John Truby's 22 Plot Building Blocks

John Truby’s screenwriting courses and software are a staple of screenwriting classes worldwide. His book,The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
, presents his “Twenty-Two Building Blocks” plot structure is a classic. I purchased one of his first video writing courses mumblety-mumblety years ago when I was writing comedy and spent a lot of time in L.A. Truby combines the mythic story structure of Joseph Campbell (used for such blockbusters as “Star Wars”) with some original expansion to create his twenty-two building blocks. The overall structure is loosely follows the three-act format.

A key concept of Truby’s technique is that plot is what the Character does while the Character is defined by his actions. Essentially, the plotline is the result of the Hero’s (Protagonist’s) actions movtivated by his internal need and an external desire or goal. It’s the classic story structure and in his works, Truby applies his structure to a number of successful classic films (keep in mind Truby has always focused on screenwriting, however, his techniques are the same ones used by blockbuster and enduring novelist as well).

The Twenty-Two Building Blocks

Act 1

  • Self-Realization, Need, Desire
  • Ghost & Context
  • Problem/Need
  • Inciting Incident
  • Overall Desire (start low)
  • Ally/Allies
  • Opponent/Mystery
  • Opponent/Ally
  • 1st Reversal & Decision: changed desire & motive

Act 2

  • Plan
  • Opponent’s Plan & 1st Counter Attack
  • Drive
  • Attack by Ally
  • Apparent Defeat
  • 2nd Reversal & Decision: obsessive drive, changed desire & motive
  • Audience revelation about opponent-ally
  • 3rd Reversal & Decision

Act 3

  • Gate, Gauntlet, Visit to Death
  • Battle
  • Self-Revelation/Thematic Revelation
  • Moral Decision
  • New Equilibrium

Why doesn’t he call it “resolution” or “ending?” Hey, this is Hollywood! You have to be ready to write the sequel. 🙂

Since you can pick up Truby’s book at most libraries (or order it through here and help pay my server bills: The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
), I won’t try to give the entire class explanation of the building blocks. His analysis and breakdown of various movies is well worth the read, even if you are writing genre or traditional storylines. And he offers classes, workshops, videos and DVDs on particular genres to make the examples specific to the context.


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7 thoughts on “John Truby's 22 Plot Building Blocks

  1. oz

    Thanks for your website. You mention the 22 steps. Truby constantly mentions his “seven steps”. What’s the connection, if any, between the 7 and the 22?


  2. oz

    Thanks for your wensite. You mention the 22 steps here, and Truby mentions his “seven steps” all the time. What’s the connection, if any, between these two series of steps?

    1. Carolyn Post author

      Sorry for the delay in replying. I’ve been offline hiking in the Olympic National Park and out of touch.

      The 22 Plot Building Blocks were Trudy’s original concept and course. He has since simplified it (and to certain extent dumbed it down) to the 7 steps. I found it interesting to read both. The shorter version also makes it possible for him to teach shorter workshops in various cities. Whichever one works for you is good. I have a friend who started with the 7 steps and then went on to read and use the more in depth plot analysis method of the 22 building blocks (steps).

      Thanks for stopping by. I should have some new material adding very soon.

  3. Greg

    He actually refers to the 7 steps as a condensed version for writing smaller pieces of fiction like short stories and novellas. He strongly argues that if you’re writing a novel the 22 steps is how to go about it. But even then the 22 steps aren’t a formula and some steps might be left out and others repeated in different stages according to the needs of your story. The 22 steps can only flow from the initial work on your premise, character-web, and so on.

  4. Pingback: The Story Structure Countdown: How Different ‘Experts’ Say You Should Structure a Story | THE OTHER NETWORK WRITER'S ROOM

  5. Lauren

    Thank you for simplifying this into 3 acts…I am a huge fan of John Truby’s book…excellent stuff. Thank you for simplifying the complicated!!

  6. Waldo Salt

    7 steps is not ‘dumbed down’ 22
    Steps. It’s the 7 steps in ALL
    viable stories. A cursory, high level over view conceptually describing major beats that MUST be present. But to develop a work, flesh out and understand the characters’ drive (“what’s my motivation”?), the 22 steps show a writer more detailed & nuanced view of those 7 in more detail, thus 22


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