Saturday, April 30, 2011

Uncovering Larry Brooks

How many how-to writing books line your shelf? I’ll admit I have a few good ones, some that are so-so, and others a waste of good money. Recently I read one that is exceptional. Of course, until I read this last one I didn’t know the others were simply adequate, just that something was missing from them. The book I’m doing jumping jacks over is “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks.

I heard from some of my other writer friends who said the book was great, but there were a lot of sports analogies. Initially, I was put off by that. Then on a Savvy Authors Chat, I heard him talk about his ideas on writing and I was captivated. I ran out and bought the book the same day.

Let me tell you that my experience reading Brook’s book was a moment of illumination complete with sound effects. Something along the lines of firecrackers going off in my head. It was a big aha moment. Yes! Really! Perhaps it was his passion that kept me reading. Even in a non-fiction book, I look for a writer’s enthusiasm for his subject. If the writer isn’t off the wall with excitement about his work how can I be. Brooks has that covered. He also kept my interest by taking all the puzzling pieces of writing a great story and putting them together to fit in a cohesive frame. No more pieces that don’t fit. It’s a guide to help you out of the maze of story building.

His approach is combining what he calls the six core competencies: the four elemental competencies of concept, character, theme, and story structure (plot), and two executional competencies of scene construction and writing voice. These are the elements to build a great story. I know you’ve heard about these essentials before but I’m betting never as clear as in Brook’s book. He explains why these pieces are important to your story and where and when to place them for optimum effect. What that means is now we have a method, a GPS for our stories that pinpoints where and when something needs to take place in the story to make it sing. Am I excited? Oh, yes! Knowing this is much better than doing a zillion drafts of a story and not knowing why it’s not working.

Brooks uses a four-part structure for story building in his book. I was working in a three-act structure and was confused how to restructure the story I am presently working on. So, I asked him.

His response was, “The 2nd act is broken in two halves, which become Part 2 and Part 3. I’ve broken the “confrontation” (act 2) down into two separate parts, because they have different missions. Part 2 is the hero’s “response” to the game changing twist of Plot Point One… then comes a context-shifting mid-point (new information that parts the curtain of awareness for the hero, the reader, or both)… followed by Part 3, in which the hero shifts into attack (proactive) mode. Everything in story architecture is best served when viewed as “mission-driven”, which is the case for each of the four different sequential parts of a story.” Can you see the benefits of having two parts to Act two. I believe this will eliminate the problem of writers losing their way in the middle of the story resulting in the dreaded sagging middle.

This process is not a confining net that will hold you back or cramp your creativity; in fact, it will do just the opposite. It’s a means, I believe, that will release undiscovered potential in your story writing. I’m not saying, nor is Brooks for that matter, that this is a slam dunk, but knowing the six core competencies will make a difference between a great read or a humdrum read.

If your dream is to be the best storyteller you can be and to have your work published, which is mine, then this is the book to read, study and master.

Has some aspect of story building been eluding you? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Till next time,

Here is Larry Brook’s site to learn more:


Anonymous said...

Couldn't resist your own sports analogy, could you, Elizabeth? :-)

EW Gibson said...


You got me! hehehe! Thanks for dropping by.


Anonymous said...

Great post on Larry Brooks' book, Elizabeth. And I love that you didn't let the sports analogies get in the way of getting into the meat of the message. :)

I grew up with two brothers and a dad who loved watching and participating in various sports so I'm familiar with sports talk.

I'm not finished reading STORY ENGINEERING yet, but working on it, and like what I see so far.

Take care,

Ella Gray said...

Great post! I also have a copy of the book, but haven't finished it yet. Brooks has a great approach to understanding those core story elements and I've enjoyed applying some of his ideas to my writing process.

Ravenne said...

Well, I hadn't intended on picking up this book as I am not a sports fan. Your enthusiasm over his technique for story construction has caused me to reconsider. Perhaps I can look at the sports analogies as Book's "accent" in communicating ideas.

At any rate, I will definitely not write off the book. When I'm ready, I'll go take a peek.

Great post.


Melanie said...

I missed the chat but Elizabeth gave us a link to an interview at The Creative Penn ( so I got to hear something that really suited my sensibility. Brooks talked about the physics of story.
It took me lots of formative years to understand what "physics" refers to. Physics is describing and quantifying the fundamentals of existence. Like how gravity works, how it interacts with things like molecules to keep air close to the earth despite its tendency to rise.
The way I understood the physics of story? If the elements he described as core competencies aren't present, then what we are reading and writing are not a story. It will be something else. Isn't that what we write about? The "something else" that happens because the physics is changed?

This problem came up a lot for me when I was writing more flash fiction. It's a challenge to get all six elements in good proportion in under a thousand words.

Brooks also interviews The Snowflake Guy, Randy Ingermanson on They are mutual fans and that conversation was also enlightening. More geeky stuff since they both talk about their backgrounds and how they came to develop the systems they did. Once I got Ingermanson's background in programming, the iteration method in Snowflake made sense. Don't like it but it made sense.

It's hard being a geek :-)

cgibson5o said...

In any pursuit whether business, sports, taking a vacation, or writing a book, it always helps to have maps and guidebooks. Knowing where you are going and how you are getting there is half the battle. It seems like this book provided that for you. The fact that it sounds like it was also well written is a real plus!

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