Tag Archives: Larry Brooks

The Three Dimensions of Character

In his book Story Engineering, Larry Brooks says you should “imbue your characters with three very separate and compelling layers—dimensions, in this context—that are carefully crafted to bring your story alive with resonant emotional depth.” If you choose to wing it, you most likely will end up with characters who are as flat as cardboard cutouts.

 TT is for Three Dimensions of Character

What are the three dimensions of character?

Let’s take a look at the three dimensions of characterization as defined by Larry Brooks, using a character from Harry Potter—Severus Snape–to illustrate them. Continue reading The Three Dimensions of Character


Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation

According to Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, there are Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. I named them in the post, The Writing Book that Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo. Today I’m focusing on the fourth competency: Story Structure.


S is for Story Structure

Brooks says, “it doesn’t matter if you outline your stories or not, or if your words make the angels weep or not, because if what you’re writing isn’t hitting the page in context to solid and accepted—key word there—story structure, it’s doomed until it does.”

Brooks defines story structure as “what comes first, what comes next, and so forth…and why. And no, you can’t just make it up for yourself. There are expectations and standards here. Knowing what they are is the first step toward getting published.”

This doesn’t mean you’re artistically boxed-in by the structure. Brooks uses the analogy of constructing a building to explain the concept of story structure. You must have a solid foundation (story structure) upon which you place your artfully designed building (your unique story).

solid foundation building Brooks says, “Story structure is the sequence of scenes that results in a story well told. Story architecture is the empowerment of those scenes through compelling characterizations, powerful thematic intentions, a fresh and intriguing conceptual engine, and a writing voice that brings it all to life with personality and energy.”

In his book, Brooks names the four integral parts of story structure. I hinted at this four-part story structure in the post Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need, when I discussed the four stages of the hero.

Four-Part Story Structure:

Part 1: Setup. The purpose of Part 1 is to set up the story. We learn about the hero; the world he lives in, his back story, and what he wants. At the end of Part 1 an obstacle to what the hero wants surfaces and the hero must go on a quest to overcome it.
Hero role: orphan.

• Part 2: Response. The purpose of Part 2 is to show the hero’s response to the obstacle that surfaced at the end of Part 1. He’s not heroic yet. He’s hesitant, fearful, and fumbles his way through a myriad of options, unsure how, even unwilling, to confront the antagonistic force.
Hero role: wanderer.

• Part 3: Attack. The purpose of Part 3 is to show the hero beginning to figure it out. He draws on what he learned in the wanderer phase and begins to apply it. He’s no longer reactive. He’s heroic and attacks the antagonistic force head on. Only the antagonistic force has become stronger and the hero must revise his plans.
Hero role: warrior.

• Part 4: Resolution. The purpose of Part 4 is to show the hero call upon all the knowledge, skills, and courage gained over the course of the story and use it to defeat the antagonistic force. He may even die in the process.
Hero role: martyr.

To learn more about story structure, read the post, Introducing the Four Parts of Story on Larry Brooks’ website, Storyfix.

Just Beat It! Using a Beat Sheet to Plan Your Story

It’s the second day of Blogging From A to Z, so for the letter “B” I’m going to that nifty little writer’s tool called the beat sheet.

BB is for Beat Sheet

Have you heard of it?

save the cat

If you’ve read the book, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder, then you know what I’m referring to.

Snyder designed the beat sheet for screenwriting, but the same concepts apply and can be adapted to novel-writing. A good story should follow a certain beat to keep the reader engaged.

What is a beat sheet?
A beat sheet is the skeleton of your story, the milestones that occur at specific points to propel the protagonist through the story. Blake Snyder’s beat sheet is composed of the following 15 beats: Continue reading Just Beat It! Using a Beat Sheet to Plan Your Story

The Writing Book That Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo

Yesterday I discussed my strategy (for lack of a better word) at the kickoff of NaNoWriMo and how ill-prepared I was to write a novel. I was following in the footsteps of King and Bradbury. Silly girl, so out of your league. I had written a novel by the seat of my pants before. Surely, I could do it again. Nope, it wasn’t going to happen, certainly not in the time frame allotted. 

