The Story’s Skeleton

According to John Truby’s “The Anatomy of Story”, the structure of a story is how it develops across time. It is also the skeleton to which all the meat is attached. Every story has a minimum of seven parts, all of which must be organically linked to and flow naturally from your premise.

Weakness and Need: The hero must begin the story as a defective person. He must be hindered in life by one or more serious internal faults of which he is not conscious. These weaknesses, which must be both psychological (affecting himself only) and moral (affecting other people), imply a need for growth. But only at the end of the story will the hero perceive his faults and realize what he must do about them. There must also be a problem right from the start, a real crisis the hero is in but does not know how to get out — or thinks he knows, only to err even more.

Desire: A need has to do with overcoming a weakness within the hero; a desire is an objective external to him. Need is hidden beneath the surface of the story, and the public only understands it when the story unfolds. Desire, in turn, is a concrete goal clearly stated early in the story, which is what the public thinks the subject of the story to be.

Opponent: The opponent is a crucial character who will have the same external purpose as the hero. He will do all he can to overcome the hero, thereby entering into direct conflict with him.

Plan: The plan is the set of actions the hero intends to take to overcome his opponent and reach his goal.

Battle: A competition inevitably creates conflict, which has its climax in a great final battle.

Self-revelation: The difficulties that the hero goes through during the battle take away his inner masks and he is enlightened. He reaches a point of revelation and is changed forever. This is his psychological revelation, but he also reaches a better understanding of how he should act toward people — his moral revelation. “Need is the beginning of the hero’s character change. Self-revelation is the endpoint of that change.”

New equilibrium: Life is back to normal, but not the hero’s, at least not internally. After his ordeal in battle, he is a changed person, and will have to find a new life that best matches his elevated (or lowered) moral status.

This simplified seven-step structure probably seems commonplace to anyone interested in movies or fiction books, but to me it was almost like the revelation the hero passes through at the end of a story. I just never thought in these terms before. I have not had much time to watch movies lately, but I managed to do it last night just to put this structure to a test and, sure enough, there it was!

As a little spoiler, I went a bit further in the book already and I can say that Truby will go into MUCH MORE details on how exactly to get to every piece of the structure of a story. The book is, in fact, so complete that I feel the need to create a story myself. This, I believe, is the only way to really understand what he is talking about and in the process, take advantage of the book to the fullest.

I wonder if I should try to do this and post my progress here.

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