General · Writing

The Anatomy of a Story: I want, therefore I am

Last week, I found a fantastic book on writing: The Anatomy of a Story by John Truby. It’s a keeper (much like King’s On Writing.) I think I first heard about it from an author chat on twitter. It has some of the best analysis of what a story is that I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of books on writing.

The first lines that jump out at me are:

The “story world” doesn’t boil down to “I think, therefore I am” but rather “I want, therefore I am.” Desire in all of its facets is what makes the world go around. It is what propels all conscious, living things and gives them direction. A story tracks what a person wants, what he’ll do to get it and what costs he’ll have to pay along the way.

I’m always ecstatic when a character comes to life in my head. Writing is easy and it feels like I am not writing, just describing the pictures in my head.

I am theorizing that happens because I connect with the character’s desire. In the moment it is real to me, that feeling will come a lot easier.

It makes sense. I mean, a lot of stories are about what character is trying to do, isn’t? Whether that’s to solve a murder or find someone to share their life with. Or, in the case of my MC, find the drug source and keep all hisloved ones safe at the same time.

I am thinking, I need to know my character’s desires, both short-term and long-term. His professional goals (easy! ha! this is the whole story), and a more personal, more emotional desire. To an extent, this is the same (backstory! such bloody, fantastic drama!).

I am not sure if I need other layers. Emotional and/or spiritual desires? I am thinking not. He thinks doesn’t think a love life is possible for him anymore and he’s not really open to it. Family? Hmm. Maybe.

Thing is, I knew almost none of this when I first started writing the novel in progress. I had to backtrack, go forward and back a few times before I figured it out.

How many others know the all the different desires of the character before they start writing?

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5 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Story: I want, therefore I am

  1. My novel started with the main character desperately wanting to do something and it grew from there. The more I thought about what he wanted, the more his personality came into focus – the BIG thing created all the little things that made him special. Things I thought I knew about him changed as the story progressed, but doesn’t that happen with real people in real life? I always took it as a good sign when he surprised me, because that meant he was more realistic. Throughout the process, I found that having such a strong sense of who he was as a person, helped to keep me focused as I wrote his story. đŸ™‚

    1. It is, yeah. I’ve had that happen to my characters, too. LOL I tel l myself it’s a good thing, that he’s more real, even if it frustrates me. đŸ˜‰

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