Maybe King and Bradbury didn’t need to plan their stories, but somewhere in those brilliant minds I believe there was a plan, just not documented. For us less talented people, we need guidance, a model and that is just what Larry Brooks provides in his book Story Engineering. I created a model in Excel based on what I learned from the book. I merged it with my timeline, so it’s a little too intricate to share in this post, but I searched the web for a summarized version and found one here.

As you can see, there are certain milestones that should occur at predefined (but not rigidly set) points in the story to increase the dramatic tension and keep the reader engaged. The book goes into a deeper level of detail. If you read it and follow the model you won’t be at a loss about what to write and when. The model provides the structure to set the right pacing and tension for your story. If you deploy one of these milestones too early or too late, you risk losing the reader.

Are you still not sure you need a model? I didn’t think I did either until I hit that wall. Here is what Brooks has to say on the subject of organic writing:

“Many writers just sit down and write without a recipe. A story may or may not emerge, and that lucky writer may or may not be cognizant of the presence of the various structural elements and storytelling presence—the recipe—required.”

“While organic writers are often loath to admit it, the very drafting process they advocate is nothing other than a process of searching for and blueprinting their story, one iteration at a time, until they arrive at a solid sequential structure for it.”

“King’s approach—known as organic writing or, in some circles, pantsing (for seat-of-the-pants storytelling)—may actually work for some, but that’s only if a) you know what you’re doing to the extent that you don’t need to plan out your story; b) you somehow stumble upon the proper structural sequence and intuitively meet all the criteria for the various essential components; and c) you’re willing to complete the inevitable rewrites that come with writing without a story plan.”

“Those published writers who, like King, just start writing their stories from an initial idea do so using an informed sensibility about, and working knowledge of, story architecture. And yet, this is the default approach for nearly every new writer and a startling percentage of established ones, published and non published alike.”

Brooks provided many analogies in his book to emphasize this point. Here are a few:

 Recipe Analogy

“Consider a chef preparing a gourmet dish as an apt analogy for writing a story. First, the chef acquires all the ingredients called for in the recipe. There are basic principles to follow (eggs Benedict, for example, doesn’t fly without eggs, ham, an English muffin, and hollandaise sauce); still, there is room for the chef to play with the recipe to make it his own creation.”

Architecture Analogy

“Just as an engineer relies on an architecturally sound blueprint to build a structure that will bear weight and resist the elements—a vision and a plan based on proven physics and structural dynamics—writers can benefit from approaching the craft of storytelling armed with a keen command of the literary equivalent. It’s unthinkable that an engineer and an architect would meet at the construction site one day and just start digging holes and pouring concrete.

Writing is no different. We build our stories on a foundation of structurally sound principles. But from there we depend on something less definable and teachable to elevate our work. To raise it to something that publishers will buy and readers will consume and embrace.”

Human Body Analogy

“Human beings bring only a handful of facial features to the blueprint of how we look—two eyes, two eyebrows, a nose, a mouth, a pair of cheekbones, and two ears, all pasted onto a somewhat ovular-to-round face. That particular blueprint doesn’t often vary much, either. Interestingly enough, this is about the same number of essential storytelling parts and milestones that each and every story needs to showcase in order to be successful.

Now, consider this: With only these eleven variables to work with, ask yourself how often you see two people who look exactly alike. Where we humans are concerned, the miracle of originality resides in the Creator, who applies an engineering-driven process—eleven variables—to an artistic outcome.”

There are seven billion people on the planet. How often do you see two people who look exactly alike? Yet we all have the same basic structure underneath. His model provides the basic structure of every successful story without limiting the writer’s creativity. Brooks tells us “with some isolated and therefore irrelevant, exceptions, every published novel or produced screenplay delivers on each of the Six Core Competencies described in this model, at least to some degree. Even if the author doesn’t recognize it, or happened to back into them after multiple drafts. And even then, the really successful ones take them to a level of integration that defies definition. That become artful.”

