Wilbur loved The Anatomy of Story so much, he kept rubbing his face against the cover. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
I picked up a copy of The Anatomy of Story by John Truby months ago and let it languish on my shelf. I thought I’d read once I was done editing my current project or maybe when I started querying. However, as I started prepping for NaNoWriMo (during which beta readers will have my current project) I realized I should take a look to see if this book would influence my Preptober.
This approximately 400-page book is $18.99 for the paperback.
It’s like going from Save The Cat and The Story Equation and taking the next step in writing mastery. It includes character creation, setting, theme, and twenty-two story beats. There are numerous examples throughout as well as worksheets.
The story beats are a bit save-the-cat-ish, but those were hardly the best part of the book. I appreciated the analysis of character creation and scene setting that’s explained before plot gets brought up. The way different elements are discussed on a symbolic and thematic level was mind blowing. I even found I’d used some of the techniques on accident (probably from reading so much—hence why you need to read a lot!) and with some tweaking I could make it look very purposeful and deep.
I hadn’t seen many of the major examples (Tootsie, Casablanca, and The Godfather were most referred to, and I hadn’t seen The Verdict either) but they were clearly explained. I had seen some others (It’s a Wonderful Life) so it was helpful that most concepts were explained using multiple examples.
It’s a dense book. I tried to read it on my morning commute and fell asleep a couple times. You really need to be awake and committed to reading it. However, it’s dense with knowledge and supremely helpful.
Is It Worth It?
The price was great for the amount of information and length of the book, in my opinion. If you’re a person who likes to highlight and flag craft books, then the paperback is for you. If you aren’t a highlighting type of person, then go with the e-book version to save some money.
I recommend this book if you’re looking to up your plotting skills. If you aren’t a plotter, I recommend a little more clear-cut plotting book first (like Save The Cat). It’s also not about basic sentence mechanics (for that I recommend It Was The Best of Sentences, It Was The Worst of Sentences) and while it covers character, I think you need a baseline of character building first (such as understanding want vs need; I recommend The Story Equation).
Clue and Wil are fans! Photos by Kate Ota 2021
A few weeks ago, I finished the three books in Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Lady Astronaut series: The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky, and The Relentless Moon.
The Calculating Stars (2018) follows Dr. Elma York after a meteor strike the US in the early 1950s. She’s a mathematician for the equivalent of NASA and her husband is an engineer there. After the meteor, the realize there will be apocalyptic climate change and they need to ramp up space exploration for humans to survive. Elma fights sexism for the ability to apply for an become an astronaut.
The Fated Sky (2018) follows the same protagonist as The Calculating Stars, Elma York. There’s a several year time jump, which at first, I didn’t like. I wanted to know about what was about to happen at the end of book 1! However, a few chapters in, I understood why there was a time jump and was on board for this new adventure. Glad I trusted the author because wow! Such a white-knuckle ride.
The Relentless Moon (2020) switches protagonists to Nicole Wargin, the Senator’s wife and fellow female astronaut. This plot is a little more of a spy novel/mystery mostly set on the moon. Discussing more of the plot would spoil the second book so I’ll leave it here.
This series has won a ton of awards. The Calculating Stars won the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the 2019 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. It was also a finalist for the 2019 John W. Campbell Memorial award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. The Relentless Moon was a finalist for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Novel and the 2021 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. The series was also a finalist for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Series.
Looking for more? A fourth installment, The Martian Contingency, has been announced for 2022! And of course, it all goes back to Kowal’s novelette, The Lady Astronaut of Mars (2012) which won the Hugo for Best Novelette.
Good news! The Calculating Stars is our next Podcast book, so we’ll be getting in depth about it. Want us to talk about anything in particular? Leave your comments or discussion questions in the comment section.
I recommend this series to lovers of sci-fi and cli-fi. If you enjoyed Hidden Figures, you’ll enjoy this, too (because yes, there’s also quite a bit of dealing with the racism of the 1950s). If you enjoy the type of book where a woman (or girl) does a thing that only men (or boys) have been allowed to do, you’ll love this. It may not be for you if you’re going to be too frustrated (or triggered) by very blatant sexism, which mentions of assault and gaslighting. The third book also deals significantly with anorexia, and the first two books have a lot of anxiety, so if you can’t or don’t want to read about those topics, steer clear. It’s heavy on realism, so if you’re looking for a space opera, this isn’t what you want. Overall, I recommend this series!
Have you read this series? What did you think? Any recommendations for our podcast discussion? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Wilbur staring off into space, just like Ryland in Project Hail Mary. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
Project Hail Mary is an adult sci-fi by Andy Weir, famous for writing The Martian. I read this in about four days and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It has the same high tension as The Martian with his signature sense of humor. Perhaps fewer f-bombs.
Wilbur's serious face almost makes it look like he just walked in on these two. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
After weeks of reading high stakes fantasy, I decided to grab a lighter option with The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood. I’d seen it on Twitter and Instagram and as a person who suffered through grad school, I couldn’t help but love the concept. It’s an adult romance which centers on a grad student and a professor (who is NOT in charge of her thesis, let’s make that clear). It was funny, light, a little awkward, and hot.
The main character, Olive, is a socially awkward 3rd year PhD student who initiates a fake relationship with the closest man she can grab—who happens to be the campus’s notorious grumpy (but still hot) professor. The trope of fake dating dictated what would happen, so I was never truly concerned about getting a HEA (happily ever after), but I still enjoyed the ride.
I learned after finishing that this book began as a fanfiction AU (alternative universe) about Rey and Kylo Ren from Star Wars. And you know what, I totally see it. You can even kind of see it on the cover, with the way Olive’s hair is in that loose bun. If Rey and Kylo Ren’s canonical interactions were like this book, I may have even been okay with whatever was happening in those movies.
On the downside, it gave me flashbacks to the worst parts of grad school. Professors being cruel for no reason, lack of funding tanking your future, imposter syndrome, professors not emailing you back even though you desperately need to join a lab somewhere—anywhere—why didn’t anyone respond?! Anyway. That probably won’t be a problem for most readers. However, trigger warning for sexual harassment and abuse of power.
If you’re looking for a quick read with romance, comedy, and realistic academia, this book is for you. If you’re in it for the science, look elsewhere. Unless you’re studying anatomy.
Have you read The Love Hypothesis? Did you enjoy it? Did you know a weirdly high percentage of grad students date professors? (The exact stat was given to me by a fellow grad student once, and I forget what the number was, but it was weird then and still weird now.)