27 essential principles of story Master the secrets of great storytelling, from Shakespeare to South Park

Daniel Joshua Rubin

Book - 2020

"A master class of 27 lessons, drawn from 27 diverse narratives, for novelists, storytellers, filmmakers, graphic designers, and more. Author Daniel Joshua Rubin unlocks the secrets of what makes a story work, and then shows how to understand and use these principles in your own writing. The result is "an invaluable resource" (Publishers Weekly, starred review), offering priceless advice like escalate risk, with an example from Pulp Fiction. Write characters to the top of their in...telligence, from the Eminem song "Stan." Earn transformations, from Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Attack your theme, from The Brothers Karamazov. Insightful, encouraging, filled with attitude, and, as Booklist puts it, "perfect for any writer looking to ensure their stories operate and resonate at the top of their potential," this book gives contemporary storytellers of all kinds a lifeline of inspiration and relatable instruction."--

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Instructional and educational works
New York, NY : Workman Publishing Company [2020]
Physical Description
xi, 372 pages ; 23 cm
Includes index.
Main Author
Daniel Joshua Rubin (author)
  • Introduction: Old school, new adrenaline
  • Part one:
  • Essential principles of plot.
  • Drop the hammer. (Hamlet)
  • Ask dramatic questions. (Finding Nemo)
  • Explore all endings. (The Night Of)
  • Connect with "therefore," not "and." (South Park, "Breast Cancer Show Ever")
  • Escalate risk. (Pulp Fiction)
  • Clash expectation with reality. (Breaking Bad, "Dead Freight")
  • Max out the middle. (If Beale Street Could Talk)
  • Begin the end with a critical decision. (Frankenstein)
  • Confirm the decision. (The Godfather, Part II)
  • Wrap up fast. (Late Spring)
  • Part two:
  • Essential principles of character.
  • Make your hero active and decisive. (Red Dead Redemption)
  • Provoke dilemma. ("The Best of Times, the Worst of Times")
  • Layer conflict. (Ms. Marvel: No Normal)
  • Peel the onion. ("Interpreter of Maladies")
  • Write characters to the top of their intelligence. ("Stan")
  • Mask everyone. (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
  • Earn transformations. (Fun Home)
  • Motivate fierce antagonists. (The Piano Lesson)
  • Confront evil. ("The Lottery")
  • Part three.
  • Essential principles of setting, dialogue, and theme.
  • Link inextricably to your setting
  • Exceed expectations. (30 Rock, "Jack-tor")
  • Craft actionable dialogue. (Death of a Salesman)
  • Hide meaning. (The Remains of the Day)
  • Hunt big game. (Beloved)
  • Amplify your theme. (Double Indemnity)
  • Attack your theme. (The Brothers Karamazov)
  • Transcend thought. (Fever Dream)
  • Conclusion: The necessity of story.
Review by Booklist Review

Seasoned writing instructor Rubin has spent his entire career analyzing the recipe for a compelling narrative. This book is his guide for writers of all skill levels to better understand what makes a memorable, satisfying story. As the title suggests, the book is broken down into 27 lessons covering a myriad of topics, from plot to character to setting to theme. Each lesson includes an explanation of a concept; an example of that concept from a published master; a list of ways to execute the concept in one's own practice; and a mini--final exam. The masters exemplified range in genre and medium. Rubin includes the work of Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, Pixar, Eminem, and more, to help readers better understand how the essential principles apply in action. Rubin's book reads like an intimate college writing workshop. His preferences in style and tone shine through with repeated references to Breaking Bad, Quentin Tarantino, and Anton Chekov. Perfect for any writer looking to ensure their stories operate and resonate at the top of their potential.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Rubin, a playwright and TV scriptwriter, aims with this manual to give writers "enough direction to avoid getting lost, but not so much that it strangles your creativity," and succeeds in creating an invaluable resource. He offers an array of techniques (escalate risk, provoke dilemma, confront evil, etc.) for effective storytelling, first demonstrating how a master used a technique to great effect, and then explaining how neophytes may do so as well. His choices of "masters" may surprise. Rubin includes the usual suspects--Shakespeare (who "drops the hammer" when he has Hamlet learn the truth behind his father's death) and Shirley Jackson (who "confronts evil" with her depiction of a seemingly tranquil small town's dark side in "The Lottery"), among others--but he also uses TV shows, movies, and even a video game, Red Dead Redemption, the runaway success of which he attributes to its creators obeying the principle "make your hero active and decisive." This is a no-brainer for both pro and would-be novelists. Lisa DiMona, Writer's House. (July)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Seasoned multimedia writer Rubin (NBC, the WB) injects the traditional writing manual with an overdue fix of dash and utility. While classics such as Strunk and White's Elements of Style and Stephen King's On Writing focus on short- and long-form literature, Rubin ranges through television, movies, video games, as well as novels and short stories. Above all, the author reminds writers that the tales one tells are personal. Storytelling is a revealing art. Throughout the detailed analyses of 27 master works (Hamlet and South Park, to Beloved and Breaking Bad), readers observe clear resonance between authors' defining experiences, passions, personality, and subjects and themes explored. For example, despite being a nightmarish icon of surrealist/indie filmmaking, David Lynch's Eraserhead doesn't stray from emotional truths and traumas common to starting a family, having sex, childbirth, and death. Nor does Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home. Storytellers must cultivate inner meaning unfindable in a fragmenting world. Mirroring the coherence of a three-part structure, this manual covers essential principles of plot, character, dialog, setting, and theme. VERDICT This new bible of lessons and practices for creators across media will likely appeal to readers curious about behind-the-scenes realities of those who bring to life today's most popular and intelligent entertainment.--William Grabowski, McMechen, WV

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A self-help book for those who yearn to be story writers. Rubin has considerable experience in this arena--a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he is the founder of the writing studio Story 27 and has written for TV and theater--but little is novel here. He writes in conventional self-help format (chapters with identical subheadings, bullet points, continual encouragement) and employs informal diction throughout, including the final sentence: "You got this." In one of the major sections, "How the Master Did It," the author summarizes, sometimes quite extensively, a salmagundi of works including computer games, songs, short stories, novels, plays, films, TV scripts, and comic books. Among the many iconic authors Rubin cites are Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, James Baldwin, Arthur Miller, and Toni Morrison as well as more current artists such as Quentin Tarantino and Tina Fey. Rubin's point, well taken, is that great stories are similar in foundational ways, and he devotes most of the text to showing novices how to become adepts, if not maestros. The 27 chapters, introduced by quotes from the likes of Aristotle, Voltaire, Buddha, and others, are arranged into large themes--plot, character, setting, dialogue, etc.--and each has an urgent and/or encouraging title: "Drop the Hammer," "Escalate Risk," "Hunt Big Game," "Peel the Onion," "Confront Evil." The prose is readable yet sprinkled with cliché ("getting into the appropriate mindset") and platitude ("the more you do something, the better you get at it"). Rubin does display a wide range of reading, but he does not delve into language, mechanics, usage, ways to write a character's thoughts, and so on. Maybe another volume is on the way? The author remains positive and encouraging throughout, but as most aspiring writers know, success is highly elusive. Enthusiastic and chockablock with varied examples but tightly bound by the ropes of convention. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.