The Anatomy of Story is another book about writing for cinema, and it more or less begins by arguing against everything taught by Save the Cat. The three act structure is wrong. Thinking in terms of inciting incident and rising action will get you nowhere because these ideas are generic. Relying on genre is the way to produce a predictable and formulaic result. The truth comes from within.
Truby encourages the writer to start by identifying topics that matter to them. “Write a story that will change your life,” he says, and then suggests some ways you might identify what topics and themes are particularly important to you. In this respect, it feels like a less dogmatic and more personal approach to some of Egri’s advice.
Once the writer has identified what sort of story she finds most compelling, Truby suggests looking (among other things) for the main character’s “basic action,” the thing that character does most consistently or most importantly in the story — Michael Corleone’s act of revenge, Luke Skywalker’s hand-to-hand combat against evil — as well as a design principle that will help structure the story, and important end-of-story choices that will be finely balanced between two almost-equally-desirable (or undesirable) outcomes.
All of this thinking could equally well be the preparation to find a good mechanic for your narrative design. Elizabeth Smyth’s Bogeyman is a horror story about abuse in which every choice the player makes is about obeying or defying the abuser. Papers, Please is about whether to comply or quietly disobey orders, in a host of ambiguous circumstances.
Truby also spends quite a bit of time on moral jeopardy as the driver of a good story: “will the hero do the right thing, and will he do it on time?” How do we build up the stakes for this question, how do we show the hero in danger of doing the wrong thing, and how do we contrast the hero’s values with those of an opponent?
In short, like a number of others offering plotting advice, Truby produces quite a few diagrams of possible structures, and spends a lot of pages demonstrating how various classic movies match up with his dicta. But I found these instructions more compelling than many of the others, because Truby is concerned with content on a deeper level than McKee, and certainly on a deeper level than Blake Snyder.
Truby’s advice about how to avoid having your main character expose all their moral views through dialogue is also important, and gets at a failing I see in a fair amount of interactive fiction (including plenty of my own early work). Putting characters in a context to discuss their moral views is prosier and less compelling than allowing them to act on those views and observe the consequences.
If you were going to read just one of the standard screenwriting advice books, with an eye to what it can offer interactive narrative, I’d probably make it this one.
A side note on structure: Truby talks about branching story, but he doesn’t mean interactive fiction. He’s using this to describe a structure in linear narrative that presents elements of many different substories next to each other.