Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Truby on Plotting

As I mentioned before, I’ve been slowly working my way through Truby’s ANATOMY OF STORY. I’ve always had a reputation for obsessive preplanning and control, but let me tell you, this guy makes me look like a blithe free spirit.

He breaks story structure down into twenty-two steps. According to Truby, these twenty-two steps “show you how to create an organic plot, regardless of the length or genre of your story. They are also the key set of tools for rewriting.” Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Well, don’t run out and buy the book just for this section, because there really isn’t anything earthbreaking here. Like most writing instructors—whether we’re talking screenwriting or novel writing—Truby leans heavily on identifying your character’s need, desire, and weakness, which are revealed right up front, and the moment of self-revelation and moral decision, which of course come at the end. This progression represents the “journey” your hero will take. Truby actually argues for coming up with the self-revelation first, and working backward to decide on your hero’s weakness, need, and desire. Thus, the writer starts with the endpoint and the beginning; with this framework in place, everything else is just in fill (more on that, later).

I’m still wrestling with this approach. I think that in the best stories, one can definitely see this framework—weakness, need, desire, final self-revelation and moral decision. The thing is, I’m not sure that the BEST stories are actually created this deliberately. The whole process seems so forced and artificial, that one suspects it must surely show (as it often does). Then again, that could simply be the result of inexpert handling. Perhaps in the hands of a true master, the result really does seem organic and natural. What do you think?


Chap O'Keefe said...

Hmm . . . surely to answer this "what do you think" one would have to examine closely some stories whose authors had used the Truby approach. And if they had handled it expertly, only the writers would be the ones who could tell you they'd used the formula.

I take a planned approach myself, but from what you say about Truby, I think my conclusion on his methods would be similar to the thought expressed in your opening paragraph.

As some followers of your blog may know, your previous discussions on plotting and preplanning led to a lengthy panel discussion reported in the latest update at blackhorsewesterns.com . There, none of the four working western novelists participating were prepared to nail themselves down as firmly as would be required by a 22-step story structure.

Steve Malley said...

There are times when I'm lost in the woods and wondering if I haven't made a very, very grave mistake that I would happily embrace a 22-step plan for getting to Act III.

Of course, if I were the writer to start with that, I'd have a completely different set of problems!

That said, I think Chap's 100% right: only the guy's students could say if his methods helped.

I figure it's like the 12-Steppers say: Take what you like and leave the rest.

Charles Gramlich said...

Although the approach sounds like it could work, and in the hands of a really good writer it might seem organic, I just don't think I have the strength for that. It would, for me, take out some of the fun of writing. And since I'm not making any money what's left but fun?

Lisa said...

I am a complete amateur, so although this wouldn't work for me to start, it would be very helpful once I've gotten a fair way into the forest (like now). It took me a few pantsing chapters to find the direction the story would take, but now that I've found it, going back and using this guideline would be just the ticket (I think).

tkfonzie said...

After just finishing What Angels Fear and Why Mermaids Sing, I can't imagine you following such a rigid formula. Your characters and the flow of your story telling is so natural that It seems very organic. Don't change a thing!
I am waitng for "Serpents" with baited breath.

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