Story Engineering starts with the criteria and the architecture of storytelling, the engineering and design of a story–and uses it as the basis for narrative. The greatest potential of any story is found in the way six specific aspects of storytelling combine and empower each other on the page.
The Physics of Storytelling
There are many theories and principles floating around in the vast oeuvre of writing instruction. The list of things a writer needs to understand and execute is long an complex, but that list can be grouped into six separate yet dependent categories: the Six Core Competencies.
When applied to the story development process, you end up with an approach that is based on nothing short of what is, in essence, story engineering.
It works for writers for the very same reasons it works for the folks who build stadiums and skycrapers. It’s based on natural law. On time-tested, proven truths. For builders, that’s physics. For writers, that’s the Six Core Competencies.
The Six Core Competencies
The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling is a developmental model that allows you to do just that. It separates the major categorical elements of storytelling into discreet, easily understood buckets of information and criteria, all of which are then poured out as a rich, seamless story that actually works.
Here are the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling:
1. Concept.- The idea or seed that evolves into a platform for a story. Best and most empowering when expressed as a ‘what if?’ question. The answer leads to further ‘what if?’ questions in a branching and descending hierarchy, and the collective whole of those choices and answers becomes your story.
2. Character.- Don’t leave home without one. Every story needs a hero. We don’t need to like him (contrary to what your high school composition teacher told you), but we do need to root for him.
3. Theme.- Yes, it’s like putting smoke into a bottle, but it can be done. Not to be confused with concept, theme is what your story is illuminating about real life.
4. Structure.- 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.
5. Scene execution.- You can know the game, but if you can’t play it you can’t win. A story is a series of scenes with some connective tissue in place. And there are principles and guidelines to make them work.
6. Writing voice.- The coat of paint, or if you prefer, the suit of clothes, that delivers the story to the reader. The biggest risk here is letting your writing voice get in the way. Less is more. Sparingly clever or sparsely eloquent is even better.
Which core competency comes first?
It doesn’t matter. Like those essential organs in the human body, they all have to be present and functioning well before the story can breathe on its own. That said, by definition one of them always does come first in the process.
What the six core competencies can’t do is bestow life itself
It is theoretically possible to assemble all the parts of the human body, all properly installed and connected, yet there will be no life until something magic happens. Or, if you don’t believe in magic, some combination of electromechanical energy and luck that defies science. A spark of life is always required, and we have yet to discover the formula for that when it comes to storytelling.