In my book recommendation series, rarely do I ever dedicate a post to a single book. It is also a rare that I recommend a book on writing. Mostly because I strongly believe that ever writer:
- Needs a writing mentor.
- Needs to take a writing workshop where her fellow peers can offer her feedback and where she can also critique the work of her peers in a group setting led by a writing mentor, or other credible writing authority.
- Needs to be well versed in literature in general.
Trust me, the three things I have listed above are of enormous help to any writer. Without this training, just having a book on writing is not going to help you any.
However, if you HAVE done the three things that I have listed above, then there is one book on storytelling that you need to read in addition to all of this training:
Story Engineering: Mastering The 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing
by Larry Brooks
I was fortunate enough to get to know Larry as a fellow Top Ten Blogger. When he asked me to review his book, I jumped at the chance of learning from his years of experience as a published author. Now that I’ve finished reading his book, I’m excited to share with you my thoughts:
If you are lost at sea in the storytelling process, picking up Story Engineering will be like picking up a compass. No, it won’t map out your exact journey—no one can really do that for you—but it will point you in the right direction. Larry’s book will teach you a set of storytelling principles that every published author follows (Larry calls them the “6 Core Competencies.”)
Now, one of three things will happen when you read Larry’s book: either you will read it and be reminded of everything you learned under your writing mentor, but will still be thankful that Larry put everything you learned into an easy to read, organized, reference guide; or, you’ll realize that you no longer have to resort to reading books by great authors and hope you’ll learn how to tell a great story through “osmosis”—that instead you can acquire the core principles of storytelling the more direct way, through Larry’s book; or, for the very first time, you’ll be uncovering the biggest secret that all the great published authors know:
That there IS a set of principles that all great storytellers must follow.
But just because there are set of principles, it does not mean that the storytelling process is formulaic by any means. Larry explains it better than I do, but basically, if we compared storytelling to the world of architecture, Larry’s the guy who is telling you that your house needs to be made out of wood and not Styrofoam, that the foundation needs to be earthquake-proof, and not built over a sinkhole. Larry’s not the guy who tells you how to paint the outside, or how to furnish the inside, he’s the guy who tells you where to put up the support beams so the roof doesn’t cave in during the storm. To translate: he’s the guy that helps you make sure your story doesn’t implode under the weakness of its foundations.
One more thing: this is the book for writers who want to go through the traditional publishing route. So if you feel very strongly that there should be NO parameters or guidelines when it comes to storytelling, then this book is probably not for you. But if you have an open mind, then you should definitely check it out.
Now for some constructive criticism:
- A little thing that’s missing: a vocabulary list at the end of the book for easy reference.
- I would have also loved it if the important terms in the book were bolded or italicized when they were first introduced.
- I liked that the author compared storytelling with engineering, but I still didn’t want the cover to make the book look like it was an engineering textbook. An image more appealing and enticing to writers would have been better.
- The title could have been shorter and more to the point, something like: “The 6 Habits of Highly Effective Writers.”
- At last, I just have to say this: there were way too many references to Top Gun. Larry gives a ton of other illuminating examples for the core competencies, but for some reason Top Gun comes up as an example more often than others. At first, it’s not a big deal, but after its continuous mention it leaves the reader moaning: “Oh no! Top Gun? AGAIN?”
But the truth is, if you are clueless about the storytelling process, Larry’s book will be a godsend to you. But even if you have some idea of how the process works, you will still be sooo glad that Larry took the time to lay out the core principles of storytelling into one, easy-to-read, very well-written, very helpful, and very practical book.
Today’s beginning writer simply cannot do without Larry’s Story Engineering–unless you want to look silly when your future agent tells you that you have an interesting idea but that you need to develop it into a concept, and you have no clue what he means.
Story Engineering will make you a smarter writer by telling you what every published writer already knows, and because of this, you’ll be referencing this book for years to come.
Finally, you might be asking yourself: who is Larry Brooks and why does he have the authority to speak about this topic? To answer both questions, I’ll let him explain:
“You should know that my first published novel, Darkness Bound, sold to a major New York publisher on the very first submission, with virtually no changes or rewrites required, and that it went on to be a USA Today bestseller… [My other novel] Bait and Switch, was named by Publishers Weekly as the lead entry on their Best Books of 2004–Mass Market list, after a starred review and an Editor’s Choice nod.” –excerpt from Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Although Larry labels himself as a cynic, I found the conclusion of his book to be very optimistic. At the end, you feel that this is a man who has mastered the art of writing a great story and sincerely feels that by sharing what he knows about becoming a successful published author, he’s saving new, unpublished writers a whole lot of time.
It’s as if Larry knows his readers are lost at sea, and he doesn’t mind offering them his own compass as a guide. And we appreciate him for that.
Click here to buy Story Egineering by Larry Brooks.
What books on writing do you recommend? Please share with us in the comments below.
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