This book is one of a handful that has changed the way I write and, I hope, shortened the apprenticeship I am serving on the way to being a published mystery writer.
Matt Bird writes for film and television and insists that these principles of storytelling also apply to writing novels, comics, and stage plays. That said, he admits that he is talking about stories in which a hero has one big problem to solve. If you're writing another kind of story, this may not be as helpful.
The book contains entertaining descriptions of laws for, and misconceptions about, storytelling, but the bulk of the book (256 of its 352 pages) is the "Ultimate Story Checklist." This is a list of questions such as, "Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?" and "Is the hero already doing something active when the story begins?" Each question is accompanied by a page or two in which Bird illustrates potential answers with examples from great films such as Casablanca and The Silence of the Lambs.
This is just what I need as I polish up the umpteenth draft of my murder mystery and ask myself, "Is it ready?" I have run it by my writers' group and a few fellow writers with whom I swapped manuscripts, but dreaded the thought of endless rejections because it was good but not great. At least, by the time I've worked my way through Bird's checklist, I'll be convinced I've done all I can.