Some writers have an innate ability to see the form of their stories instantly. They know the scope of the story, the characters, the plot points, where and when it takes place, when to begin the story, all those crazy twists and turns in the middle, and how to end the damn thing in a way that resonates with readers leaving them with a sense of closure that lingers on the mind.
The rest of us have to learn how to do all of that.
The good news is that form and structure is something that you can learn. There are tons of reference guides about writing, and some of them are excellent. Most, not so much. Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks, is one of the good ones. Now before you go off the deep-end and claim you don’t need no stinkin’ book to teach you how to write, cool your jets. This book isn’t about writing. It assumes you already know a little about that. What it is about is the nuts and bolts of fiction, how you can take an idea and a character and make them standup on their own two legs with a chance to tell a really good story. I mentioned Story Engineering in my recent column Streaming Screens, so maybe this is a good time to cast a brighter searchlight on the book and see what it’s all about.
Brooks runs www.storyfix.com and is the author of several thrillers. His writing series is published by Writer’s Digest Books, who typically produce some of the better writing guides. Story Engineering consists of Six Core Competencies: Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution, Writing Voice. All of these terms should sound somewhat familiar to any writer, but it’s how Brooks breaks them down that has the most impact. The largest competency he covers is Story Structure, and it here that the book really shines. Using examples we are all familiar with in all sorts of media, Brooks shows us that nearly every successful published book uses these core competencies, and usually they are used in a quite masterful way, so much so that it becomes more like an art than a formula.
By working through structural ‘milestones’ that happen in every good story, Brooks shows us when we should expect these points, where they fall in the story, and how to make them have the desired effect. These ‘milestones’ are inherent in any good story, whether it’s a short-story in an anthology, dramatic literature, genre fiction, even more mainstream commercial fiction. Brooks spends a lot of time on why we write, and what we want to eventually accomplish with our stories. He’s very much into the creative process, and knows that we each write the way we write. He doesn’t expect anyone to change that part of their process, he just wants writers to know there is a structure, a teachable form, to good stories, and once you know it, and how it functions, then you can easily apply these competencies to your own writing. Of all the writing reference guides to come out in the past few years, Story Engineering is one of the best, and should be part of any writer’s ongoing education.
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