Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review - Story Engineering

I have been reading Story Engineering in fits and starts, not because it’s boring, but simply to absorb the contents. I will admit that some subject areas took more time to digest than others.  

The author Larry Brooks advocates outlining and I can’t say enough good things about that subject. Brooks believes that there are certain aspects of writing that we need to master before we can plan and execute a compelling story. The six ‘core competencies’ embraced in Story Engineering are character, concept, scene execution, structure, theme and writing voice. 

Those of us who write are familiar with the meanings of the terms above. Brooks takes time to explain each and how they work together and connect to form a cohesive whole in the form of that compelling story I mentioned earlier. 

Exploring each subject was like taking a refresher course on all the elements that go into storytelling. The most fascinating subject area for me was characterization. Brooks did an excellent job of detailing why characters function the way they do and the different dimensions that make up each personality. He points to outward behaviour patterns or quirks, past history (back story) that helps influence behaviour and at a deeper level, the inner man who emerges when faced with challenges. He also points to our character/s being the end product of their culture, beliefs and environment, which cannot be denied. These facets contribute to the people in our novels being three-dimensional instead of lifeless figures.

The mention of books, movies and real life occurrences/people made for helpful reference points. The chapters on scenes – how they work, along with the accompanying checklist - was a good reminder of what they are supposed to achieve from the perspective of both reader and writer.

The chapters on voice will be very helpful to writers who aren’t quite sure what the term means and what it encompasses. The best piece of advice I found in the segment on voice is that it takes time and practice to develop ones writing voice. In Brooks’ words, ‘Your writing voice will grow into its own comfortable shoes, on its own terms and in its own time. And once there, you will know you are home.’ I’ve lived this experience so can attest to the truth of this statement.

I don’t want to beat pantsers over the head by listing the merits of outlining, but Brooks gives good advice when he talks about the time that can be saved by planning rather than moving from point A to point B without some sort of directional gear. I learned the hard way that even a single sentence to map a specific path would have saved me endless rounds of editing.

SOURCE: I received the book through Thomas Nelson Publishing/Booksneeze.

RATING: Story Engineering contained interesting and informative material that I’d recommend for writers. 
It was a truly awesome read.


  1. Great review. I try to outline when I'm writing. Sometimes, I forget until I hit a bump in the road and then it's mandatory. It really helps keep things flowing and consistent.

  2. I'm big on outlining, even if I don't do it in detail. Making the best use of time is very important to me, so having an idea where I'm going does wonders during the creative process.

  3. Great review.I have realized that even a one sentence outline for each chapter helps me tremendously. I like the sound of this book.Will try to get it.

  4. I'd not heard of this one-- you make a really compelling case for this book! thanks for sharing. :0)

  5. Rachna,

    Thanks for stopping in. I don't outline as thoroughly as I should, but like you, even a sentence helps me keep on track with where my story is supposed to be going. The book is useful to have.

    K.O., the book has given me a different perspective on why we do the things we do as writers.


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