306 of 317 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2011
I listened to a Larry brooks interview on The Creative Penn.com and it lit my proverbial light bulb. He discussed the very problem that has kept me drafting and butchering my stories while never hitting a sequence of events that sang to me. I immediately bought his book for my kindle.
Story Engineering delivered, provided the missing ingredient. The book was worth the money spent and the time spent. I'm hopeful and excited to put his methods into use.
That said, this book was truly painful to read. The Six Competencies were buried in extraneous pontifications, excessive rebuttal of his critics, and attitude--like his deep seated bias for certain types of writing. To make maters worse, these lectures, defenses, and opinions were repeated ad nauseam in each and every section. My head hurts from trying to sift out the wheat buried in all that chaff.
It's apparent that Mr. Brooks has a chip on his shoulder that he's extremely touchy about. He's obviously received strong ego-crushing criticisms of his storytelling method. He wastes pages endlessly trying to convince us that his method is the only real way to write successfully. Failure to use his structure means you will NOT get published. The organic writers, and other pantsers, who have still gotten published are using his structure but by different name. Okay, good to know, but this message was received in first chapter. Fine, reiterate it occasionally to drive the point home. But he replays this defense over and over even within chapters.
Hey, we had already bought and are reading the book! The author's job was now to present and teach us the method clearly and concisely, and then step back and let the reader/writer fly, or not. Writers will either buy into the structure or they won't. Sledgehammering writers on the head repeatedly won't make the doubters change their minds. Interestingly, one of the Six Competencies is Voice, yet the author's words conveyed the importance of finding the right balance in your writing Voice with his Voice--the antithesis of what he teaches. I found his Voice prickly, defensive, and rather arrogant in his opinions and biases--more suited for a dictator or a football coach.
To sum up, I believe Larry Brooks has given me priceless information and therefore highly recommend reading this book. BUT, I wish the text could be put through the "Reader's Digest-Condensed Novel" colander to sift out the excessive chaff. Then it would be the truly useful tool I believed the author intended it to be.
191 of 196 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2011
I've read dozens of craft books. Story Engineering moved me enough to write my first review. I love what he said; I hate the way he said it.
While I found the method behind his madness enlightening and inspiring, there was far too much argumentative redundancy in this text. The constant barrage of 'you will not get published if you don't do this' and picking on other writing methods was tedious. I got it the first time. And every time after that. By the end, I felt like the author believed his whole audience to be ignorant. Brooks' delivery of the information was antagonistic throughout most of the book. So much so, that I felt like I should argue, but I agreed wholeheartedly with his structures. He was preaching to the choir. By the tenth time he bashed creating any other way - those people that disagreed wouldn't still be reading anyway. Let it go.
I have the kindle version. Too many too-wordy sentences that often straddled pages were a hassle to try to consume. Typos always jar me, and there were plenty. One, that I wish I'd marked so I could share the location, where the word CAN tried to stand in for the word CAN'T. I can see the usefulness of similes to explain concepts to people who just don't get it. There were so many that he must feel all of his readers just won't get it.
Had these core competencies been laid out in a concise, clear, and less argumentative manner, I would have rated Story Engineering 5 stars easily. I believe a book targeting professional writers, and even wannabes, could have been--should have been--presented more professionally.
67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2011
The six core competencies of successful writing, according to Larry Brooks, are: concept, theme, character, structure, scenes, and voice. The first four are elemental components; the last two relate to execution.
And that was the summary this book needed. Honestly, I read this book and I had to search for a place in the book where the main point of it could be easily discovered. There are two helpful pages tucked at the end of the book (218-219). Otherwise? Good luck. This book does not seem heavily edited.
But first, the positives: Brooks has been immensely helpful in providing writers with an alternative model of story-writing other than "pantsing," as he calls it. Since Stephen King's memoir "On Writing," I've had this image of the writing process in my mind where you just feel your way forward, write the whole thing about three times, and hopefully discover a story along the way. That's pantsing: flying by the seat of your pants.
Brooks offers an alternative. In short, plan ahead. Sketch the story, all of it, from characters to scenes, ahead of time. That was phenomenally helpful. King and others give the impression that anything other than pantsing it is not true art. Brooks knocks that idea flat. It's about the story first; art second. It has to be a story before it can be art. Tell a good story; make good art.
Brooks' six competencies may also be helpful. I'll have to go back and think about it because they were drowned in a deluge of analogies and lists. Oh! the metaphors. Oh! the lists. What I'm about to say may sound like an exaggeration, but it is not: This book contained thousands of analogies/illustrations/examples/metaphors. I estimate an average of a dozen a page. Seriously. And lists. Lists sprouting all over the place! We start with six items, but each item grows a half dozen more items, which each grow sub-lists that appear to be in pairs or triplets and may even have list-offspring of their own! Lists and comparisons, in other words, drown out the genuine help Brook offers.
He says it is a presentation of a course he offers. It feels that way. I only wish it had been a distillation of that course as well.
*I received a copy of this book for review.
