Be an Engineer For Your Story

Today, I want to give you another analogy to think on. I want you to see your story as the engine of a car. Got that? OK, let’s start thinking about how a mechanic would put a car engine together.

Planning

When confronted by hundreds of bits of metal, plastic and rubber of all different shapes and sizes, you can bet most mechanics – and especially those just starting out – have a plan to tell them which bit goes where. The level of their planning will be unique to each mechanic, but I’d be amazed if any of them just grabbed the first bit of metal they saw and began bolting it to something else. That’s certainly not a mechanic I’d ever want working on my car, yet I see so many writers who work on that very principle. They know they want to write a book, they’ve read books before and so they think they can just jump in and somehow get it right first time.

The chances of a mechanic sitting down with lots of parts and successfully throwing together a perfectly functioning combustion engine on his first day on the job? Zero. Nil. Not a snowball’s chance in Hell. The odds of an eager first-time writer weaving a literary masterpiece out of thin air without carefully planning it out? Exactly the same.

Know in advance what you’re trying to build and figure out which bits are supposed to go where before you start building it.

Checking the Parts

There’s no point starting to build the engine if you don’t have all the pieces, or if some of those pieces are broken. Imagine getting all the way through your engine build and then discovering that one of the main components had been faulty right from the beginning. You wouldn’t be a happy bunny. The same applies to you as a writer. Before starting to write, make sure you have all the components in place. Do you have your characters figured out? Your storyline plotted? Your settings sufficiently developed? More than that, though, do they work? Are you using only the best quality components in this thing you’re building? Have you examined them closely, making sure there are no flaws (other than the character flaws you’ve included on purpose, of course)?

Just as a faulty cylinder block will render your entire engine useless, a faulty protagonist will bring your whole story crashing down. Just as there are hundreds of components of an engine, there are hundreds of components of a story, from theme to character’s use of dialect. Make sure you’ve got them all in place before you start work.