Story Engineering

Sometimes you just have to buy the book.

As you can see from my plethora of tabs, I got a LOT out of Larry Brooks’ excellent book on story architecture, Story Engineering.  I read a lot, and feel like I know a great story when I see one, and yet when I was working on my novel draft I still had very little idea what I was doing.  When I got the edits back I knew I needed to do some serious structural work, but I didn’t know how to begin.  I really didn’t want to sit around rewriting draft after draft, making the same mistakes over and over again.

And now I won’t.

Story Engineering breaks down the critical elements of any story, how they work together, when you need to put them in, and how to set up an effective architecture for your story.  As with building architecture, if your story does not follow certain principles it will collapse, no matter how pretty it is.

The book covers quite a bit of ground, but always in a perfect amount of detail.  As I read, I kept thinking of parts of my story that didn’t work before and saying, “Aha!  I can use that, and here’s how!”  Topics include:

  • Concept
  • Theme
  • Developing characters and conflict
  • Character arcs
  • Structural milestones, plot points, pinch points, etc
  • Scenes

There are quite a few other topics, but what really struck me was how all of the above terms were familiar to me before, but I didn’t always know exactly what they were, or how to achieve them.  Moreover, I didn’t understand how they all worked together within the structure of a novel.

A lot of writers deplore structure, calling it formulaic.  What I realized in reading Story Engineering though, is that good structure in a novel is like a skeleton. You have to have one to be effective, but who you are and what you look like is unique.

If you’re a writer, I would highly, highly recommend this book to you.  Even if you’re already an expert, I can’t imagine that you’d be able to read through it without taking something useful away, unless perhaps you’re Peter Carey or Jhumpa Lahiri or Stephen King or Dan Brown or something, in which case how flattered am I that you read my blog???  But really, you need to check this book out.  I’m planning to note it as a top book for 2011.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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