The Anatomy of Story by John Truby


THE ANATOMY OF STORY is not for “pantsers” (writers who write without an outline). It’s an extremely technical manual for people who like to have their whole story planned out ahead of time, including every plot point, character change, motif and theme. Following Truby’s method will give you a detailed map of your entire plot.

The problem is, Truby’s method strips story down to bare mechanics, bleeding all the life out of it. I’m someone who loves to devote herself to an outline, and I found Truby’s method tedious, so I can only imagine what a seat-of-the-pants writer will think.

Truby makes some things more complex than they need to be, and some things just downright incomprehensible. For example, I never did get a handle on what Truby meant by “designing principle.” It seemed to be a mashup of theme and mythical structure. It’s a pretty useless concept anyway, as many books and movies have been written without the author knowing what the “designing principle” is supposed to be.

Truby is more sure-footed when he’s talking about setting and plot. His ideas are concrete with many examples. However, Truby shows what elements all stories have in common without ever explaining how to put those elements into practice. Describing what a good screenplay needs then giving examples of movies that worked well is not the same as teaching someone how to use those same elements in her own story. Writing is more than reverse-engineering from examples, no matter how comprehensive the examples.

THE ANATOMY OF STORY  is one of those neither-here-nor-there books. It might be useful for intermediate writers who have finished a few novels or screenplays and read a few other how-to books. But those same writers would quickly outgrow anything Truby has to teach. THE ANATOMY OF STORY might help a certain kind of writer (those looking for “the one true way”) but for most of us, it’s too rigid and more likely to frustrate than inspire.


THE ANATOMY OF STORY can be found here.


Rating: 2 stars


I recommend Save the Cat by Blake Snyder instead of this book.

2 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

  1. I can’t use an outline to save my life. It’s like being back in the days of calendars and printed schedules. Never ever looked at them.

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