We were always told in English Lit. that good writing isn't something you can be taught, its just an innate skill, a gift, a calling. They'd tell you the same thing in art class, but I'm pretty sure they still explained about the basics of light and shading. In english class I can't even recall being taught basic sentence structure and grammar, its just assumed you pick these things up as you go along. And as far as writing a novel goes, apparently you just have to randomly become a genius and get stuck into it.
Now I really love writing, but my head is full of ideas and characters that I just don't know what to do with. And I can't do the 'just start writing, it'll happen' thing, I really can't. When I turned to my author friend Thomas for suggestions, he pointed out this book to me. I am so glad he did, it's the most useful thing I've read in ages.
With Story Engineering
, Larry Brooks
puts forward the idea that while talent may be innate, the skills you need to write a novel (or a screenplay) can definately be taught. What he calls the 6 core competencies - Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution and Writing Voice. The ideas and creativity have to be all your own, but you can learn how to actually assemble your ideas together in the shape a novel.
At first I admit I was slightly skeptical, because Brooks
starts with a lengthy intro about how important these ideas are. And theres a lot of repetition, every section starts by going on about how this skill is important, and the others are too, and how you can't just practice, you need this skill. Okay so the repetition annoyed me a little, but when you get into the grit of it, the important parts, he really actually does know his stuff. I mean really
I basically learnt a metric shit ton of stuff from this book. Including; the difference between concept, idea, premise and theme. What exactly are the three dimension of character. What variables each character has to flesh them out. How to treat peripheral characters. The important milestones/plot points in a novel, where they come and how to build up to them. And where to actually begin a novel (I shit you not).
One of the cool things about the book is that in a way you're not just being taught how to build characters, scenes and plots, but also how to break them down and analyse them. So this stuff isn't just useful for writing a novel, its also pretty darned useful for reviewing novels too. Hopefully I can put this stuff into practice and both improve my reviews and get stuck into some serious story writing. I feel like I can now, and thats a start.
Honestly, I feel a bit funny about sharing this review with people, because it's like I just got superpowers and now I'm revealing the source of my powers to the public. But hey, everyone deserves the chance to learn something new. You better appreciate it. ;)