Step One: Weakness and Need

I’m studying a new book, THE ANATOMY OF STORY by John Truby. The subtitle is 22 steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. This book is a Must-Buy, for me, and I’m going to spend several posts discussing bits of it. (I seriously tried to limit myself to seven, but it’s not going to happen. There’s too much good stuff in there to skip over.) The 22 steps he offers pertain to building a great plot. But first, you need a great structure. Truby offers seven steps to building a great story structure.

Step number one is Weakness and Need. “From the beginning of the story,” Truby says, “the hero has one or more great weaknesses that are holding him back. Something profound is missing within him, and it’s ruining his life. The need is what the hero must fulfill within himself in order to have a better life. It usually involves overcoming his weaknesses and changing or growing in some way.”

Here are some examples. In TOOTSIE, Michael’s weakness is that he’s arrogant, selfish, and a liar. His need is that he must overcome his arrogance toward women and stop lying and using women to get what he wants.

In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Clarice’s weakness is her inexperience, and she’s suffering from haunting childhood memories. She’s also a woman in a man’s world, so that doesn’t help her any. Her need is to overcome the ghosts of her past and gain respect as a professional in a man’s world.

“Need is the wellspring of the story and sets up every other step,” Truby says. And the hero must be unaware of his need at the beginning of the story. If he already knows his need, then where’s the story? He becomes aware of his need near the end of the story in the moment of self-realization (which I’ll cover in a later post). The self-revelation comes only after having gone through a great deal of pain and/or struggle.

Think about your work in progress. Does your hero have a weakness and a need? Does he overcome his weakness at the end of the story? If not, brainstorm how you could make your work deeper by adding this character angst. More on Weakness and Need in the next post.


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