Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Anatomy of a Story

I got a book out of the library yesterday, The Anatomy of Story, 22 steps to becoming a master storyteller, by someone called John Truby.

It’s 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 novel or a screenplay.

Construction and structure are to me the biggest difficulties in writing a major work. Some geniuses were able to get away with virtually ignoring both of them – Dickens is a prime example, especially in his earlier work (later on he produces even greater novels that are much better constructed) – but without a good sense of both it’s hard for a first-time novelist to get moving. Some people seem to have an innate gift for it. Others, like me, are better at other aspects of writing.

The problem with Truby’s book is that he gives examples of screenplays and books that supposedly follow his rules, yet, when you look at his analyses of the actual works, you find that only a few do. What really got me was when he analysed Joyce’s Ulysses, and tried to make out that it followed his approach. It’s plain from the analysis that it certainly doesn’t. Films like Tootsie and a few others he quotes, may do, but they seem almost to be the exception. His constant bringing in of The Godfather actually undermines his case, since the ‘hero’ in that film doesn’t have any change of attitude (except perhaps to get worse) and to state that it’s Michael’s wife who changes, is to defeat everything Truby has written up to that point.

I was enthused when I began the book. By the time I’d skimmed through most of it, I was disappointed. It really doesn’t cut the mustard.

Incidentally, the single work Truby is noted for, apart from this book, is a television episode which he wrote nearly twenty years ago.

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