Category Archives: Six Core Competencies

How to “Write Like Rowling”

A Deconstruction of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I don’t think of myself as a name dropper, but I do love to show how famous authors and bestselling books adhere to the principles of story structure.  Especially when those authors are still breathing… I get nay sayers who like to cite Shakespeare and Cervantes as examples of… well, nay saying.

The earth isn’t still flat, either.  But I digress.

They aren’t remotely my principles, by the way, I just put them into instructional buckets that I call The Six Core Competencies.  They are universal.  A sort of inevitable outcome of a process of natural selection within the craft of story telling: stories that work, even if their authors have no idea what they’re doing or what to call the structure when they stumble upon it, end up aligning with these principles… almost every time.

When a draft isn’t working, when an agent or editor suggests a change, that change almost always moves the narrative closer to the universal structural paradigm (the one that optimizes available story physics) that awaits… what it’ll look like when it finally does work.

It’s not formula, it’s story physics.  It’s the gravity of storytelling.

And that includes the Harry Potter books.

Author names don’t come any bigger than J.K. Rowling.  And because of that, readers regularly request a deconstruction of the Harry Potter oeuvre.  Some, I suspect, want to see the theories disproved.  Others simply want to see it exposed, lifted from the pages to becomes an example we can learn from.

So here you go.  And I’m happy to give credit where it belongs: I didn’t do this one.

Today I’m referring you to a great website called Write Like Rowling, which offers four posts on this analysis, in addition to other good stuff on all things Rowling.  This link takes you to the first in that series (they’re all there, a click away from this first one).  The author even cites page numbers of the major story milestones, with rationale showing how these story turns fulfill the mission of each.

It’s creator and author, Carolyn, wrote me recently to introduce herself and let me know that Story Engineering has, in her words, changed her writing life, and to alert me to her application of those principles (a test, really) to Rowling’s books.

No surprise (to me, at least), it worked.  Somewhere out there, a guy named Cervantes is rolling over in his grave.


Filed under Six Core Competencies

A Case Study in Concept: A Story on the Brink

One of my favorite story coaching clients is a guy named Kalvin.  He’s prolific, he’s brought me a half dozen story ideas at various stages of development, each offering something tasty with significant upside.

In each case, the process has given him an expanded and illuminated platform to continue to grow his story.  That’s why he keeps coming back… it helps take the guesswork out of what is otherwise a very solitary and essential part of the process.

And it’s ridiculously cheap at any level, especially in context to what is at stake.

Kalvin has consented to the showcasing of one of his story coaching submissions.

In this case, it’s a $35 Kick Start Conceptual Analysis, which isolates his concept, contrasts it to premise, and offers a look at his planned First Plot Point story beat.  All essential and potentially fatal first steps in the journey from idea to finished draft.

In other words, it cuts to the heart of whether the story will work or not.

This one is about vampires.  Conceptual… unless it isn’t.

Kalvin’s Kick-Start Case Study submission– which provides a sneak peek at the $35 Kick-Start Questionnaire itself — is available here (free) for your review (just click the link), complete with my feedback (shown in red, only slightly enhanced for this venue).

You are welcome to look inside this process… AND to offer Kalvin your own feedback.

You don’t have to write a story to determine, to a great extent, how well it will work at its most basic and essential level. And you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to find out.

Even when you think you know, it’s good to really know.

Kalvin and I look forward to your thoughts.  I hope you find this to be of value in your own story development process. Much is clarified here, including the most common story trap I encounter in this work: the lack of a compelling concept underpinning the story’s premise.

Another set of eyes can save you from a year of writing without really knowing.


In addition to this story concept level of analysis, I also offer what I call the $150 Story Coaching Adventure, which goes beyond concept and the FPP to look at all of the major story milestones in context to the premise itself, in effect becoming an “architectural analysis” of your story on multiple levels.  It is my most popular level of story coaching, resulting in a process that is as much a story development tool as it is an evaluative one.  

Because you can’t hide from these questions.  You either nail them, or you don’t.  The goal of the process isn’t just to expose what you don’t know – which is a story-saving opportunity – it’s there to help you better grasp the principles and come up with some ideas that do work, or at least work better.

In fact, this will expose and explore almost exactly the same issues that a review of an entire completed manuscript would uncover… even before you’re written it.  Or at a fraction of the investment if you have.

Check it out HERE.


Filed under Six Core Competencies