Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is a different kind of writing book. It’s not an inspirational memoir, with some writing tips thrown in. Nor is it an in-depth exploration of one or more aspects of the craft or a cookbook-like step-by-step approach to writing.
What it does is cover the 6 core competencies of writing: concept, character, theme, story structure, scene execution and writing voice. Brooks’ main point is that if a story is not engineering properly, it will not work and will not sell well.
He covers each of the core competencies in great detail, especially in the character and structure sections. These I found particularly helpful. They provided lots of information I never saw anywhere else.
Many reviewers commented on that Brooks repeats himself to the point of being annoying. My advice: read chapter 1. If you buy into his premise of learning 6 major competencies of the craft of writing, and the need to do some planning before diving into writing the first draft of your novel, skip to chapter 5. If you aren’t sure you get it, or disagree with him, go ahead and read chapters 2-4.
Once you get to Chapter 5, things pick up and the true value of the book becomes clear. I used his ideas in drafting a short story, and found that it sped up the actual writing tremendously, and I didn’t have to go back and write and do major rewrites to make the story work.
Then I tried drafting my novel. I followed his advice on developing structure and plot points. I’m sold on his method. I knew what major point every scene was working up to. Every time I sat down to write, I knew what the next scene was about. I’d already done a lot of the wondering “what happens next?”
To be sure, I added a few scenes along the way, and condensed or eliminated others. Having thought through the structure of the novel didn’t limit my creativity in any way. What it did was give me some direction, a goal, a destination that helped me keep moving the story along. But having the outline helped keep me focused. I was able to get the first draft done in eighteen days.
Now, of course, there’s the rewriting and editing, but that’s not the main point of Story Engineering. What Brooks teaches is that by thinking through concept, character, theme and structure before you write, the story will be engineered properly and will work, without having to write draft after draft before you know how the story unfolds and where it ends up.
I know I’m pretty happy that after eighteen days’ work I just have minimal structural changes to make and some sub-plots to ramp up, along with the usual deepening of characters and editing. I’m not sure I’d want to re-write the whole thing again from the start just to see where the story goes, other than not in the same place as draft #1. This seems to be the method of those who don’t plan in advance. To me, that seems like a lot of wasted effort.
Story Engineering is one writing book I’ll be referring to often. My only regret is that I bought the kindle version, as I prefer to use hard copies for reference books.
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