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The seven critical steps of storytelling according to the script doctor John Truby

The scriptwriter and author of "The Anatomy of Story" explains the different critical steps of the narrative structure and its dramatic codes beneath the surface.

In other words, the story's DNA.

  1. Weakness(es) and need(s)

  2. Desire

  3. Opponent

  4. Hero's plan

  5. Final match

  6. Self-revelation

  7. New equilibrium

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1951)

A scaffold to help building a plot

  • Weakness(es) and need(s)

First, Truby tells us the hero has a psychological, moral weakness - or both - that ruins his/her life. A mental weakness has an impact on himself, and a moral weakness means his/her behavior affects others.

What does he/she need to fulfill to improve his/her life? From the beginning, we should think and create the main enemy as the major obstacle to overcome, to access the purpose. The final confrontation with his enemy will allow him to walk through his weaknesses and fears.

Furthermore, the hero's need is the source of the story, but to keep everyone in suspense, he must not be aware of it until the self-revelation (at the end) or the story already finished. Endow your hero with a physical need and also a moral necessity : his decisions and actions will impact and even hurt the other characters. The hero isn't perfect, and all these weaknesses will engage the audience. In this way, we will, as viewers, identify with him.

  • Desire

According to the author, after determining weaknesses and needs, the next step is to provide it with a strong desire. As the trigger for the story, this wish represents the main character's goal, intrinsically linked to his/her need(s). For the audience, the story only becomes exciting when the desire comes into play. That is the trail the audience will follow step by step. Desire is intimately linked to need - in most stories when the hero achieves his goal, he also fulfills his need - but they are still two different notions. Need involves overcoming an internal weakness that paralyzes him while desire is an external objective to the character. Even if the audience senses how the character could evolve to meet this need, it must remain below the surface : that is the key to the whole story.

For its part, desire gives us the motive to covet with the hero. He stays on the surface ; the audience thinks it is the subject of the story.

  • Opponent

The antagonist must respond to his/her function in the story : the rival. He/she tries to prevent the hero from achieving his goal by putting obstacles in his way and trying to make the same purpose himself.

When we think of the hero as his own worst enemy, we talk about his weakness. Both are important but different.

  • Hero's plan

The hero's tactics are the entire strategy he will follow to defeat his opponent and achieve his aim. It can be somewhat vague, even shaky or very complicated in the case of war intrigues or scams, for instance. Both hero and enemy have a plan of course.

As history unfolds, rivalry grows as each side attempts to achieve their ends. The conflict escalates and leads to the final confrontation.

  • Final match

As history unfolds, rivalry grows as each side attempts to achieve its intentions. The conflict escalates and leads to the final match. It can be physical and violent, or just a word battle.

  • Self-revelation

The intense and painful experience of confrontation leads him to a revelation about his true nature. The quality of the story is greatly related to the quality of this revelation.

It has two aspects:

- psychological : the mask falls off, the hero discovers himself for the first time. A real act of bravery.

Prefer to show what the hero has learned through his actions rather than through dialogue, which would lack subtlety. If the revelation is clear, it will be without words.

- Moral : the character realizes the impact he has had on those around him. He can prove that he has changed through moral action.

  • New equilibrium

With the new balance, we return to a more peaceful situation where desire disappears. However, as a result of the ordeal, he has gone through, the hero has moved up or down.

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