story engineering: a book review

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

The overview (from Amazon.com):

What makes a good story or a screenplay great?

The vast majority of writers begin the storytelling process with only a partial understanding where to begin. Some labor their entire lives without ever learning that successful stories are as dependent upon good engineering as they are artistry. But the truth is, unless you are master of the form, function and criteria of successful storytelling, sitting down and pounding out a first draft without planning is an ineffective way to begin.

Story Engineering starts with the criteria and the architecture of storytelling, the engineering and design of a story–and uses it as the basis for narrative. The greatest potential of any story is found in the way six specific aspects of storytelling combine and empower each other on the page. When rendered artfully, they become a sum in excess of their parts.

You’ll learn to wrap your head around the big pictures of storytelling at a professional level through a new approach that shows how to combine these six core competencies which include:

  • Four elemental competencies of concept, character, theme, and story structure (plot)
  • Two executional competencies of scene construction and writing voice

The true magic of storytelling happens when these six core competencies work together in perfect harmony. And the best part? Anyone can do it!

Barb’s thoughts:

This book promises a lot, and for the most part, it delivers. I’ve used the tools and charts in this book many times through the last few years. Just about any successful story can be deconstructed through the lens of the six competencies. It’s a great tool to see how the masters do it. Even stories that “don’t follow any real structure” probably do. They do it so well we didn’t notice.

The three dimensions of character and mission-driven scene execution are on point.  The four part narrative structure (with pinch points, like screenplays) illuminated beginning-middle-end to me in a way that a myriad other books calling it a three act structure simply couldn’t.

And yet. No book is perfect, and this one could have slimmed down at the line-editing stage. There are pages and pages of pet phrases like “wrap your head around this” and “ever hope to get published.” With all that repetition, the voice of the book sometimes comes off as arrogant or even cynical. But these complaints are small ones compared to the information and perspective provided in the book.

Verdict: a must-read for storytellers.

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