Engine Problems

April 9th, 2013 · 1 Comment »

I am back in the swing of writing (yay!!!!!! roar the fans). I am working on the second draft of a manuscript that I think has potential but is not working. I have had a look under the hood and I’m afraid it is a serious case of ENGINE FAILURE.

You may have heard many people talk about stories as having engines – basically I’m talking about the answer to the following questions:

  • Who is your story about?
  • What is his/her goal?
  • What is his/her need?
  • What are his/her flaws?
  • What are his/her strengths?
  • What is the big thing that will happens to set them off on a journey?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you have an engine. Just add some fuel (imagination) and you’re off and driving (much like this metaphor, which keeps giving and giving …)

Sound easy? It isn’t.

Even though I understand story, sometimes looking at the mess that is my story’s engine is more confusing than looking at a real car’s engine. Just to be clear, when I look at a real car engine I can pretty much only identify the oil checkerer thingamejib and the dead insect collecting tray (though I’m pretty sure that is not what the tray is there for).

The story’s engine is usually set up in the first few chapters of a novel. When I get the engine wrong (which I usually do in the first few drafts) then my story stumbles through the many chapters to follow, often arriving at a wrong destination. However, when I get the engine right, everything clicks into gear and I speed on through the rest of the writing process. It’s a wonderful feeling, the figurative wind blowing through what is left of my hair … wow, this metaphor could not have worked better.


Tips on how to fix your story’s engine by Mechanic Luff

  • Bang your head against an empty notebook. If you do it enough times, the story’s engine might magically appear on the page.
  • Moan. Moan some more. Call friends and moan to them. Tell loved ones that you are ‘giving up all this writing nonsense and getting a sensible job’.
  • Procrastinate by writing a blog post
  • Go to a second hand store. Buy a book that has been out of print for decades. Steal the story engine and laugh maniacally as you rush back home and install it into your own story.


Well, as always, I’m sure this has been helpful and informative.

Yours in frustration,


Categories: Writing

One Response to “Engine Problems”

  • Maryanne

    You may well jest, but I have just written these dot points onto a bright pink post-it note and stuck it to my computer. I’ll look it tonight when working my own next draft. See, your procrastination helps others. You should procrastinate more.

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