I’m emerging from building a new book like a groundhog from his hole. Blinking. Jumping at shadows. “Wait, you still want regular meals?”
It hasn’t been that bad, ha ha. After I officially retired the Spacetime books, I knew I would need serious help to turn them into marketable urban fantasy. Lo and behold, who should pop into my blog feed but Larry Brooks, talking about concept, premise, and his book Story Engineering.
I needed pretty much all of the above, so I checked out the book at the library.
After four chapters, I realized that I would need to buy this book. It is destined to be filled with underlines and sticky notes. I read a few chapters, furiously write things down, then read some more.
Story Engineering takes screenplay writing and applies it to novel writing. To become a successful author, you have to master the six core competencies:
Five: Scene execution
Six: Writing voice
Each item has five or ten chapters devoted to it, along with helpful worksheets to get the juices flowing. For example, at the end of this post is the list of questions for building a character, their backstory, salient characteristics, and arc.
Following his guidelines, I’ve got a rough outline of a tight plot that pleases me very much. The nice thing is, I already knew most of this. It’s an in-depth version of Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants. But this book takes it to an extremely detailed depth.
So if you’re like me with a few books under your belt and you’re looking to up your game, check out Story Engineering. Any tool that lets me write fewer drafts is great, in my opinion!
And now, that character sheet:
What is his backstory, the experiences that programmed how he thinks and feels and acts?
What is his inner demon, and how does it influence decisions and actions in the face of the outer demon?
What does he resent?
What is his drive to get revenge?
How does he feel about himself, and what is the gap between that assessment and how others feel about him?
What is his worldview?
What is your character’s moral compass?
Is he a giver or a taker in life?
To what extent does he adhere to gender roles and stereotypes?
What lessons has he not yet learned in life?
What lessons has he experienced but rejected or failed to learn?
Who are his friends? Are they like for like, or above/below him in intelligence?
What is his social I/Q? Awkward? Eager? Easy? Life of the party? Wallflower? Faking?
Introvert or extrovert? How does this manifest?
What is his secret yearning?
What childhood dream never came true, and why?
What is his religion?
What’s the worst thing he’s ever done?
Does he have secrets or a secret life?
What do his friends/family/employer not know about him?
When, how, why does he hold back/procrastinate?
What has held him back in life?
Who would come to his funeral–or not?
What is the most unlikely or contradictory part about him?
What are his first dimension quirks, habits, and choices?
Why are they in evidence, what are they saying or covering for?
What is the backstory that leads to these choices?
What are the psychological scars that affect his life, and how does this link to backstory?
How strong is he under pressure?
What is his arc over the course of the story? How does he change and grow?
How does he apply that learning toward becoming the catalytic force that drives the denouement of the story?