If you’re looking for a different approach to genres, consider reading John Truby’s latest book, The Anatomy of Genres: How Story Forms Explain the Way the World Works..
John Truby’s 3 Storytelling Rules
Truby gave this simple definition:
“Story is a philosophy of life expressed through characters, plot, and emotion.”
He later added:
“Stories are maps of humanity.”
He cut to the chase with this statement:
“Once we understand that all of human life is a form of story, the next step becomes clear: genres are the portals to this world.”
The author cited three rules for successful storytelling today:
- The storytelling business is all about buying and selling genres.
- Popular stories today combine 3-4 genres.
- To rise above the crowd, the writer must transcend the primary genre.
The third rule hints at the potential value waiting to be discovered in Truby’s latest book.
Is this Book the Best on Genres?
Many Amazon reviewers believe Truby fulfilled his introductory promise:
“If you’ve picked up this book thinking you will be able to impress your friends at cocktail parties, congratulations, you’ve come to the right place.”
My take: You’ll find practical advice, but you’ll have to slog through his remarks to find them.
Before reading The Anatomy of Genres, I thought Robert McKee’s Story followed by Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid (supported by posts at storygrid.com) had explained genres thoroughly. To Truby’s credit, he added significant details based on his lifetime of screenwriting, giving writers value with spot-on examples of genre beats and implementation techniques.
Unfortunately, at 722 pages, Truby’s volume of commentary forces you to pan for the gold nuggets before you can apply that value to your writing.
Tiny Beats, Remarkable Results. A Proven Way To Structure Your Novel or Script!
The 14 genres detailed in Truby’s book give in-depth descriptions of the beats expected by audiences.
For example, the Detective Story and Thriller genre alone had 20 beats and dozens of related implementation techniques. The book described how you can “transcend” the primary genre by cherry-picking beats and techniques from other genres, and based on the book’s examples, I added the Horror and Myth genres to my study.
To make sense of Truby’s book in relationship to my work in progress and the three genres:
- I created a spreadsheet that listed the Story Beats structure for my story’s 74 scenes.
- Next, I marked how each scene intersected with the main plot and subplots.
- M1: Murder Mystery (Main plot)
- S1: Character Arc (Subplot 1: Character’s choice to pursue her calling)
- S2: Bookend Story (Subplot 2: Prologue and Epilogue story)
- S3: Community Conflicts (Subplot 3: Relatable small-town intrigue)
- S4: Setting/Storyworld (Subplot 4: Rich texture and vision of storyworld)
- Finally, I aligned Truby’s “genre beats” with my scenes to create writer’s actions and clarifying notes.
Here’s one example of how you can apply Truby’s advice to your novel or script.
Myth: Hero — Searcher (Stay or Go?)
Plot / Sub
Action & Notes
Truby’s Advice: You can transcend the Detective Story and Thriller genre by pairing with the Myth genre. For example, a hero like Jason searches for the Golden Fleece, but Odysseus searches for home.
Writer’s Action: In the process of the sleuth’s search to solve the mystery, foreshadow via her internal and external debate whether the main character will “stay” (not investigate) or ultimately “go” (find the meaning of life — her calling — through her efforts to identify the killer).
Clarifying Notes: The Myth hero’s search almost always takes her on a dangerous physical journey in which she must fight her way through the world. This struggle will highlight the meaning of her life.
A Small Investment Can Lead to a Giant Outcome
For the $13 Kindle Edition of The Anatomy of Genres, plus studying and applying the advice, I benefited from the near equivalent of a story-development edit.
The exercise produced:
- Over 50 writer’s actions that will update two-thirds of the scenes.
- Many “aha” moments (e.g., changes to characters, main plot, subplots, and themes).
- Additional ideas on how this story could spawn a series.
Is The Anatomy of Genres Right for You?
No shortcuts in this book, and it requires effort to make actionable. For example, I had to separate Truby’s philosophical remarks (smelting slag) from his practical how-to advice (pure gold).
To see if this book is right for you, check out the Amazon reviews and download a sample.
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If you bought a copy of Truby’s The Anatomy of Genres, what are your key takeaways?
- The Trellis Method: Look for Brown M&M’s in Your Chosen Genres
- Understanding Your Favorite Genre Gives You the Advantage Bestselling Authors Know Well
- Genre: The Secret to Writing Page-turning Fiction
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