lot of good points and I highlighted a lot of sections that resonated with me. That said, I do wish he had more movie and TV references that were diverse. Most of his references don’t mention ...more
Kelly Horn
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
New writers - particularly those going into screenwriting - may find this helpful, but it's mostly a lot of basic advice that is really well padded. From the midpoint on it's repetitious, and the audio version is tiresome due to the structure, as follows "is this myth about storytelling true? Au contraire!" - every newly introduced myth is trotted out in this fashion, and every single one is accompanied by "au contraire". In print that might not be so glaring, but in the audio version, it gets a ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I read up to like 250 pages and didn't continue for a few months, still haven't finished it. While it might have a lot of contents to talk about writing fiction, one thing I really didn't like was the author made countless of examples from other books or stories, which he himself might have read it, but not me or other readers overall. At first I would be like, "ah okay, I should read that up when I have time later!" but that quickly amounts to a mountain-like list and I wasn't too happy with th ...more
I’ve read a lot of books on writing (this makes 49). After a while you get to a point where they’re all the same. Solid advice usually, but the same advice as all the other books.

But this one is insightful, deep, and accessible. It’s not for just novelists, just screenwriters, or just anyone. It’s for all storytellers. It’s about creating emotionally resonant stories with emotionally resonant characters, without the advice getting lost in the mechanics of any particular medium.

I listened to the
Jeff Whitlock
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyable and interesting book. It was well structured and contained incisive analysis on the key points of crafting a well-written story. After reading this book. I feel like I have a much better toolkit to intelligently critique the movies and TV shows I watch.

I read this book to improve my storytelling skills for my personal life and business. While many of the principles hold, this book is definitely tailored to people aiming to be professional writers.

Still worth a read though if you
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: have-audiobook
Great book. This is one I'll probably listen to once a year until I know the concepts so well that I don't have to think about them. There's so many different (yet similar) ways to approach writing, but this book does a good job of synthesizing many ideas I've heard before with new explanations as well as new ideas. It's like getting to skip the MFA program because you're hearing from someone who's already been through it and then had to figure out how to actually sell what they wrote afterwards ...more
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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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