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Story Engineering: anyone want to join in?

Anyone want to study an amazing writing technique with me?

Every bit of writing training I've ever been exposed to has defined "good writing" as clean prose, strong characterization, dramatic conflict, lively dialogue, concise description, etc., etc., etc.

But apart from "It should have a beginning, a middle and an end," I've never had story structure broken down and explained--or even mentioned. I've never consciously observed it in my reading. I didn't really know it existed. It's been all flesh, no bones.

Larry Brooks lays out the bones, and once you see them, you can't unsee them.



Using an engineering perspective and a claim that the human mind just "works this way," Brooks presents a structural template that all good (salable, publishable, popular, memorable, critically successful) stories follow.

His theory explains why Dan Brown is a bestselling novelist without being a "writer" at all by the standards we lit majors ordinarily apply. It's the stuff that makes you forgive plot holes and suspend disbelief and let clumsy prose slide by, because you're too busy turning the pages to mind.

But lest you think it's a method for hacks only: no! the structure applies equally to The DaVinci Code and The Goldfinch, to romance novels and action flicks and long, quiet character-driven dramas. His reductionist bag of bones can be found under the beautiful flesh of most highbrow literary fiction.

In essence, Brooks's structure goes like this:

1. Setup
2. First Plot Point
3. First Pinch Point
4. Midpoint
5. Second Pinch Point
6. Second Plot Point
7. Resolution

If each of those elements, which he defines, comes at the right point, which he quantifies in exact percentages, you can write like Dan Brown and still be considered a great storyteller. If you miss those marks, you can write like [insert your most admired literary star here] and fail.

So I figure, why not write as beautifully as I can and hit the marks? Best of both worlds, right?



A lot of writers and editors no doubt intuit their way to this structure, but I'm done groping around in the dark. This guy has handed me the keys to the room where all the light switches are, and I want to share them. I need a critique/study partner or two to work the method with and get better at applying it.

So who's interested in learning more?

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
twasadark
Aug. 11th, 2014 07:56 pm (UTC)
I'm intrigued. Are you working through his book? I'm looking at the reviews on Amazon and it seems that while there's great info in the book it's a bit of a slog to find it.

I'm working through John Truby's The Anatomy of Story right now and I've also gotten a bit bogged down in it.

I get what you're saying about groping around in the dark. I feel like I'm always doing that myself!
emeraldsedai
Aug. 11th, 2014 08:15 pm (UTC)


I've decided not to buy his book yet. A friend attended his seminar a couple of weekends ago at the Willamette Writers' Conference, and emailed me his slide deck right from the classroom. Brooks gives huge amounts of information on his blog (storyfix.com) that expands on the slides, and I've taken tons of notes and tried to get the rather abstract concepts clear in my mind. That's why I want to hash them over "out loud," as it were, with another writer.

Personally, I need a lot of clear, concrete examples before I can do much with abstractions. A quick glance at some of Truby's stuff--which I hadn't heard of, so thanks--suggests that he has just as much trouble as Brooks does in committing to specifics, and I'm suspecting that the specifics are what they sell in the advanced courses and their one-on-one coaching.

Which, fair enough. But we're bright, smart writers. We can get there. Want me to send you Brooks's slides? PM me.
twasadark
Aug. 11th, 2014 08:21 pm (UTC)
Sure! Let's give it a shot. I'll PM you my email addy. Truby is pretty succinct about his various steps (for him there's 22) but he frequently is a bit TOO succinct in that I don't know what the hell he's referring to and then he's on to the next step.

emeraldsedai
Aug. 11th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
Brooks is kind of the same way. He's careless about some of his terms, and a mind like mine stumbles and fumbles (whereas a mind like that of my friend who attended his seminar says, "You're overthinking this, you Type 4. You're already there!").

Powerpoint is on its way.
executrix
Aug. 12th, 2014 12:26 am (UTC)
Dude! That's been Screenwriting 101 at least since the 1980s, when I took Robert McKee's screenwriting seminar.
emeraldsedai
Aug. 12th, 2014 12:52 am (UTC)
And now it's found its way to me!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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