Story Engineering by Larry Brooks: Reviewed

I am a long time fan of Larry Brooks.  Anybody whose hung out here for the last year or two will have heard me talk about his blog Storyfix and his various ebooks on craft.  So when Larry offered me a review copy of Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing (aka all his other stuff on crack), I JUMPED.  With all the nutty house stuff going on, the book got hidden in a box for a while, so it took me way longer to review it than it should have.  But hey, better late than never!

So here’s the thing I have learned as a teacher.  Part of your job is to explain things repeatedly, in as many different ways as possible, until your audience understands whatever concept you’re trying to teach them.  This is something I often struggle with, as I tend to understand things intuitively in a “Yeah, you know, it’s like…and stuff…” kind of way.  My math teachers in grade school used to think I was cheating because I didn’t show my work.  I did it all in my head.  On a professional level, I understand my subject and it seems simple and easy to me, so when my students don’t get it the first or second time, I often have a really hard time coming up with some other means of explaining.

Not so with Larry Brooks.  There are so many analogies in this book that you could make a drinking game out of it.  Take a shot for every new metaphor, and you’ll be hammered by the end of chapter 3.  This is the mark of a great teacher.  If you don’t “get it” by the time you finish this book, you’re brain damaged.

It is a MUST BUY, MUST READ, MUST HAVE for every writer, no matter whether you are a pantser or plotter.  It will change your writing life, alter the way you see story (in books, movies, TV, or plays) forever.  You can never go back to NOT understanding it because in these 278 pages, Brooks lays out the core foundation of good story, without which you don’t have a prayer of getting published (unless you’re Tarantino and sold your soul to the devil).

The book covers (as the title implies) the 6 core competencies.  They are:

  1. Concept
  2. Character
  3. Theme
  4. Structure
  5. Scene Execution
  6. Writing Voice

Now I think we all intuitively understand at least SOME of these things on a gut level.  Some better than others.  We all have different natural strengths.  But what this book will do for you is illuminate the dark corners and show you, not only where the weak spots ARE, but how to fix them.

I cannot say enough positive things about this book.  Brooks’ conception of story structure (which I initially read in a series of posts on Storyfix, then later in a more detailed ebook) literally changed my writing life.  I used to have stellar beginnings and kick ass endings and schlumpy middles.  I used to refer to it as The Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle because I was lost.  My friends, now I am found.  These concepts lit the way so thoroughly that the section of the book I once dreaded now I LOOK FORWARD TO.

Every section of Story Engineering has wisdom to impart.  It isn’t the kind of inspirational craft book you pick up and breeze through in a day or two.  It is, or should be, a slow read, one where you take your time reading through and really think over the content, applying it to your work.  Then you’ll want to read it again.   You’ll want your sticky tabs, highlighter, and post it notes handy when you read it.  Mine copy is starting to look like a porcupine.  But hey, I can attest, the binding is good!

I’ll stop waxing poetic here and just end with this: BUY THIS BOOK TODAY.

Oh, and for fun and because Larry is cool like that, all you reader peeps have a chance to get a FREE COPY of Larry’s ebook 101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and Screenwriters (which I’ve read and is chock full of fun and interesting stuff).  Just email him at storyfixer (at) gmail (dot) com and tell him Kait sent you.

13 thoughts on “Story Engineering by Larry Brooks: Reviewed

  1. Choir here, preacher. Devoured his blog and bought the book as soon as it was released (and devoured it also).

    The thing is, if you pay attention to what he’s teaching you can shave years off your learning curve. The guy is a treasure.

    1. Can I get an “amen”?

      I’m always short on time to write as I juggle all the other life crap I’m supposed to do with the writing I want to do. The methods he teaches absolutely increase my efficiency, maximizing what I’m producing in the limited time I have to produce it. Instead of writing and drafting again–sometimes multiple times–now I produce stories that work THE FIRST TIME, that usually just need clean up editing when I’m finished.

      1. I’ll give you that “amen.”

        Seriously, I’m more confident with my works in progress, and every time I feel myself getting nervous with something I’m working on, I notice I’ve left out something critical from the book. (Even my flash fictions get outlined now!)

  2. I’m still in the “this is why I think this book is useful for you” section, but it makes perfect sense. And never does never does it threaten my ability to be creative. In fact, if I’m writing better first drafts I have the ability to be more creative with all the time I’ll have to write new stories.

  3. I’ve been following his blog since you first put me onto it. It amazes me how much even that little addition to my writing education has helped. All his books are on my to buy list. Great review Kait!

  4. Sounds like an awesome read! It is at the top of my NEED to read this list. Thanks for the review and thanks to you and Mr. Brooks for a chance to win the other book. 🙂

  5. What no buy link, Kait? 😉

    I’ve heard of him, but haven’t quite gotten around to reading him yet. I’ll go look this up on Amazon…definitely sounds useful. Thanks for the review…

  6. I have had the pleasure of sitting in on Larry’s workshops at the Willamette Writers Conferences, and he is awesome in person as well. He takes such an analytical approach to story… That’s so foreign to most newbie writers. He tells it like it is, too, and he’s unapologetic about it. His workshops are some of the best around. I’ll have to put his book on my never ending pile of things to be read…

  7. Great review Kait! I’m a huge fan of Larry’s as well. The principles he presents in Story Engineering have been priceless in improving the way I approach the design and execution of all my story projects. Echo the call: Buy this book.

  8. I need something now to finish my novel. Thought I could neatly tie all the plots and the theme at the climax in a neat bow. I’m there and it’s all turning to s–t and my mind to mush trying to finish it so it makes sense. I’m now going back and trying to decide between two concepts neither that I can make work. I feel like I’ve just wasted countless hours of writing and that I am not ever going to be a writer. I tried to open the image of Larry’s book above for a peek but it doesn’t work. I’ll go to his blog and take a look. I hope that it’s all you say it is and maybe it will save me! If so, I’ll be back to sing your praises for putting me on to it.

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