Clue was relieved to know there's no actual math involved in this book. Photo by Kate Ota 2020
The Story Equation by Susan May Warren is a short book (144 pages in paperback) about how to plan a story based on one starter question. The book offers a step-by-step type of equation for stories, and offers some other advice along the way. It breaks the story apart into the internal and external journeys of the character and describes where to place certain elements using a 4 Act structure (Act 1, 2A, 2B, and 3).
My copy had extremely thin paper for the pages, so when I highlighted useful bits, it showed through on the other side. The title and author name on the spine are also not centered and spill onto the front cover. Based on that, I was concerned this wasn’t going to be very high-quality advice. And for the first few chapters, I thought my first impression was right. The book kept hinting at The Question on which the whole book would be built, without telling me what the question was. It kept talking about The Equation, and various elements of it, without explaining. Finally, when the book got to these elements, and defined them all, things got rolling. It was less helpful with plot elements, but extremely detailed about character arc. It’s true that the character arc builds off of one question, and then many more subsequent questions. It basically boils down those giant character-building sheets to the bare essentials and tells you why they’re essential. I’ve already applied what I learned from this book to two of my characters and found things I can add or enhance to nail the character arcs.
The book offers access to an online mini-course about the same topic, which I haven't watched yet. I'm not sure how much more information it will offer, but if I watch it, I'll update this post.
Is It Worth It?
I received my copy as a gift, so for me it was automatically worth it. The book goes for under $10, which you can feel in the quality of the paper and printing. It's short and offers a quick read, which is a plus. The detailed instructions for building a character and achieving the growth arc were very helpful. If writing a satisfying character arc is what you struggle with, I highly recommend this book. If your goal is to strengthen the external journey plotting, I think there are better options out there. Since that’s not what I was looking for, I was very happy with this book.
Have you read The Story Equation? Have you tried the methods? What did you think? Let's discuss in the comments!