So what are the six core competencies?

  1. Concept-The idea that evolves into a platform for a story.
  2. Character-Every story needs a hero. We don’t need to like him, but we do need to root for him.
  3. Theme-What your story is illuminating about life.
  4. Structure-What happens and in what order.
  5. Scene Execution-A story is a series of scenes with connective tissue and guidelines to make them work.
  6. Writing Voice-The suit of clothes that delivers the story to the reader.

The list only touches the surface of what is covered in the book. Maybe, like me, you had a basic understanding of the core competencies. I’ve read dozens of books on the craft of writing, but this is the first one that provided clarity on how it all worked together. This book will take your understanding of the writing process, story structure, and hopefully your writing, to a higher level.

To learn more about the competencies and how to deploy them properly in your novel, you will need to read the book.


How I Won NaNoWriMo

Yesterday, I discussed my, ahem, “strategy” for NaNoWriMo. Okay, you can stop laughing now. Seriously, stop. It’s embarrassing. Okay, are we done yet? Let’s move on people.

Yeah, it didn’t work out so well for me. But, I did win. See that image in the blue box on the right of my blog? At 50,004 words, I won by a hair.

Here are my daily word count statistics from the NaNoWriMo website:

NaNoWriMo StatsSee how I was churning out words every day, with the exception of my day of “cleaning” out the cobwebs (literally and figuratively) on day seven? I was on a roll. I was going to finish early! Somewhere around mid-month, I scheduled a celebratory wine tour with my husband to take place on November 30th. It would be my reward for winning NaNoWriMo. Presumptuous, I know, but I felt confident {key phrase coming} at that point.

Then I hit a wall and didn’t write anything for four days (the 20th through the 23rd). It felt like I was gasping for my last breath as a writer. On the fourth day I turned to Story Engineering by Larry Brooks for oxygen. Reading his book was like breathing in the fresh air. I had read dozens of books on the craft of writing up to this point, but found the formula for writing a good novel was nonexistent or esoteric at best. You just had to plug away at the keyboard every day and eventually something worthwhile would emerge. Some of these books have been praised by me in posts on this blog (Words of Wisdom on Writing from the King and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury).

Like them, I was a panster. We don’t need no stinking model! Both King and Bradbury professed that there was no magic formula to writing. Here is what they had to say on the subject:

“Plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” Stephen King, On Writing

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” ― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

I found their books inspiring, stirring to a writer’s soul, and while they provided loads of helpful advice, there was no specific advice about how to write a novel. I didn’t think it existed, until I read Brooks’ book.

After reading the book, I knew exactly what to write next. I came back with a bang on the 24th, but then took time off to celebrate my son’s birthday on the 25th and Thanksgiving with the families on the 28th and 29th.

I woke up early on the 30th and wrote feverishly for a few hours. As I was nearing the 50k mark, I began to imagine that my computer would somehow blow up and the work would be lost forever. Even the copy on the jump drive would somehow magically disappear. Once I noticed that my word count had surpassed 50,000 words, I hastily pasted the story into the NaNoWriMo site and validated my word count. MS Word showed the total word count at 50,048. The NaNoWriMo validation check clocked it at 50,004, just a few words over the required minimum. I had done it. I actually wrote 50,000 words in a month.

This is how I felt:


 Tomorrow, I’ll discuss what I learned from Brook’s masterful book.

A Review of My Strategy for NaNoWriMo

It’s been ten days since the end of NaNoWriMo, and after giving myself some time to digest the process, I’ve decided to share what I learned during those thirty maddening stimulating days of writing. I thought I was prepared to write. Heh. Heh. Heh. {Shakes head} Bless her naive little heart.  

I had a story idea. It’s an idea that’s been with me since 2009. Actually even earlier, but that’s when I first scribbled the idea on a slip of paper. It’s the story I’ve wanted to write, but could never seem to wrap my head around it.

