17 May 2011

Story Engineering & Me

Story EngineeringGiven that I majored in engineering, worked as an engineer for several years, and use engineering paper in my writing digital-notebook, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the title of Larry Brooks book, Story Engineering, spoke to me. The book's premise: that each successful story is constructed with six competencies and key plot points.

The six competencies and my quick description of what they mean to me ...
  1. Character - how to view and develop a character
  2. Concept - distinctions between idea and concept and how to develop a concept from an idea
  3. Theme - how to look at theme and develop it in your story
  4. Story Structure - the breakdown of successful stories, and how to use key plot points to develop your story
  5. Scene Execution - how early or late to enter a scene, POV etc.
  6. Writing Voice - how to develop one
The Story Structure competency, where one breaks down a story into core components, is the one that resonated most with me. It may sound formulaic to split a story into separate parts with plot points in certain locations, however Brooks suggests that's not the case with examples to bolster his point. I actually appreciated Brook's framework in order to develop a story/plot. (Reminded me of my product qualification days at Intel when we had to work to a plan to get product out of the factory door with minimal issues. No nostalgia. Really.) Since I'm navigating this creative writing gig, instruction included, on my own so far, I've struggled with the "What comes next?" and "Is that the right thing to write?" questions in my stories. His suggestions as what to consider and how to fit pieces together answered my questions. Not to mention they align to my very structured way of thinking and doing.

I've already begun to incorporate what I've learned about story structure into my current revision. I've wanted people to connect with Akeva, my protagonist, but hadn't gotten the reaction with alpha readers I'd hoped for. Using Brook's framework, I realized that I hadn't set her up to be empathetic as there was no setup in her ordinary world. So I've added a scene with her and her family, the night before she leaves home, which will hopefully create some sympathy. There will be more opportunities for me to bolster that sympathy later in the story, which I fully intend to do.

Another aspect that I like is how Brooks' instruction meshes so well with Holly Lisle's methods from the HTTS and HTRYN online courses, reinforcing each other yet adding something different. For instance he proposes the use of beat sheets, she utilizes sentences that can easily be converted to a story synopsis. They both agree that an author should write only what is necessary to tell the story, and to be hard on your story to make it the best it can be. Holly teaches her students to use scene and story twists as ways to make your story unique. Brooks suggests critical thinking when asking the "What if ...?" question to devise an original story. See, different yet similar.

Overall, I'm pleased I've added this tool to my library and my writer's toolbox. Now off to finish reviewing my notecards, looking for other places to bolster or demolish, as necessary.☺

PS Larry Brooks's blog, storyfix.com, is a good place to learn more about Brook's take on storytelling and Story Engineering.

PPS I don't know Mr. Brooks, and won't receive a kickback from him for this mini-review. Just thought other writers might find my take on his book useful.

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