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The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure

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I’ve been working through John Truby’s excellent book The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Anyone who is interested in scriptwriting, or even a basic way of viewing human psychology, would do well to get this book out. Please note, all of the below information has been taken directly from Truby’s book.



Something is missing within him that is so profound, it is ruining his life

The need is what the character must fulfil within himself in order to have a better life.

Give your character a moral need as well as a psychological need.

A psychological need involves overcoming a  serious flaw that is hurting nobody but the character.

A character with a moral need is always hurting others in some way (his moral weakness) at the beginning of the story.

A character with a moral need is always hurting others in some way (his moral weakness) at the beginning of the story

The other reason you want to give your character a moral need is that it prevents him from being perfect or a victim. Both are the kiss of death in storytelling.

To find out your character’s moral and psychological need:

  • Begin with the psychological weakness
  • Figure out what kind of immoral action might naturally come out of that
  • Identify the deep-seated moral weakness and need that are the source of this action

A second technique is to push a strength so far that it becomes a weakness:

  • Identify a virtue in your character. Then make him so passionate about it that he becomes oppressive.
  • Come up with a value the character believes in. Then find the negative version of that value.
  • Be specific about what the character learns.


The problem is the crisis the character finds himself in from page one.

The crisis defines a character very quickly. It should be an outside manifestation of the character’s weakness.


Desire is what the character wants in the story, his particular goal.

Do not confuse need and desire:

Need has to do with overcoming a weakness within the character.

Desire is a goal outside the character

Need lets the audience see how the character must change to have a better life.

Desire gives the audience something to want along with the character, something they can all be moving toward through the various twists and turns- and even digressions- of the story.

Desire is on the surface and is what the audience thinks the story is about.


The relationship between the hero and the opponent is the single most important relationship in the story.

A true opponent is competing with the character for the same goal. This conflict feeds the audience’s interest in the story.

The opponent is the character who most wants to keep the hero from achieving his desire.

To find the right opponent, start with your character’s specific goal; whoever wants to keep him from getting it is an opponent.


The plan is the set of guidelines or strategies the character will use to overcome the opponent and reach the goal.

The plan is organically linked to both desire and the opponent.

The plan should always be specifically focused toward defeating the opponent and reaching the goal.

Plan generally shapes the rest of the story. So it must involve many steps. It must be unique and complex enough that the character will have to adjust when he fails.


Throughout the middle of the story, the character and opponent engage in a punch-counterpunch confrontation as each tries to win the goal. The final battle may be a conflict of words.


The battle is an intense and painful experience for the character. This crucible of battle causes the character to have a major revelation about who he really is.

For a good self-revelation, the character strips away the facade he has lived behind and sees himself honestly for the first time.

It is the most active, the most difficult, and most courageous act the character performs in the entire story.

His revelation should be moral as well. The character doesn’t just see himself in a new light, he has an insight about the proper way to act towards others.

He then proves he has changed by taking new moral action.


At the new equilibrium, everything returns to normal, and all desire is gone. The character has moved to a higher or lower level as a result of going through his crucible. A fundamental and permanent change has occurred in the character.

If the self revelation is positive, the character realises who he truly is and learns how to live properly in the world., and moves to a higher level.

If character has a negative revelation- learning that he has committed a terrible crime that expresses a corrupt personal flaw- or is incapable of having a self-revelation, the character fails or is destroyed.