About writing, About Writing, Learning the Craft, Lessons from Writers

3 Lessons From a Master Storyteller

I still remember the first time I heard about The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby. A friend and writing buddy recommended it and I decided to check it out and give it a try. It’s taken me practice to truly grasp and properly apply the techniques Truby suggests, but as I worked on my third story project using this book, a few lessons have come up repetitively that have completely changed the way I think about writing, outlining before writing, and first draft creation.

1. Organic Stories Grow Like Seeds Not Wild Forests

Truby’s entire approach to storytelling begins with the idea of developing a proper premise first (condensing the story into a single sentence). Every step after that is simply an extension, and further development of the idea. The more I get to practice this technique and see it in action through movies, books, commercials, and other storytelling media, the more I truly believe that writing (at least for me) cannot be approached from a macro level (all thoughts and ideas pushing themselves to the front of my mind and spat onto a page without thought of the whole). On the contrary, for the story to properly develop into its full potential, a seed must be planted, and slowly enticed into bloom, one leaf and branch and flower at a time. It is a slower process at first, more meticulous and purposeful. But the gorgeous tree at the end of it (unhacked or mangled with plot holes) is definitely worth it.

2. Proper Outlining Can Increase Creativity

If someone had told me before I read Truby’s book that properly outlining my stories would actually unlock my creativity instead of restrict it, I would have laughed, mocked, and dismissed it as nonsense. After all, how can you be creative when you’re putting up walls from the beginning. A map leads you to a specific location, no detours or surprises along the way, no characters acting out on their own, no lightbulb moments, no muse igniting your creative genius on the spot. But the truth I’ve discovered by using this technique on my projects is quite simple, and to quote VIKKI from I, Robot, undeniable.

Proper outlining and developing of a story before you even write a single word forces your mind to think of everything in sections, and work on them strategically. The result is layered creativity; surprises, depth, and meaning tucked within the folds of the story. Don’t believe me? Give it a try. It will change how you even think of creativity.

3. The Best Stories Cannot Be Rushed

All of us writers suffer from a common malaise, that of comparing ourselves to other writers, mope about our perceived lack of progress, and then repeat ad nauseam. I remember a friend telling me a very long time ago that writers are like a gradient of gardeners and farmers. At one end you have those who take their sweet time, tending, loving, singing while working, and slowly gathering the fruits of a small home garden, while at the other end you have the professional farmers who approach their crops with a system of machinery and irrigation that produces predicted results every year. But neither one is better than the other. They are both valid. What makes the difference is the type of gardener or farmer you are. Your style or approach to writing cannot be compared to another writer, because we all create differently. So I learned that, for me, writing is a methodical process, and that is absolutely fine.

Have you read or applied the concepts of The Anatomy of Story in your writing? Or is this the first time you’ve heard about them?

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