Friday, September 19, 2008

The Anatomy of Story

ThroughRatul Sarna's blog I came across a review by Tomas Jech of an interesting sounding book called The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. (phew, that's a lot of linking around) (maybe I'll find time to read the book myself some time, but for now I'll just crib a summary of Tomas' notes)Let me say it again, I'm straight lifting Tomas Jech's notes

Story is Argument:

Story can be viewed strictly as an argument. Every story can be viewed as some kind of argument (stories that try to avoid making an argument usually just make a very weak, confusing or insignificant arguments that no-one could disagree with- for ex: good is better than inexplicable evil) According to Truby, argument is typically articulated through the main character’s major flaw. So when arguing in story form, treat your main character as the guinea pig who succeeds based on your argument. For example, if you wish to say “cooperation is better than independence“, you might set up a situation in which your main character is a viciously independent person who must cooperate to succeed.

Truby defines character and story in terms of value conflicts (2 values placed against each other (like freedom vs. security) values are useless unless contrasted against other values, ie intelligence vs bravery. Different people will place higher value on different values.

Truby recommends making a character web. Basically listing the main values of each character. In this way we more clearly define the characters and also make it easy to know how to show off the desired value conflicts, by bringing in putting the characters holding them together.

Truby also thinks your main character needs to have a value that is a flaw or weakness, basically so you can prove your story's arguement by them having to convert to it. (like preferring independence over cooperation, but not being able to succeed until cooperates) which often sticks you with a critical 2ndary character who shows the correct value for the weakness to be compared againt.

Weakness and need
The weakness (a flawed value) affects how the protagonist treats themself as well as how they treat others (a neurosis for some reason is less strong then a moral value). Once Protagonist discovers their weakness they need to change their flawed value in order to win (live a more moral life)

A superficial goal the character wants to achieve and the audience thinks the stories about.

Opponent (Antagonist(s))
constantly and relentlessly attack the weakness, so the hero must overcome their weakness or lose. The person most suited to be attacking the hero's weakness.

Hero should have some plan to attain the goal so the audience can understand the hero's decisions and feel their values at work.

final showdown where the hero has to switch their value to win

Point in the Battle where the hero realizes they've been an ass, and their following actions seek to not follow the flaw anymore.
Good stories, the opponent has a self revelation as well.

New Equilibrium
Epilogue, either everythings golden cuz hero switched and won, or hero lost and audience learns from their mistakes

"symbols are any "thing" that the storyteller attaches to an emotion." Like pavlov's bell, author pairs symbol and emotion often enough that you get the emotion just with the symbol. Like Jaws and the music, scaring people without the shark even being seen.

Story World
should also always be putting pressure on weakness

in order to build drama and interest every new piece of information revealed needs to be more important and sooner, spiraling upwards to the climax

1 comment:

jriggity said...

great notes!