Story Engineering is Saving my Bacon!

For the past few weeks, I had a feeling that something had to change. I wasn’t happy with my protagonist, and my plot was all over the place, when it wasn’t adhering rather boringly to historical events. Something was missing. More than one something, probably.

I decided to take a break and read a book several writers had recommended to me, probably because I’m a “pantser.” I don’t know why I’m that way. In every other aspect of my life, I organize, outline and spreadsheet anything I can get my hands on. Anyway, the book is Larry Brooks’s “Story Engineering,” and only a few chapters in, I see the error of my ways.

Just about every problem I was having has already been addressed on some level.

Before going any further, I sat down and worked through his recommended exercises for concept. I wrote for about an hour, and was amazed at my creativity. Just asking “what if?” about everything can yield some pretty interesting twists and turns.

Over the next few days, I’ll reread what I wrote, and chew over the ideas. In the meantime, I’ll start working on the character treatments he recommends. Seriously, I’ve never seen advice this practical. You hear a lot about writing deep, good, realistic, multi-dimensional characters, but the nuts and bolts of “how” tend to be thin to non-existent.

This is actually a good place for this to happen. I have a 60K-word outline-y first draft with both good and bad things. I needed to stop because I had to do more research and solidify my ideas around things like religious practices and naming conventions (fun, I know!)

So, before I delve into the second draft, I should have fixed some of my characterization problems, and added some interesting plot twists. Best of all, this is giving me the confidence to move away from my historical model. I never intended to follow actual events too closely- they tend to be really complex and often boring- but I had little trust in my ability to plot. That seems to be changing, and just in time for the New Year!


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