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The Anatomy of the Script – John Truby

A book to help with writing and to develop ideas.

Starting to write a novel is not always easy…. When I wrote the first volume of Galénor, I bought several books on writing and screenwriting. This is the book that I believe has helped me the most.

It addresses themes such as the creation of characters, the construction of dialogues, the moral dimensions, the structure of the plot, the division into scenes…. The author also presents many concrete examples supporting his theories, as well as practical exercises...

For Truby, it is the character who makes the story, because he makes everything move, by transforming himself, through his ordeals. According to him, the development of the character constitutes the foundation of the narrative.

Photo credit: Jack Moreh

According to John Truby, a good script is built in 7 key stages of the character's journey

  1. Moral need → initial problem = weakness and psychological need get him to move. (This need may be unconscious at first.

  2. Desire → what the protagonist wants

  3.   The adversary → single or multiple antagonist (Heal this character. He must have the same goal as the hero.)

  4. The plan  → the protagonist sets up a strategy which fails (Every hero acts on the basis of a plan – parallel with real life.)

  5. The battle → decisive, inescapable and irreversible confrontation

  6. Self-revelation → the protagonist knows more about himself, he changes (Transformation of the character of which he will be aware, revelation about his nature. He evolves.) *Be careful not to confuse it with morality.

  7. The new balance → the situation is stabilized, for good or for bad.

But in his full storyline model, Truby offers 22 steps to work through to build character evolution.

It also discusses the development of ideas, with the writing of the premise in the first place…

The premise, what is it?

The premise is the story in one sentence.

Example for Star Wars: While a princess is in mortal danger, a young man uses his combat powers to save her and defeat the evil forces of a galactic empire.

Tips from J. Truby for developing your premise:

  • Determine what is possible
    Explore all the possibilities that come your way. This will allow you to think about the many directions your idea can take and choose the best one.

  • Identify story challenges and issues

  • Find a concept
    This is the overall strategy that will determine how you write your story. (concept = story process + original development)
    example: Harry Potter:
    Premise: A boy discovers he has magical powers and enrolls in a school of magicians.
    Concept: He learns to become a man by spending 7 school years in a school that trains wizards.

  • Determine the best character induced by your idea
    Always tell the story of your best character. “The best” does not mean “the friendliest”. It means "the most fascinating, challenging and complex", even if this character is not particularly likeable.

  • Identify the central conflict

  • Identify the unique voice of cause and effect

  • Determine the possible transformation of your hero
    The central action should be the action most likely to force the character to deal with their weaknesses and change.
    Example Star Wars:
    Premise: While a princess is in mortal danger, a young man uses his battle powers to save her and defeat the evil forces of a galactic empire.
    initial weaknesses: naive, impetuous, lack of self-confidence
    main action: uses his combat skills
    transformation: self-esteem, becoming a confirmed fighter, (*I would add that Luke trusts himself and puts his faith in the force…)


At this stage, J. Truby also advises to make a list of wishes and lists of premises. (List everything we want to talk about in our story, list what we like in the novels we read, in the movies we watch…)

In short, the precepts he develops in the book complement more than they compete with the works of other theoreticians of dramaturgy.

Really, I highly recommend this book.

Fourth cover :

Among the many essays and writing manuals, The Anatomy of the Screenplay is an essential reference for beginners and experienced screenwriters.

John Truby intends to put an end to the dogma of the structure in three acts which he considers artificial. He advocates multi-faceted plots, character networks and the mixing of genres. He invites us to twist the rules that govern screenwriting in order to write original stories that must be approached as living organisms, as changing and complex as those who imagine them.

The precepts developed in this book complement more than they compete with the works of other theoreticians of dramaturgy. They expose the bases of a continuous training as popular in France as in the United States where it was set up thirty years ago. This Anatomy of the screenplay is the result of a long analysis of hundreds of films, plays, short stories and novels, ranging from Joyce's Ulysses to Star Wars via Tootsie. Concrete, practical without being simplistic, this book stands out as the screenwriter's bible.


A new edition of John Truby's book is also available

In this new edition, augmented with questions/answers drawn from his master classes with his French students, and always more practical, you will learn how to solve the specific problems of the screenwriter, whether he is writing for cinema or television, at from examples analyzed in depth, ranging from the most classic (Casablanca, Life is Beautiful, The Godfather) to the most recent (A Prophet, L';Arnacœur, Breaking Bad or Star Wars).


I hope this article can help you!

Happy writing!

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