The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure



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The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure

from The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. NY: Faber and Faber: 2007




The seven steps…exist in the story. [They] are the nucleus, the DNA, of your story and the foundation of your success as a storyteller because they are based on human action. They are the steps any human must work through to solve a life problem.


  1. weakness and need

From the start, your hero has one or more weaknesses holding him or her back. Something is missing within her that is so profound, it is ruining her 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.

Need is the wellspring of the story and sets up every other step.


  • Your hero should not be aware of his need at the beginning of the story.

      1. If he already knows what he needs, the story is over.

      2. The hero should become aware of his need at the self-revelation, near the end of the story, only after having gone through much pain or struggle.

  • Give your hero a moral need as well as a psychological need.

      1. psychological need = a flaw that hurts only the hero.

      2. moral need = a flaw that hurts others
      3. a moral need keeps him from being perfect or being a victim


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

  • Keep the problem simple and specific.

      1. Begin with hero already in trouble, but not knowing how to solve it.




  1. desire

What the hero wants in the story, his particular goal. A story doesn’t become interesting to the audience until the desire comes into play. Think of the desire as the story track that the audience “rides along.” Everyone gets on the “train” with the hero, and they all go along after the goal together. Desire is the driving force in the story, the line from which everything else hangs.

  • Your hero’s desire is what he wants in this story, not what he wants in life.




  1. opponent

The opponent, or antagonist, is not simply a character looks evil, sounds evil, or does evil things. A true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire but is competing with the hero for the same goal.

The trick to creating an opponent who wants the same goal as the hero is to find the deepest level of conflict between them. Ask yourself, “What is the most important thing they are fighting about?” That must be the focus of your story.


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





  1. plan

Dictates action; strategies the hero will use to beat opponent and reach goal.

  • Organically linked to both desire and opponent, the plan should always focus on defeating the opponent and reaching the goal.




  1. battle

Throughout the middle of the story, the hero and opponent engage in punch and counterpunch as each tries to win the goal. The conflict heats up. The battle is the final conflict between hero and opponent and determines which wins the goal. The final battle may be a conflict of actions or a conflict of words.


  1. self-revelation

The battle is intense and painful for the hero, a crucible causing him to have a major revelation about who he really is. The quality of your story is linked to the quality of this self-revelation. For a good self-revelation, know its two forms:

  • In a psychological self-revelation, the hero strips away the façade he has lived behind and sees himself honestly for the first time. This stripping away of the façade is not passive or easy. Rather, it is the most difficult, or the most courageous act the hero performs in the entire story.

Don’t have your hero say what he learned. So obvious and preachy a move will turn off your audience. Instead, suggest your hero’s insight by the actions he takes leading up to the self-revelation.
  • If you have given your hero a moral need, create a moral self-revelation, too. The hero doesn’t just see himself in a new light; he has an insight about the proper way to act toward others. In effect, the hero realizes that he has been wrong, that he has hurt others, and that he must change. He then proves he has changed by taking new moral action.


Structurally, self-revelation is closely connected to need. These two steps communicate the hero’s character change. Need begins your hero’s character change. Self-revelation is the end-point of that change. Need marks the hero’s immaturity at the beginning of the story. It is what is missing, what is holding him back. Self-revelation is the moment when the hero grows as a human being (unless the knowledge is so painful it destroys him). It is what he learns, what he gains, what allows him to live a better life in the future.


  1. new equilibrium

At the new equilibrium, everything returns to normal, and all desire is gone. Except there is now one major difference. The hero 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 hero.

  • If the self-revelation is positive—the hero realizes who he truly is and learns how to live properly in the world—he moves to a higher level.

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





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