Robert McKee’s “Story” is my current best writing friend. It’s a book about how to write screenplays, but it is excellent as a guide to sorting out the architecture of a good story regardless of the format.
I love it for being pragmatic. Here’s an example: “Here’s a simple test to apply to any story. Ask: What is at risk? What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not get what he wants? More specifically, what’s the worst thing that will happen to the protagonist if he does not achieve his desire? If this question cannot be answered in a compelling way, the story is misconceived at its core.”
But I also love it for recognizing why we love stories: “We not only create stories as metaphors for life, we create them as metaphors for meaningful life — and to live meaningfully is to be at perpetual risk.”
McKee makes me want to simultaneously write well and live well. How cool is that?
from page 149 of the 1997 hardback edition.