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

1383168by John Truby
Nonfiction
3 of 5 stars

This came highly rec’d from many YA authors and I was excited to dive in! Especially since I hadn’t read a craft book in far too long. (If like me, you are not familiar with the author, here is more about him). What I found was a book that rang truer to the 1970s than today, despite being written in 2008…

Personally, when I am studying the mechanics of storytelling it helps me to have a broad range of examples, especially ones that subvert known patterns. Show me a variety of settings or characters or plots that take the basic principles and explore them in new ways. For a book about coming up with original stories, I found this to be very unoriginal itself, which was disappointing.

There are some good tips and nuggets of wisdom here, but the scope of “good storytelling” is so narrow it becomes distracting. Aside from a couple of Jane Austen’s works, the examples you study in each chapter are mostly white male-centric stories from the ‘70s or older. Tootsie, Casablanca, The Lord of the Rings, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Godfather, Star Wars…these are all good stories, yes, but they begin to blend together when you are discussing character arc. How many rising king/wise mentor/bromances do we need? This would bother me less if the critiques of poor storytelling were not confined to female authors (i.e. Jane Austen and Emily Bronte let their emotions get in the way of satisfying endings). Or if the only character not assigned an archetypal role in Star Wars was Princess Leia – deemed “The Princess,” which was not an archetype on Truby’s list, when it arguably could be, feminism aside. (Even R2-D2 – who does not speak – was designated a prince-magician-warrior archetype).

The eponymous 22 step process is a little muddy, mainly because 22 steps is a lot of steps, and because they can be moved around in nearly any order. (Again, I would have liked a few more examples of this bit). Studying the 22 steps individually and reviewing the prewriting exercises are the most useful things in this book. It is easy to see where your own manuscript might be lacking when you look at the key points, and there are some excellent brainstorming tips for each step.

I read this as I was beginning revisions on my rough draft, and I didn’t feel that I missed out too much. I tend to discover themes and connections through writing the first draft that I can’t plan in advance – this is a book that I think you can approach for prewriting work on a story or while you are revising to get some fresh ideas, depending on your own approach.

I found myself drawn to the key points called out in the text, and the helpful exercises at the end of each chapter and skimming the rest. Overall this was very similar to my college courses in writing. I guess I just expect a little more now!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Anatomy of Story is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood – A collection of photos and prompts to help you scribble down a scene or short story whenever you feel like writing but do not have a guide. I love this little book!
  • The Positive / Negative / Emotion Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman – These are three invaluable guides to psychology and character motivations! Also a good way to find the most accurate and interesting way of writing your characters’ emotions and plans as they try to survive your story’s plot.
  • The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff – This presents several short stories in various states of revision with notes from real-life critique partners, so you can see how a story goes from draft to finished product.
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