Book Review: Story Engineering

I’m not a person who has read a lot of how-to books on fiction writing, so I’m a newbie when it comes to this genre. The only book about fiction writing that I can remember reading was Stephen King’s On Writing several years ago. What I remember most about that book were the autobiographical passages rather than the nuts and bolts of writing.

Brooks’s philosophy of writing is consciously different from King’s. Asserting that is a bold move, considering King’s success. Unlike King, whom Brooks calls an “organic” writer, Brooks believes that there are six core competencies when it comes to writing fiction: Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution and Writing Voice. Though that may sound formulaic at first glance, Brooks insists that using the core competencies in a story is no more formulaic than an architect obeying the laws of physics when constructing a building. Brooks says that those who intuitively grasp good story structure (like King) are able to just sit down and start writing without a plan, and what they end up with will be good. The rest of us need to go through the steps of deliberately using story structure. You can’t teach genius, but you can teach skill, and that is what the six core competencies are all about.

I enjoyed this book. Brooks argues what screenwriters have known for a long time (and what I’ve believed for a long time): creativity is best utilized, and recognized, within carefully defined boundaries. Otherwise, it becomes a mess that the audience can’t relate to.

One criticism of this book is that it was longer than it had to be. Brooks has such an evident fascination about and knowledge of his subject that he can get long-winded and go into great detail when, at least for this reader, not as much detail is needed. In fiction writing, excessive elaboration may not be as big a deal, but Brooks could use some trimming in this non-fiction book.