91 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2011
Like a million other "wanna-be" writers I have a shelf full of how to write books. Or maybe two shelves full. I've written three, so far unpublished, mystery novels and I've learned a lot about the craft of storytelling with each one. However the time it took to write my first, by my old seat-of-the-pants, uneducated process caused me to write and re-write it several times over the course of three or four years. Not a steller output.
My second book, a sequel to the first, lies "complete" but untouched in my laptop. Then I discovered Larry Brooks. I was able to purchase an early version of Story Enginering. Once I began to understand the need for story process as taught by Larry things seemed to fall into place. I recently completed a first draft of a 64,000 word mystery in about six months that actually reads pretty well thanks to following Larry's methods of story planning.
I'm always mistrustful of zealots, so I'm trying to temper my views a little. Quite frankly, the process Larry lays out in this book works. If you are going to add one more book on writing to your shelf, this is the one to have.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2011
Larry Brooks has long been one of the most respected writing instructors on the Web. Those familiar with his site are already aware of the quality information he churns out week after week and won't be surprised to learn that his recently released book on "mastering the six core competencies of successful writing" presents more of the same. I read many how-to writing books every year, and I glean something from almost every one of them. But not many offer truly revolutionary ideas about the craft and how to move forward to the next level as a writer. Story Engineering does just that. Larry frames the book on the idea that every successful story is made up of six necessary "competencies" (four elements and two skills): Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution, and Writing Voice. He brings worthy and inspiring ideas and suggestions to all these subjects, but the heart and soul of this book is undeniably the twenty-three chapters on story structure.
Story structure is so often neglected in the teaching of fiction writing. We learn how to create three-dimensional characters, high-concept plots, and powerful themes - but without the ability to frame them in a strong structure, they're weak-sauce stuff at best. And yet, so many writers are crafting story structure on sheer instinct, instead of a foundational understanding of what makes a solid structure - and what doesn't. This book takes away the guess work. Larry teaches what constitutes a correct structure, how to recognize and study it in the stories of others, and how to implement it in your own work. If you're only going to have two books on writing on your bookshelf, make it John Truby's The Anatomy of Story - and this one.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2011
I had a love/hate relationship with this book.
On one hand, there is some great information offered in these pages. Unique, helpful tips for writers. Especially in the section about story concept and characters. Those were by far my favorite sections. I did a lot of highlighting. I took away some helpful pointers for story structure as well.
On the other hand, the good stuff is hidden in a whole lot of fluff. Get rid of all the fluff (analogy after analogy after analogy....) and it would be half the length it is now and so much the better for it. All the analogies and redundancies and drawn-out justifications for his points left me annoyed.
So while this book contains some awesome takeaways for writers, they're hidden inside way too much wordage.
Plus, I didn't like the section on voice. It was a whole lot of talk without any meat.
Brooks kept saying, "Less is more." I wish he would have taken his advice, because truly, this book could have been really awesome!
If he created a Cliffs Notes version - it would be a must-read for writers.
109 of 132 people found the following review helpful
The vast body of how-to-write books is neatly divided into two camps: Books about writing literary fiction -- writing as an art form, and books about writing commercial fiction -- writing in order to entertain and to sell.
Larry Brooks' "Story Engineering" is emphatically in the second camp, which is fine. What isn't fine is the distinctly anti-literature attitude that pervades this book. To Brooks' mind, writing is all about selling. Writing to create something of beauty, of emotional resonance, writing for anything beyond the entertainment of lowest-common-denominator readers... that stuff is for sissies.
This attitude comes out in various ways. Notably, the two works that Brooks most often cites as examples for the reader to emulate are "The Da Vinci Code" and the movie "Top Gun." If that fact alone doesn't make you guffaw; if you're thinking, "So what? Dan Brown is a great writer!" you don't have to read further into this review. We're done here.
Brooks' anti-literature attitude is clear at many other points throughout his book. His evaluation of Moby-Dick: "The value in reading about a mythic whale swallowed by a boring plethora of words is up for debate." And immediately after this, "Better is always an opinion, and often one held by folks who smoke pipes and are paid to tell us what we should and shouldn't value in our reading."
Yep; great literature, and the notion of any writing being "better" than any other -- these are just deceptions invented by those money-grubbing pipe-smokers.
Most despicable, to my eyes, was the chapter "Finding Your Voice," where Brooks' argument is that you shouldn't have one. To quote: "Writing voice is like air: If you can smell it, something is cooking, and it may not be appetizing to everyone." And, "...everybody loves a clean, fresh breeze totally void of scent." And, "Attempting to imbue your writing with noticeable narrative style is always risky [...] The safest bet--one placed by a bevy of best-selling writers that includes Dan Brown and [...] other authors who are too often and unfairly accused of not being all that good because their writing bears no stylistic scent--is to write cleanly and crisply."
To anyone who loves and respects art, the notion of telling an aspiring artist "don't do anything that some people might not like" is little short of an obscenity. And yet even this wouldn't be so bad if Brooks only acknowledged that he's talking strictly about writing commercial fiction (that is, that he isn't talking to aspiring artists). But he doesn't; instead, he repeatedly says that anything that doesn't conform to his vision of writing is bad, and the proof of that badness is that it won't sell.
