Writers, regardless of the genres they write or the kinds of stories they set out to tell, want their stories to make an impact on their readers. It can be hard to try to pinpoint just what it is about a story that pulls readers in, but The Anatomy of Story by John Truby seems to have figured it out. Drawing on an array of examples from film and literature, Truby's book seeks to show readers how to create a story that feels more organic, while also creating a stronger structure and deeper meaning.
The Anatomy of Story focuses on helping writers create stories that are more organic. At the beginning of the book, Truby argues that many stories are unoriginal and flat not only because of the process used to write them, but also due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes for a good story. Truby notes that "Just as many writers have a mechanical view of what story is, they use a mechanical process for creating one." Instead, Truby offers up a 22-step story structure. At first glance, it certainly seems like Truby denounces formulaic writing only to offer you his own formula, but it isn't quite what he's doing. This 22-step approach doesn't try to dictate a fixed structure to you, but instead gives you the tools to design a story for yourself.
Throughout the book, Truby explains how to create the kinds of connections, tensions, and symbols that lead to a story that feels organic. For example, in his chapter on characters, Truby explains how to set up a hero that is complex and flawed (i.e., interesting) and how to create opponents and allies that complement the hero's own desires, needs, and weaknesses. Within each chapter, Truby selects several books and movies to use as examples, showing how good stories put his principles into practice.
If you have a thing about spoilers, you might want to steer clear of this book. Truby consistently references movies like The Godfather, It's a Wonderful Life, and Tootsie, as well as books like Ulysses, Great Expectations, and Wuthering Heights. He uses these examples of great storytelling to illustrate his points, though these examples are definitely more effective if you already know the movies. If you can stand the spoilers, I think the level of detail and insight Truby provides through these examples is absolutely invaluable.
While it may sound counterintuitive to implement a 22-step process to create a naturally flowing, "organic" story, it is effective. Truby walks you through each element of the story and explains how you can make each element feel stronger and more natural. Each chapter also ends with an exercise, explaining how to put these elements to work in your own writing, as well as an in-depth example (or two) from a famous film or book.
So many books on craft give advice and offer suggestions for the way you approach writing, but leave the actual mechanics up to you. Truby gives clear and actionable advice that drills all the way down into the nitty gritty minutia of storytelling. Not to mention, Truby provides tons of examples, so if you aren't sure how all of the elements should come together, you can always watch movies like The Godfather or LA Confidential and see the story elements in action. If you are looking for a book on craft that gets into the mechanics of why good stories work, give this book a read.