I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with Truby’s 22 Steps. At a glance, they might seem oversimplified. However, I’ve found that if I’m stuck in the developmental stages of a story, I can go back, work through each of the steps, and unknot my story’s mess.
- Self-revelation, need, and desire
Self-revelation: The character’s realization of what they need to change/accomplish.
Need: Both a psychological and a moral need.
Desire: The character’s main goal.
These three are elemental when discovering where you’ll character will end up.
- Ghost and story world
Ghost: The history of the character. That which still haunts the character and may cause struggle. Basically, the character’s ‘backstory.’
Story World: Simply, the world surrounding the character and their daily life.
- Weakness and need
Weakness: The flaws in the character. Can be moral and/or psychological. Usually, characters have both. In other words, the internal damage of the character that impedes them from becoming their best self.
Need: The change the character must go through in order to become their best self.
- Inciting event
The ‘spark’ moment that brings the character’s situation from bad to worse. This event also challenges the character into action.
The goal that drives the character and the story. Usually, the desire grows/intensifies as the story progresses, raising the stakes for the character.
- Ally or allies
The best buds. Those characters that give aid/advice to the main character. The allies can also have a goal. Sometimes, the ally’s and main character’s goals are the same, promoting collaboration.
- Opponent and/or mystery
Opponent: This ‘bad guy’ doesn’t want the main character to achieve their goal. This relationship is usually the most important one in the story as it provides conflict to the story.
Mystery: The opponent can be a mystery at its roots, therefore giving the protagonist the task of discovering their antagonist, and defeating them.
- Fake-ally opponent
A ‘sneaky’ character whom the protagonist initially believes is their ally. There is usually heartbreak and deception for the protagonist when the truth is discovered.
- First revelation and decision: Changed desire and motive
A threshold in the story that becomes a point of no return for the protagonist. Usually prompted by new information. The revelation can change the protagonist’s desire. Each revelation adds levels of complexity to the plot.
The protagonist’s blueprint to achieve their desired goal. If you want a good story, the protagonist shouldn’t succeed on their first try to execute the plan.
- Opponent’s plan and main counterattack
Whether because they are trying to achieve their own goal, or actively keeping the protagonist from achieving theirs, the opponent attacks the protagonist’s plan. These attacks can and should come at different points in the story and can be both overt or covert in nature.
The way that I think about this is a football drive. Which are the plays that the protagonist is going to ‘call’ in order to achieve their goal?
- Attack by ally
The hero of our story is never perfect, otherwise, what would be the point of the story?
The attack by an ally is the moment when the protagonist begins to diverge from their moral compass and gets called out by a true ally. This can result in a schism between the protagonist and the ally (because no one likes a goody-two-shoes). This attack also gives the story a deeper conflict, where the protagonist must decide whether or not follow a moral path.
- Apparent defeat
All hope is lost and the protagonist is about to give up in the pursuit of their desire. This is the lowest point in the story and the reader might be uncertain if the protagonist will succumb to the opponent, or rally and succeed.
- Second revelation and decision: Obsessive drive, changed desire and motive
Yay, the protagonist rallied! Perhaps with a changed perspective on their desire or a different goal, the protagonist continues in their pursuit.
There can also be an ‘apparent victory’ for the protagonist at this point. However, the stakes will be raised even higher when the ‘apparent victory’ dissipates.
- Audience revelation
At this moment, the audience is privy to crucial information before the protagonist.
This is when the audience sees something that the hero doesn’t and learns a vital piece of information. This gives the audience a clearer picture of the stakes and the power of the opponent. In addition, it also heightens the tension of the story.
- Third revelation and decision
The protagonist is given all the facts that are crucial to the story (like the true identity of the opposition or whatever the audience learned before the protagonist), and the actions they’ll have to perform in order to achieve their desire. This information usually emboldens the protagonist and gives them an extra motivation to reach their goal.
- Gate, gauntlet, visit to death
The highest moment of tension before the final showdown between the hero and the opponent.
Visit to Death: Can be psychological, and might appear at an earlier moment in the story (perhaps in the apparent defeat).
During the battle, the goals of the protagonist and the opponent should be crystal clear. There should be no confusion about what each side is fighting for. The story’s plot and subplots usually converge of this point. The winner of the battle achieves their goal.
The moment after the battle where the protagonist comes to a deeper understanding of their self and what they fought for and perhaps won. The revelation should be meaningful and life-altering. Show, don’t tell, what the protagonist learned/understood. The revelation can be moral and/or psychological.
At the same time, and usually surprising the audience, the opponent can have a change of heart through the protagonist’s revelation.
- Moral decision
The moral decision is the course of action that the protagonist will take once the self-revelation happens. The protagonist, if that’s the route they’re going for, can even choose to dismiss the moral and/or psychological revelations. It is through the moral decision that the audience learns what the protagonist is truly ‘made of.’
- New equilibrium
The new stasis in the story world. The ‘new normal’ the protagonist lives in once the goal has been achieved or lost.
If you’re interested in learning more about Truby’s 22 Steps and other craft elements, you can purchase the book here.