So that's why I hate this book. It isn't just about writing commercial fiction; it's actively and aggressively contemptuous of any other kind of writing. It's an anti-intellectual, anti-literature, anti-art screed. To Brooks, the purpose of writing is to get a paycheck, not to stink up the place with style or artistry or individuality.
But at the same time, I can't deny that this book does what it does very well. What Brooks calls the "six core competencies" of writing is a useful and interesting way of breaking down what's needed in writing a commercial fiction novel. The section on story structure (competency #4) presents a terrifically clear model of the placement and nature of the plot elements that go into a commercial fiction novel. I think this section of the book should be required reading for anyone making an academic study of commercial fiction, and indeed for anyone interested in what makes for an optimally compelling (albeit simple-minded and formulaic) plot structure in a novel.
You'll notice in the above that I repeat the phrase "commercial fiction." I only wish Brooks had done the same in his book. Instead, he repeats with numbing frequency that ALL novels follow the structure he describes, whether the author is aware of it or not. No, Mr. Brooks, not all successful novels, nor all good novels, follow your by-the-numbers formula. As I was reading, I kept having this fun mental image of showing up at Brooks' door with a truckload of books and throwing them at him one by one. "Where's your four-part sequential story model in this one, Mr. Brooks?" I'd yell as I bounced a book off his sternum. "And what are the two major plot points and the midpoint in this one?" And so on.
So there's my one-star review of a book that -- in some ways -- I respect, that I'll probably be referring to in the future, that I may even use in my own writing, and that I hate.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2011
I have read several books on writing, but this is the first one I couldn't finish. The idea of the book sounded great, 6 core competencies, which he alludes to, but doesn't even name until around page 30 or so. By page 20 I was annoyed with the voice of the narrator who comes across as someone trying to sell me something; it sounded like a pitch. Add that to endless supply of analogies and I just couldn't take it any longer. I thought maybe when we get to the first competency, it will change, nope. There's barely any substance to this book. It's just fluff. If you want to read a great book, I've found Noah Lukeman very helpful. Short and to the point.
38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2011
This is not a how to book on the mechanics of writing. Larry doesn't tell you when or where to use adverbs and adjectives or why you should or shouldn't. This book covers what the title says..story engineering. He tells you exactly what elements you need for a publishable story, where it goes and why it goes where it does. If you want to learn about writing dialogue or how to choose the best descriptive words in your writing, this is not the book. This book goes much deeper into the structure of a great story. This book is the blueprint of building that great story. You can have great characters, great scenes, a great plot, and all the other components of a great story, but if you don't have all of those elements where they belong--you have something that will need a ton of edits until those elements are in the right place. Save yourself and your editor a lot of time by studying this book and getting it down right the first time.
Many people believe their creativity is hampered by using structure. I can tell you it's not. I started using Larry's "timeline" of events awhile back. I lay out the big things that need to happen in my story, where they should happen and then write from point A to point B to point C. Everything in between those points is still creative freedom. You know where your character is and where he needs to go--you can be as free as you want in getting him there, but you have to get him there and get him in the right place at the right time.
I have books on writing dialogue, writing great plots, writing the setting of your story and all those things that go into a great story, Larry's book pulls it all together and explains the when, and more importantly, the why of all these elements. He shows you how to put the puzzle pieces together.
I've had the priviledge of communicating with Larry privately over the past two years. He is warm and charming but when it comes to story structure he's a no-fluff kind of guy. He doesn't do the hand holding or candy coating thing.
Story Engineering contains a ton of stuff. If you want to dabble in writing, this is probably not the book for you. It's a mouth full, very in-depth and Larry doesn't hold back, he is not here to motivate you and tell you how easy it is to craft a great story. But if you take writing seriously, get this book and study it religiously. You won't be disappointed.
65 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2011
When I got this book, I expected a book that dealt extensively with structure and the "big picture." It also used some business terms like "Milestone" and "Core Competencies," which made me wonder if business was used as a metaphor. Instead, I got marketing spiel and nothing new on the writing side.
The "Core Compentencies" came across as a marketing buzzword for basic writing elements like characters and theme that are covered in every craft book. The book promised it would approach this differently than other craft book, but I didn't see anything that hasn't been done before the same way.
I also had difficulty with the attitude of this book towards people who don't outline (I'm an adventure writer). The book says that it isn't about outlining, and then does a "Yes, but ..." and labels outlining as a plan. There are numerous references, some sarcastic ("Good luck with that") to non-outliners, dropping bricks that they will never get published if they don't follow the book's plan. I suspect there's a lack of understanding of how non-outliners write books, which leads to the erroneous conclusion their writing is broken because they don't outline instead of realizing they do it a different way and need to find different approaches to make things work.
Ultimately, what derailed the book for me though was the high energy marketing that dominated it. Everything was about "Sell! Sell! Sell" to get people to buy into this method as the only way to write. I suspect it would work in a workshop where voice and tone can make a difference, but on the page, it made this a book I had to put down.