Film Courage: What is a popular film that script breaks all the screenwriting rules and yet is still a success. How often does this happen and is this something that bothers you in any way?
John Truby: An interesting question and you really have to go to that concept of screenwriting rules. And in my anatomy of story class I talk about all of the fundamental key elements to be in your script for it to be a great story. We are literally talking about how you tell a great story. In that sense there is no popular film that I can tell you that breaks those rules. Because we’re talking about two different concept of what rule means. Most people think about the Rules of Writing. They are really talking about these very conventional type of ideas, about what makes a good script. I’m not interested in in because that is mechanical writing or that is paint-by-numbers script writing. And that simply won’t work. When I talk about the rules of good story, I’m talking about key elements way under the surface that link a story together so it builds steadily from beginning to end. Now at that level of story, what I call the Grammar of Drama, a story can build so that it has the greatest impact on the audience. There is no way to write a great scrip that doesn’t hit those beats. Now, here is the qualify which is when you transcend a genre, when you use (for example) advanced storytelling techniques you come up with a story that appears to break those basic rules. But it doesn’t. What it’s simply doing is coming up with characters and story structures that are complex, they are not the simple chronological beginning to end type of story. And these stories might have a main character who is “unlikable.” That’s one of those conventional rules that I mentioned that you hear when you’re first starting out as a writer “Well I have to have a likable hero.” No…that is false. So it is very important for writers to understand what these “rules” are that make a great story and these so called conventional rules that are not true. They are certainly not true now and they probably never were.
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