Book Review: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Welcome to Writers’ Uni-Verse-City (or WUVC for short because every university has an acronym), a place where writers/bloggers can meet to discuss the craft of writing in the Internet age. WUVC will involve independent research, setting a curriculum and hopefully finding other participants (like you – readers/bloggers/writers) to: chip in, give tips, suggest books and other materials for study, teach me the ways of the warrior writer, and offer to guest post here at Uni-Verse-City (contact: annotationseditorial@gmail.com).

I will try my best not to rave about this book too much but…I LOVED IT! Ok, so I haven’t read a zillion craft books so I don’t have many to compare to, however, this book was truly inspiring, helpful and very clear.

Larry Brooks is a novelist, script-writer, article-writer, pro baseball player, and he has been teaching writing workshops since the 80s. To read more of his facinating bio, check out his website: storyfix.com, you may recognize it from the NaNoWriMo tips series he posted throughout October.

Why did I like his books so much? He gives you the whole picture of novel writing and in addition to that, he does it in an entertaining way and he really knows how to teach.

You might remember teachers from high school or university who knew what they were talking about, but they didn’t know how to teach it. Either they dumped everything, all the theories and jargon on you and hoped you absorb everything and that would bring enlightenment. Or there’s the teacher who gives you so many examples and analogies that you end of having no idea what the concept was, but you do remember the analogy about cookies or whatever other non-related topic they chose.

Larry Brooks is a great teacher, which is why his book resonnated so well with me. Brooks gives writers a foundation – The Six Core Competencies:

  1. Concept
  2. Character
  3. Theme
  4. Structure
  5. Scene execution
  6. Writing voice

Then throughout the book, he takes you through each one in detail. He describes what it is, why its an essential core competency and shows you through examples how it works. This is what makes things stick with me: an organized and solid structure of information to learn, a detailed presentation with great explanations about the why and the how. 

Its hard just to choose a few things that I learned from the book because there were so many. But what I read in his book and then started thinking about when I read fiction novels, was the 4 stages of a book and how the character changes (character arc) throughout.

Stage 1: Before the first plot point (moment that changes the story), the character is disconnected from his/her ultimate goal/destiny (orphaned). Here you see the first dimension of the character.

Stage 2: Then the hero goes on their quest/mission and responds/reacts to it, but doesn’t yet attack (wanderer). Hero explores his/her options and what holds them back (inner demons), which is the second dimension of character.

Stage 3: The hero is empowered to attack the problem by applying what they learned in Stage 2 (warrior).

Stage 4: The hero has a “stand off” with the antagonist and this is where the third dimension of character shines through (martyr).

I can say that I definitely saw these four stages in the first fiction book I read after finishing Larry Brooks’ book.

Since I’m a plotter, I really like seeing the foundation of stories and how much of a story you can plot just by knowing the story milestones in advance. The rest, you just have to fill in with an average of 10-15 scenes. Even for the pantsers out there (those who don’t like to plot), I think if you can have an idea of what the major milestones are in your book, the writing will come much easier with less “writer’s blocks” along the way. Brooks shows pantsers a way to plot that still leaves room for discovering as you go.

I know that I will definitely be using Brooks’ Six Core Competencies to engineer/plot my next novel. I think it will also be useful to have my notes printed out and go through each stage of the book, the character arcs, and scenes to see if I have followed the basics of story structure.

This is a book that I highly recommend!

What book on writing craft have you read, where everything just clicked? Can you remember who your favorite teacher was in school, not because they were nice or fun, but because they were good at teaching? What was it that made them so good?

About these ads

About Nicole Basaraba

Nicole Basaraba is a Canadian writer focusing on topics of travel (Mondays), writing and literature (Wednesdays), lifestyle (Fridays) and her experiences living in the capital city of Europe: Brussels, Belgium.
This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Book Review: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

  1. showard76 says:

    Sounds like a great book – added to my list! :)

    I always loved school, for the learning side of things. But I can not recall any teachers who were ‘good’ at teaching. I recall the really bad ones, like Mrs McCarten, Art Teacher who only gave good marks if you could knit, or fun ones like Mr Fisher who had animal parts in jars in our primary school classroom and let us play subbuteo in class and got the first computer in school in oour classroom. But, good teachers who I actually learnt something useful from… nope :(

  2. This is soooo NEXT on my list!
    I am reading James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure but am only to Chapter two because there are exercises to do. LOL! And I really take my time and work the exercises. Part of me has contemplated just ignoring the exercises, doing a full read, and then going back to do them but not sure yet.
    Did Larry include exercises or just provide examples?
    Sounds RIGHT up my alley. Thrilled to hear you enjoyed it sooo much and now I am super pumped to pick it up!

    • This should be next on your list. Its SOOOOO good. No exercises like Bell’s but there are tips you can use. When reading Bell’s, I skipped all the exercises as this isn’t my thing. I read them to get the idea, but I kind of have my own style already.

  3. Yayyy, I’m glad you liked it!! I think it only felt repetitive to me because I read 3 craft books together then. It’s insanely helpful and I use the ideas all the time now. I literally have orphan/wanderer/warrior/martyr written above my desk. If you liked this, you might really enjoy Alexandra Sokoloff’s awesome blog and books. It’s very complementary to Brooks’ line of thinking, and she’s funny as well. I’m sure there were many, but a teacher I remember that taught extremely well was my senior English teacher, Ms. Perry. The things I learned that year, I probably use everyday. So glad you are feeling better!!

  4. Pingback: Great bloggers are writing FAB stuff – check it out! – Natalie Hartford

  5. Marcia says:

    Great review, Nicole and you captured all the highlights. His writing is a bit verbose for me, but his concepts and teaching style is wonderful. Definitely a great craft book!

  6. Wow, Nicole! I can tell you loved this book. I look forward to reading it soon, too. I’ve read dozens of craft books, but each one I pour through adds another layer to my craft knowledge and reinforces that which I’ve already learned.

    I was very careful to include all those things in my first novel and I’m pleased with the product. Yet, I think there’s a magical quality in a great book that cannot be taught, but has to be experienced. We writers keep writing, reading, and learning, until one day our stories contain all the components that make up a “must-read.”

    Thanks again!

    • I swear Jolyse you’re my ideal the reader. The one who reads between the lines and really “hears” what I’m saying. :) I agree, many people can follow the guidebooks and learn the rules of what makes a story, but its the natural ability and talent which makes a story special and adored by all.

  7. Em says:

    I have heard this book mentioned time and time again and after checking out his website in the run up to NaNo and reading your review I am just going to have to get it!

    I hope you are feeling better my ROWsis and I am sorry that I have been neglecting you of late.

    Take lots of care :)

  8. Novel Girl says:

    Loved this book. I created an eight-part series on my blog based on Larry’s book. Such great advice that I decided to share it with my readers. You can check it out here too: http://rebeccaberto.wordpress.com/category/the-best-advice-ive-learned-series/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s