Let us now praise famous men. John Truby, story structure guru. The Anatomy of Story. Way back when I began to think I might want to write screenplays I picked up a book by the current guru Syd Field. It pushed a three act structure with plot points (reversals) which had to come at certain points in the story. It was sort of a nightmare to try to figure out a script this way, and in the end, I flung the book across the hall. Next up was Robert McKee. He was better on story structure, but I took his class and he was so caustic and bitter that it was hard to realize that I wasn't really learning very much until I left the class, and by then it was too late to ask for a refund. A few years ago I started teaching novel writing at UCLA (a dream job if there ever was one.) I adore the classes I teach, adore the writers in my class, and one day one of the writers mentioned Truby Story Structure. I never heard of it, but I went to the website, and then called the studio to ask if this was something that novelists could benefit from. "Absolutely," a voice told me, and so I took the course, and my life (sorry for the cliche) changed.
I mean it.
Truby, first of all, is a bonafide genius. He also has a wonderful dry wit and the most soothing voice I have ever heard, which is just what any writer contemplating hurling her computer out the third story window and herself after it, needs to hear in order to calm right down. He ignores three act structure and instead focuses on the moral needs of the characters, and seven basic story elements (there are really 22, but the seven matter most for a novelist, I think) and slowly, patiently, and brilliantly, he shows you how to shape your story around your characters, how to find the deeper meanings that transform a good book into a great one. I had 400 pges of mess. I reoutlined it with my Truby notes and I was not just able to finish, I saw my theme shimmering up at me, I felt my characters were breathing on the pages, too. He saved my writing life.
I know one novelist who tells everyone that she just "follows her pen" and never structures or outlines or thinks beyond her first line. All power to her if that is her way, but for me, and most of the novelists I know, that can be the road to ruin and we wonder if she is insane (Not really, I just threw that in to be witty. She writes fine novels.) You need some moral line, you need some direction so you aren't drowning in a sea of pages. The beauty of this kind of structure is that it offers you a lifeline to hold onto and it isn't one size fits all or restrictive, which is what a novelist wants. You still have room for surprises. You still have to struggle through those dark roads where all you have is the faintest light in the distance. And I swear, it helps me the most after I've done my first and second draft, when I finally am beginning to discover what it is I want to write about.
The book is fabulous. And I've invited him to my UCLA class to speak to my students, who are "speaking" a little Truby themselves these days.
Go get the book. It's the perfect thing to read during the Writers Strike.