For more than a year I've been wrestling with the details of the story I'm going to novelize, taking all the advice I could get, thinking and rethinking, redrafting. After this much work I had what I considered a good story.
After reading this book I decided to try applying its advice to the design of my story. I wanted to see how it would change the story, and if it brought out the spirit of the story better. I wanted to se if my story would entertain more by applying the book's tenants.
Using the book still required a great deal of creativity, hard work, and thinking through alternatives and refinements, but the results kicked the power of the story up to another level. I am more excited about this story than ever.
I think you need a deep well of talent and quite a bit more theory and knowledge besides what the book preaches to create a "break-out" novel. This book could help beginning authors provided they dip from many other sources and have a good mentor. I believe it would primarily aid authors that already have a background of theory, experience, and talent required for publication. Either way, it's worth having.
Like most good advice, much of it seems obvious. Still, without having the check-list in front of you, along with several examples, and going through the exercises of applying it to your story rigorously, your story may support the obvious only in obvious or weak ways. Going through the exercise forces you to apply this age-old wisdom in the most forceful possible way.
Those who say that this book encourages formulaic story-telling probably don't like the idea of any structure. Some structures, like a cage, inhibit, while others, like a ladder, provide more freedom. This book will force you to think through cob-webbed corners of your story. It will ask questions worth considering. The result is not formulaic, the result is a well-planned dramatic form projected onto a well-organized narrative. The exercise of re-thinking alone is worth it whether or not you accept the book's advice as gospel story truth.
There have only been a couple of other books about story and drama that I have found as useful as this one. Use these ingredients to achieve your break-out:
1. Get a mentor. Get two. Make sure that your mentor is either a published author of work you like or an agent/editor that reads through the slush-pile and critiques work constantly. This is the number one key to success.
2. Study drama. Read about theory. Analyze the greats. Think about the content (not the form, the clever prose and catchy language) of your story, and think about it hard. Revise it endlessly.
3. Get some readers. Naive readers that represent your audience, with no knowledge of dramatic theory or the craft of writing. Let them tell you where they lost interest, how they interpret your story, and how it made them feel and think.
4. Love what you're doing and have fun. Thrive on criticism but learn when to ignore it, that is, when it violates the spirit of your message.
5. Get this book and treat each suggestion as an exercise. It's worth the time and money to make take your story up a notch.