John Truby is an American scriptwriter, who’s accolades include serving as a consultant for over 1,000 scripts over the past three decades including writing some of the episodes from the hit series “21 Jump Street“. Truby is also a teacher and some of his students have written such films as “Shrek“, “Sleepless In Seattle” and “Scream“. However Truby’s most famous accolade is the creation of what he calls “The 22 steps of scriptwriting”. Truby goes around the world giving lectures for how to write a great story and the backbone of these lectures is the 22 steps:
- Self-revelation, need, and desire
This is a fairly simple step but important to get right. Failure to secure all three of these will result in not knowing which direction your story is going.
- Ghost and story world
This step in scriptwriting is figuring out the protagonist’s “ghost” and “story world”. The ghost is an issue from the protagnist’s past that still haunts them, perhaps causing an internal struggle for them. The “story world” is then showing the audience what an average day for our main character would look like.
- Weakness and need
The weakness or problem is the difficulty that the hero has at the start of the story. The need is what our hero needs in order to live a better life. In a large amount of stories this is a wife/girlfriend
- Inciting event
The inciting event is generally quite noticable in the film. It’s the action that breaks the hero’s “story world”. For example in the film Taken, the kidnapping of his daughter would be the inciting event.
This is what drives the story. The plot of the story is generally focused on the hero’s desire.
- Ally or allies
Using an ally is a way various scriptwriters define their protagonist. Allies can come in more or less any form, whether it’s friends, peers or someone that gives advice to our hero.
- Opponent and/or mystery
The opponent is fairly straight-forward. The opponent is the person with the ability to attack the hero’s weakness displayed earlier on. The mystery can also be the unseen opponent. It is also known that detective stories need a mystery as they have a lack of an enemy
- Fake-ally opponent
The fake ally is a charcter in the story that appears to be an ally but ends up being an opponent in the story. For example in The Dark Knight Rises Fake-ally opponent would be Talia-Al-Ghul.
- First revelation and decision: Changed desire and motive
This is often known as the first turning point in the film and is where the hero receives some new information or makes a decision that taken them in a different direction.
The plan is the hero’s means of fulfilling his/her desire. The plan doesn’t always have to go spot on, if it did it would make for a boring film. An unseen flaw in the plan or an opponent’s action could change the plan. This change should be intended to shock or surprise the audience
- Opponent’s plan and main counterattack
The opponent then comes up with a plan to counteract the hero’s and stop the hero from fulfilling their desire.
The drive is the guideline of the story, the actual steps that the protagonist takes within the plan. It is very easy to simply repeat yourself for the drive so it is important to take care not to
- Attack by ally
This is also fairly noticable in many films. This is the section where the hero goes awry, steers from his orginial motive or tries to short-cut to get to his desire. This is usually the section where the hero receives a slap across the face.
- Apparent defeat
Apparent defeat is when the hero is about to give up. When all hope is lost, there is no way out of their predicament. It is the low point of the story where the hero is certain that the opponent will come out victorious.
- Second revelation and decision: Obsessive drive, changed desire and motive
This is when the hero realises that where they went wrong and decides to give it another shot. The hero has renewed interest in their desire.Their perspective on the desire may have changed
- Audience revelation
This is when the audience sees something that the hero doesn’t and learns a vital piece of information. Thi is typically when the audience learns a piece of information before the protagonist
- Third revelation and decision
This is when our hero learns all they can, making them a more worthy opponent against the opponent and able to beat them.
- Gate, gauntlet, visit to death
This is typically the last sacrifice the hero will have to make for their desire. The hero may also go through a final test before their battle.
The final battle between the hero and the opponent. This step is in most films made and is a chance for the writer to clearly distinguish what the hero and opponent are fighting for. This is to show who will come out on top
The hero finally learns what they have been doing wrong and how to do things successfully. It is something the hero did not understand until that moment
- Moral decision
This is the hero then acting on what they have just learned. The hero must make the decision to do the moral thing. This may be the hero dying a noble death
- New equilibrium
This is finally everything returning to normal, similar to the “story world” shown at the start.
All of these 22 steps will not be in every film. Sometimes it suits the film well, other times it may backfire. For example in The Dark Knight Rises, although Batman has a extensive battle with Bane at the end, he does not fight the actual villain, and so it takes the edge off the film slightly.
Also, as mentioned in step 21, the protagonst doesn’t always have to survive, they can die a horrible, yet meaningful death. The reason this rarely happens is because of franchises. A company cannot capitalise from a franchise if the main character is dead, so although a death would make a better ending, it rarely happens.
I’m also a big fan. His book has made a major improvement on my story writing.