So, the first novel I cut my literary teeth on was a romance. I chose it because the story structure seemed pretty straightforward. In very simple terms, they meet, obstacles tear them apart; they’re reunited, and live happily ever after. Because of this I was never at a loss about what to write and when. I created detailed character descriptions and a timeline that evolved as I was writing, but I didn’t plan ahead. I was a “panster”, an organic writer, in every sense of the word. After I had finished writing the novel, I learned about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beat Sheet (more about that in a later post). I plugged my story into the formula and realized I had somehow managed to write a story that followed proper story architecture. Score! Well, not really. There are other issues with it, so the novel is currently collecting cyber dust on my laptop.

But anyway, given that experience, I thought, “Pfft. Plan schman. I got this, man. Besides, developing a plan will hinder the creative process. I’m going to tackle that story.” Here was my strategy {shakes head again}:

  • Develop character profiles.
  • Have a general idea (undocumented) of the story.
  • Write stream of consciousness.
  • If you have trouble with a scene, just write the dialogue and go back in and add the details later.
  • Resist the urge to correct as you go along. Vanquish that inner editor!
  • Don’t worry about how messy the house gets (I failed at this one, though. Read on.)
  • No rules, just write!

Yeah, I think that about sums it up. I’m not sure because guess what, I didn’t write it down {shakes head once more}.

I started to have doubts about my ability to write 50,000 words in one month, but received a Pep Talk   (click on the link to read the post) on the eve of NaNoWriMo that restored my faith. On day one, I bolted out of the starting gates writing 2,729 words, far above the 1,667 daily average to meet the goal by month end. I continued at this pace for the next several days, averaging about 2,400 words per day for the next eighteen days.

There was one rare exception during this time period where I didn’t write a single word. I somehow found it necessary to clean my entire house from top to bottom including cleaning out the refrigerator, the oven, organizing my kids’ closets, and even rearranging the attic (yes, you read that right). But I viewed this as necessary to the creative process. After all, sometimes the best ideas come to me while performing some mundane task like washing the dishes.

The next day I was happily pounding the keys of my laptop again, turning in high daily word counts. I was going to finish early! Ha! This is so easy!

 And then…BAM!

I hit the proverbial wall on day nineteen. I struggled to write one word. I remember I had written a total of eighteen—that’s right, 1-8— words in the first hour. I buried my head in my hands. Oh, the agony! With great effort, I managed to write 545 words that day, but the stuff I wrote was complete shite. For the next four days, I didn’t write one single word (yes, I know that’s redundant, but it’s intentional for dramatic emphasis). I was going to fail.

As a writer, I went from feeling like this:

Meme Best Day Ever 

To this:

Rapunzel Failure Meme 

My poor muse didn’t know what to make of me. Yeah, that’s him sitting beside me, looking utterly frustrated. 

And then I picked up Story Engineering by Larry Brooks {clouds part, angels sing}. Hallelujah! I’d discovered the holy grail on writing. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how I won NaNoWriMo.

Teaser Tuesday: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

story engineeringWhen I hit a wall during NaNoWriMo, I started reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. It helped me break through that wall and reach my goal for NaNoWriMo (more about that later). I purchased it several months ago, but never got around to reading it. Big mistake. This book is now at the top of my list of craft writing books that all writers must read. It is that good. I’ll be posting a review in the future. Here is an excerpt:

“Human beings bring only a handful of facial features to the blueprint of how we look—two eyes, two eyebrows, a nose, a mouth, a pair of cheekbones, and two ears, all pasted onto a somewhat ovular-to-round face. That particular blueprint doesn’t often vary much, either. Interestingly enough, this is about the same number of essential storytelling parts and milestones that each and every story needs to showcase in order to be successful.

Now, consider this: With only these eleven variables to work with, ask yourself how often you see two people who look exactly alike.Where we humans are concerned, the miracle of originality resides in the Creator, who applies an engineering-driven process—eleven variables—to an artistic outcome.”


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!