Friday, May 16, 2008

A Story with Two Legs

Mark Truby’s THE ANATOMY OF STORY has, I am told, become the new Bible of screenwriting. I’ve been slowly winding my way through it for some weeks now. This is not a fast, easy-to-grasp read. He devotes vast chunks of his book to topics like Moral Dilemmas, and Symbol Webs, which tend to give me squirming flashbacks to my college English class. (The only “B” I ever got in eight years at university was in Freshman Creative Writing. I kid you not.) But the section I’m reading now, on Plot Types, has much meatier stuff.

Truby sees a story as moving toward its character’s desire on what he calls two “legs”: acting and learning. Basically, a story is about how a character takes action to get what he wants, and the new information he learns about better ways to get it. As a result of the new information he acquires, he makes a decision and undertakes a new course of action.

Some story forms highlight one of those “legs” over the other. Myths and action stories focus on, well, action, while mysteries and romances tend to highlight learning. Truby identifies a number of different plot types emphasizing one or the other of these “legs,” including the Journey Plot, the Three Unities Plot, the Reveals Plot, the Antiplot, the Genre Plot, and the Multistrand Plot.

Ever since THE HERO’S JOURNEY became popular a few years ago, there has been a tendency—especially among romance writers—to try to jam every plot into the mythic journey form. I’ve always though that was stretching the myth form to the breaking point, although, obviously, that approach works for some authors. Because in the end, these are all simply mental constructions we use to make our job a little easier.

As I work my way through Truby, I’ll be talking about his ideas some more. This week I’ve been focusing on 1) getting my youngest home from her Florida college alive (she spent all of Wednesday in the Emergency Room); 2) getting the main bathroom remodeling finished (not going to happen before the youngest comes home from college); and 3) getting the new C.S. Graham website up (a long process only just begun).


Charles Gramlich said...

Maybe you got the "B" in creative writing because you were already ahead of the teacher.

Steve Malley said...

One of my favorite things about the various screenwriting texts out there is that the moviefolk are so focused on plot and story arc.

ALso that none of them can agree on how stories are built, but they all seem to site 'Chinatown' as a perfect example!

Great stuff, btw!

Chap O'Keefe said...

Hope your private-life concerns will sort themselves out in a timely manner. Having spent some time in a hospital myself this week (and with a follow-up visit scheduled), I know how distracting these things can be when they involve self or a loved one.

I was pleased to see your screenwriting series moving on to Plot. If you remember, I re-ran this blog's Plotters v. Pantsers item at the site to spark debate based on your insights among the writers of western novels. Well, just yesterday, on my return home, I was able to update the site with comments from the follow-up forum, coincidentally as your own program returns to plotting.

As you'll see, I don't think many of my colleagues would care greatly for Mark Truby's technical approach!

Sphinx Ink said...

Keep going, I'm enjoying your insights into the screenwriters' insights.

By the way, I've tagged you for a meme--"Six Unspectacular Quirks." You can see my own list on my blog tomorrow, which includes the rules, etc. I'll understand if you don't wish to participate, but sometimes memes are fun. And sometimes they're a waste of time...

cs harris said...

Thanks Chap! Hope you're all right now, too.

I'll be doing more on screenwriting techniques in the coming weeks.

Lisa said...

Just dropped in to tell you I'm enjoying this series and looking forward to more.

Glad your daughters made it home :)