I am extremely thankful that I read "The Anatomy of Story" by John Truby, and I am equally grateful that a few amazing authors were such big advocates of this book on craft. I wanted to start off this blog with one of my favorite quotes from the book. Let me also start off by saying that I wish I read this book many, many years ago. :)
"Most writers choose the next scene according to which action (scene) comes next in time. The result is a padded story with many useless scenes. Instead, you want to choose a scene by how it furthers the development of the hero. If it doesn't further that development or set it up in a crucial way, cut the scene" (Page 329).
Whoops. Let me tell you, after reading Mister Truby's very wise words, I now believe I have been writing wrong my entire life. :)
Before reading this book, my outlines would feel like a "play-by-play" of what happens in a character's life, filled with vignettes, leaving my novels feeling episodic and disjointed. Sure, I would create beat sheets for my plots, but they only seemed to leave me writing aimlessly in circles. I once tried reverse-outlining a 60,000 word novel I wrote when I was 19. I cringed so much at the lack of plot that I could barely re-read the reverse outline I had written, let alone the entire novel.
I used to consider myself a Panster, and to be honest, I'm not sure why outlining seemed so scary to me. Maybe because it showed how little I actually understood about plot. Maybe because I just wanted to dive in head first and start writing without doing any of the heavy lifting beforehand. Needless to say, plot has always been one of my greatest weaknesses as a writer.
Before I started reading this book, I did some free-writing on plot to compare and contrast how this book would help me in relation to my own writing. So, dear Reader, here are my rambling thoughts in the "before" phase as I was sitting in a Starbucks somewhere in Southern California last Spring. I'll spare you the screenshot of my almost illegible handwriting and will type what I wrote instead.
1. I've always struggled with plot. Why? For whatever reason, I didn't trust in myself enough to raise the stakes in every scene. Instead, I would write scenes just to discover what would happen in the next scenes. My thoughts at this current moment in time -- can I boost up productivity in first drafts (not even "productivity" in terms of word count but just to have more fun in general?) Can I make [writing scenes] a game of using each element to fully raise the stakes and find "nodes of conjunction" organically to connect subplots and plot threads?
2. I need to focus on Act 1's in general.
3. How can I have more fun with plot?
4. How can I train my eyes to easily discover how to rewrite passages that need reshaping in terms of pacing?
5. Why have I always considered plot to be one of my greatest weaknesses?
Yeah, I know . . . I rambled a lot about plot. However, a few sentences revealed something much more significant to me, and even re-reading this helps me put things into perspective: "I didn't trust in myself . . . Instead, I would write scenes just to discover what would happen in the next scenes."
This helped me realize that I had been having trouble staying in the moment while writing, and I found that a lot of the joy and excitement I used to have while Writing On The Seat Of My Pants had been replaced with anxiety. At what point in my writing endeavors did I let fear get in the way, so much so that it would prevent me from making strong choices for my characters? Why were my scenes lacking that original spark I used to have while improvising on the page? And, most importantly, why was I not having fun?
Well, it's because I didn't have a sense of direction. Because of this, I wasn't truly constructing scenes that demonstrated character growth, and it took me a lot of frustration to realize that I had a lot more growing to do myself (and still do, always).
How has "The Anatomy of Story" already helped me with all of this? I feel more confident that my writing is more focused and has forward momentum. It put the "big-picture" elements of plot into perspective and demonstrated how to make each scene a mini-story. I now take more joy in outlining, in discovering revelations for my hero, in showing the values my hero and antagonist are fighting for. Truby also has great writing exercises that have really helped me, including the designing principle, the four-corner opposition, and the scene weave.
Honestly, after reading this book, I feel like I can write again.
In John Truby's words: "If you want to tell the great story, the never-ending story, you must, like your hero, face your own seven steps. And you must do it every time you write a new story."
Go pick up your copy today!