Released by Writers Digest Books, February 24, 2011
Click HERE to read what other noted authors are saying about Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks.
Want a little taste?
Read the Opening Pages below (copyright Larry Brooks, 2011):
As a bit of a practicing cynic – due to actually having worked in this business – I’ve found myself asking if the world really needs another book about writing. Another how-to from an author who, frankly and obviously, isn’t exactly a household name. A quick Google reveals there are 2,910,000 available resources on the subject (it also shows 1,660,000 hits on my name, but I’m not kidding myself), many of which I suspect are books. Maybe 2,910,001 won’t make that much difference.
Unless, perhaps, it offers something original, fresh and powerful for writers who are tired of hearing the same old thing delivered in the same old inaccessible way.
I understand guys like Dean Koontz and David Morrell and Stephen King doing it; chances are (here’s that cynic) their publishers suggested it, hoping to cash in on the author’s name. But then I remember, having read a bunch of them myself, that never once have I found a writing book or workshop that cuts to the core issues of the craft in a clear and accessible way, that actually delivers a development model and process based on accepted criteria for effective storytelling. Most teachers eagerly tell you what needs to be done, but few offer anything about how you get it done, step-by-excruciating-ecstatic-step. Mostly they’re about theories, all valid, while delivering less than precise advice. Even Stephen King, an author who I respect, suggests in his book On Writing that once you stumble upon the seed of an idea, you should just sit down and start writing. Yeah, just take off with it and see where it takes you.
Well, I know where that approach takes you: back to the drawing board. Talk about a recipe for a rewrite. Unless you are a master of the form, function and criteria for successful storytelling – and he certainly is – this is a doomed and frankly insane way to begin your story. And yet, it is the default approach for nearly every new writer and a startling percentage of famous ones. But there are so many things wrong with King’s advice that it requires an entire book to counter them. If you’ve tried it, and you remain unpublished – or worse, unfinished – perhaps you already know why. Mr. King suggesting this as a process is like Tiger Woods recommending that you learn the game golf – and remember, in this metaphor we’re talking about the goal of becoming a professional golfer, because being published is absolutely entering the professional ranks of writers – by picking up a club and just swinging. Good luck with that.
Here’s why it’s insane: those professionals who just start writing their stories from an initial idea do so using an informed sensibility about, and working knowledge of , story architecture. It pours out of their head in the right order, with specific structural milestones in place. Newer writers? Not so much. It pours out of their head and basically spills all over the place.
Once you get your head around story architecture and the underlying criteria of it, then you, too, can just sit down and start writing But until then… well, like I said, it’s an insane way to discover your story.
Without the right knowledge, without mastering a formidable list of basics that is rarely talked about coherently, most of us end up being hacks with a dream that never materializes. But the knowledge is out there. In fact it’s here, right in your hands.
Interestingly, there are many books from the screenwriting world that do just what most novel-writing books don’t – they show you what to write, when to write it, what follows what, what should go be where, and why, and the criteria for ensuring your creative choices are effective ones. In other words, how to get it done. A blueprint and a process for something that is overwhelmingly considered – especially by those big name authors – to be a craft that defies blueprinting.
I assure you, they are wrong.
So is this a screenwriting book? It absolutely is if you’re a screenwriter. But it’s intended to apply those same storytelling principles – carefully adapted, revised, reshaped and put into non-screenwriting language – for novelists who heretofore haven’t benefited from the rigid rules of structure and character that apply to screenwriting. Rules, by the way, that actually set screenwriters free to create efficiently, while we novelists are destined to wander a vast landscape of creative choice without the benefit of a single road sign or map. It is that lack of form, function and criteria that makes writing and publishing a good novel so elusive.
This book is for writers who have taken all the workshops (or not; it’s also for those who are on Day 1 of their writing journey… you may get to skip the years of pain the rest of us have invested), read all the how-to books and still don’t understand what’s wrong with their writing, and why it doesn’t attract an agent or sell to a publisher.
Don’t get me wrong, writing a great novel will always be hard, even if you do this way. But for different reasons than before, reasons that nobody can help you conquer or understand but you. Because even if you had the same expert instruction and training as Tiger Woods, chances are you’d still find yourself, at best, vying for the club championship instead of a tour card. Such is the quest for greatness regardless of the game.
This book is the culmination of twenty years of developing and teaching writing workshops, as well as writing novels and screenplays. The process model here is original and completely of my own creation – The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling – yet based on the sum total of everything out there we know about what makes fiction work. Will you have heard some of this before? Certainly, the truth is the truth, I didn’t invent it. Have you seen it presented, organized and put into a context for novelists that suddenly makes the process this clear and accessible? That’s for you to decide, but I’m betting you haven’t.
Now, before you assign that last paragraph to ego, let me tell you why I’m really writing this book. Thousands of people have taken my writing workshops, and not a single attendee has told me the big picture of what I teach doesn’t seem viable. Some pick at a few nits, more than a few arrive with grave doubts, but most leave as excited believers, albeit a bit shocked. Even if you only apply a fraction of this – and frankly, you’ll end up doing it your own way anyhow – you’ll be more efficient and effective as a storyteller. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me – and this is the highest praise I can imagine hearing after a workshop – that this is the best thing they’ve ever heard about writing, even after up to thirty years of workshops, and why the hell hasn’t anyone put it together like this in the past? “Why don’t you write this stuff as a book?” I get that a lot. When you regularly hear such feedback, you begin to believe that there is something of value here for writers who are looking to quantify, analyze, calculate and blueprint the writing muse, and do it without the slightest compromise to their creativity or the childlike delight that comes from making up stories and writing them down.
Also, after years of reading and critiquing unpublished and rejected manuscripts from aspiring writers, I began to see patterns in what those stories lacked. Those patterns aligned perfectly with the Six Core Competencies model, which validated this approach as a viable and perhaps groundbreaking process for writing a novel, as well as writing a screenplay, a play or even a short story. One you are about to experience.
So let the journey begin. Open your mind and park your doubt (and your cynicism) until you find yourself in the thick of this, which not only shows you how to approach the craft of storytelling, but why traditional, random, organic, non-structured approaches are at best chaotic and inefficient, and more likely, ineffective. There is no getting around this truth – successful books written in an organic fashion (like King’s) end up covering the exact same ground, meeting the same precise criteria and eliciting the same enthusiastic reader response as successful books written my way. It’s just that the organic writers are in for a very long, often painful haul, and have absolutely no chance whatsoever of publishing their work without extensive rewrites. And even then, they have to return to the basic criteria in those rewrites to stand a chance.
Unless, of course, you are Stephen King or Tiger Woods. Every avocation has its superstar prodigies, those to whom the work comes easy and the fruits arrive plentifully. The rest of us need a little help.
The Six Core Competencies approach starts with the criteria and the architecture of storytelling and uses it as the basis for narrative. Organic writing starts with narrative and an idea — not necessarily in that order — and uses them as a process to discover (or stumble upon, sometimes by omission) the criteria and the architecture. Either way, you can get there. Or not – which is the definition of an unpublished novel. But some people like to walk, while others like to fly.
Oh, one more thing. You should know that my first published novel, DARKNESS BOUND, sold to a major New York publisher on the very first submission, with virtually no changes or rewrites required, and that it went on to be a USA Today bestseller. How? Certainly not because I’m the next Stephen King, a fact history has proven to be true. Rather, because it was designed and written according to the principles of The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. And it took only eight weeks to write. I’m just sayin’.
Interview with Joanna Penn about Story Engineering
To order STORY ENGINEERING: MASTERING THE SIX CORE COMPETENCIES OF SUCCESSFUL WRITING via Amazon.com…