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

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  3,404 ratings  ·  402 reviews
"If you're ready to graduate from the boy-meets-girl league of screenwriting, meet John Truby . . . [his lessons inspire] epiphanies that make you see the contours of your psyche as sharply as your script."
--LA Weekly

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
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Paperback, 445 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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4.27  · 
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 ·  3,404 ratings  ·  402 reviews


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Wil Wheaton
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extraordinarily useful guide to understanding why and how stories work. Some writers are just naturally able to know what needs to happen in a story. They innately know what beat needs to happen, when it needs to happen, and -- most importantly -- WHY it needs to happen. These writers make the rest of us look bad, and make us feel like we have no idea what we're doing.

For the rest of us, there is this book, which walks us through things like the steps that every story needs to have in
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Hannah Greendale
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Anatomy of Story is not your average writing guidebook. What sets it apart is Truby's emphasis on interconnection between characters (specifically how the hero is not as important as how the hero relates to other characters and how those secondary and tertiary characters must be a reflection of some aspect of the hero) and the importance of early story components that are crucial to achieving an arresting, memorable pay-off by the conclusion. He also approaches villains from a different angl ...more
A.J.
Dec 11, 2008 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
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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
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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
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K.M. Weiland
Dec 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fabulously insightful, practical, hands-on guide to storytelling. Should be read and reread.
Suzannah
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Suzannah by: Lessons from the Screenplay
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
This book was phenomenal. Please go out immediately and torch your copy of SAVE THE CAT and get this book instead.

Well, maybe I exaggerate. I didn't agree with Truby's contention that three (or four, or five) act plot structure, containing three plot points on which to hang the story, was artificial and useless. I'll stand by it; it was good enough for Shakespeare and it's good enough for me, and it helps with pacing. However, apart from the occasional minor niggle, I thought this book was absol
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Danny
Jun 04, 2009 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
Brent
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, nonfiction
I have been reading this book for almost a year. Not because it was bad, but because I didn't want to rush through it and miss something. (As is my tendency with how-to books.)

I never do the homework or learning exercises in any book, but I did the ones in this book, slowly digesting the information, working though it and applying it to my WIP.

The key concept in this book is to dig into your characters and their flaws and desires to realize a plot that organically grows out of them rather than
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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
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ياسمين خليفة
A must read book for anyone who wants to be a screenwriter,or a Novelist.
Dani
Dec 04, 2012 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
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emily
Nov 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am skeptical of 'how to write stories' books, as I've been plenty disappointed in the past, but this was recommended by a published author as the 'secret' to their novel planning and thus decided it couldn't hurt to have a read. It was well worth my time, packed full of logical, actionable instructions on how to create a story that never reduce into ridiculous "do's" and "don't's" like so many other how-to books do. I have long struggled with taking my smaller character, plot, or setting ideas ...more
Benoit Lelièvre
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a lot to like about this book and a lot any wannabe writer will convince themselves they :

a) don't need

or

b) are already doing

I particularly love the work of Truby on the premise and the importance of having a clear roadmap of who's who and what's going on prior to writing, but when it comes to the meatier part of storytelling, he doesn't say much and gives countless examples instead. Which is fine, I mean, there's no secret recipe of becoming a great author outside of studying the master
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Victoria Ray
Do you want to write the book of your life? You should start right here: all keys, techniques & steps are extremely useful! One of the best! 👍👍
Raluca
In terms of writing advice, Truby's Anatomy of story is as far away from books such as Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need as it can get. While most books about writing focus on the howdunit of the craft, providing you with a formulaic recipe that can only result in a formulaic outcome, this one's backbone is the whydunit of stories. In other words, it tells you why certain movies, books, plays etc. work and why others don't and what you can learn from that and apply to ...more
Christina McDonald
I took John's Anatomy of Story Masterclass in London, and it was so good I immediately went out and bought this book. It is one of the most extraordinarily useful books I've ever read, and I use it as a tool for all of my writing now.

This book walks writers through the essential steps and items absolutely necessary in a story. From psychological need to moral weakness to a character's ghost and a hero's goal, it helpfully breaks down all the components you need. What truly sets it apart is the
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Anton Tomsinov
Nov 05, 2013 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 07, 2009 rated it really liked it

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

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Mike
Sep 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this back in 2008, and wrote this in my blog at the time.

This is very readable, but it doesn’t offer anything new. The 22 steps (which at one point he admits could be less or more) are supposed to replace the old three-act approach, which they do, to a point. However, the steps themselves are written up in several other books I have on writing that I already have on my shelves, and quite honestly, I can’t see Mr Truby actually using them in working through the sheer slog of writing a nov
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Rose
Aug 17, 2011 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
Julie
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some really helpful techniques and exercises in here that I'll be using from here on out! I'll be looking elsewhere for more diverse and contemporary story examples, though -- the films mentioned here are pretty dated.
Heatherblakely
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5, rounding up.

While I don’t think it’s necessary to earn a degree in the arts in order to be a creator, I do think it’s important to study the craft a little. I haven’t read a writing book since college (probably twelve years ago), and I found this book to be incredibly helpful. Truby’s method has you dig deep into your story, making you think a lot about characters and motivation in order to have a solid foundation for what you’re going to write.

Some of the steps were very repetitious, so
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Catherine
May 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-books, 2018
I think this might be one of my new favorite writing books. It kind of hurt my head to think about and take in, but in a "this is genius" kind of way. I underlined so much of the book and I've found it really useful when developing plot. It has specific advice but helps in a more organic way than I found with, say, Save The Cat.
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
Nick
Nov 23, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As a reader of books on writing, I accept the strange affliction they generally suffer from, of having surprisingly little to say. There will always be lots of naming types of plots and characters, without real insight into when to use them, and lots of "make your character fascinating" and "think deeply about how the elements of your story mesh together," without much concrete help. But I'm a bit grumpy that Truby had surprisingly little to say for four hundred pages.

He didn't say nothing. I ap
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Mark Williams
Good for beginners, the 22 steps help frame a plan for developing a story but the advice here is often vague. For example, his advice on dialogue is worthless. He literally ends the chapter with: "Make sure that each character speaks in a unique way." The sort of thing that makes you scratch your head and go, "Yeah, I mean, I agree, of course..." But he doesn't actually give any tips or techniques on achieving this.

Like most writers of writing books, John Truby hasn't really achieved any of the
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Nyx
Mar 23, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 out of 5; powerful techniques, at times poorly explained

It took me far longer to read "The Anatomy of Story" than I thought it would and, now I'm through it, I'm struggling to lay out my thoughts.

Ultimately, is this a useful book for storytellers? Undoubtedly. But is it a clear and engaging experience? I'd argue that it's not. A great chunk of this book is made up of examples from novels and scripts. At times this is obviously necessary to illustrate techniques. Yet Truby often fails to full
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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
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Suzanne Rooyen
Definitely an interesting read to deepen my writerly understanding of story. I found many of the case studies tedious or irrelevant because they're for old films/books I don't know. Would've loved to see Truby's ideas and theories applied to films/books from the last 5 years or so.

Still, a worthwhile read that has given me food for thought about theme and scene weaving. Not a book I would recommend to new writers though, as it is dense and tends to compare/critique other popular and well-establi
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