Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) 1st Edition
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-- The Writer
"In [Cron's] new book, Story Genius, she picks up the. . . theme. . . that a protagonist’s internal struggle makes the story work, and offers step-by-step advice on how to exploit this truth about neuroscience for richer, deeper, better first drafts. . . .Cron provides exercises and examples to keep writers on track, always highlighting the fact that emotions engage the brain faster than anything else. . . .The concepts are easy to understand and they are certainly important. Even if you can’t go on a retreat, you should try to find time to do the exercises for your own blueprint."
"It’s a simple question: 'How do you write an effective, engaging story?' Ask Lisa Cron. An accomplished author and story coach, she has just published her second book, Story Genius. A manual of sorts, it teaches cognitive storytelling strategies and uses actual brain science to help make its readers into better writers."
-- Creative Screenwriting
"Cron, author of Wired for Story, proposes this new book as the answer to the question, What’s the biggest mistake writers make? She uses psychology and other sciences to explain what makes an utterly compelling story and how to write one. . . .Novice writers looking for a step-by-step guide to how to build—or fix—their novel might find a lot of useful information in here. . ."
-- Publishers Weekly
"Lost in the quagmire of trying to write a novel? Well, forget everything you've ever been told about story, because chances are, it's totally wrong. So where to turn? Story guru Cron not only gives you the skinny on why and how stories work (and why and how we respond to them), she also shows you how to craft a novel step by step, working with author Jenny Nash from the germ of an idea to a living, breathing story. I'd never consider writing a novel without Lisa's input, and neither should you."
-- Caroline Leavitt, New York Times best-selling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You
About the Author
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For someone who's primarily "interested" in the art and/or science of story, this book is bound to disappoint.
But, for someone who's *engaged* in the hobby or profession of crafting stories that need to *work*, "Story Genius" is a godsend.
Lisa Cron has nailed down, in deceptively simple language, the very exact steps a writer needs to take to go from interesting prose to a compelling story. While the book is highly readable and doesn't have lots of (any, in my reading) frightening and impressive words, I see the fingerprints of other geniuses on the page: Rupert Sheldrake, Nick Arrizza, Anders Ericcson, and even (and in this context, it's a high compliment), L. Ron Hubbard.
Just fingerprints, though. The vast majority of the work here is all Cron's. She is so lighthearted and playful, you could easily miss the profound value (to the working storyteller) in her book IF YOU WEREN'T ALREADY STARVING FOR IT.
Which I am. Because with all the wonderful books I've read and courses I've taken, a few things have been missing.
Like: After you've identified the "wound" in the protagonist's past that informs the inner part of their journey through the story, what in the world do you do with that information? Most other writers, teachers, and gurus implicitly leave you with the challenge, "Well, that's for you to figure out."
Translation: They don't know, and they don't want you to know that they don't know.
Cron does, and she lays it out explicitly and generously. On the point of the protagonist's "wound" alone, this book is a complete though concise master class.
Another thing I've found missing almost everywhere else: How much of your character's past do you need to tell your reader about -- and how do you determine what that how much is?
I've only seen a partial answer to that question one place else -- in Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass on screenwriting -- and while he gave essentially the same answer, I find Cron's coverage of this topic in this book, much more useful and comprehensive.
"Story Genius" might not be the best book for a beginner for one simple and ironic reason:
Until you've been burned over and over again by the overconfident gurus of this field (and I don't include Sorkin here -- he's great, but again, not as comprehensive on certain key points), you won't be able to appreciate the finesse and extraordinary practical value of what's in this book.
I know if I had read it, say, 30 years ago, I would have shrugged a lot of this stuff off. Might have called it "repetitive" or "incomplete."
These days, I struggle with the real problems that Cron addresses in this book -- both as a working writer myself, and as a coach to other writers.
In that way, I am like an experienced jeweler walking through a flea market of cubic zirconium. I have to make stuff work, rather than read or hear it five times just to understand what it is.
So, I recognize a gem when I see it.
If any of this resonates, you should get this book to ease your own suffering and increase your own productivity -- and satisfaction with the experience -- sooner, rather than later.
The claims ala science distil to:
- The human brain evolved a capacity to simulate various risk and opportunity scenarios, allowing us to step into them in our imaginations. Stories allow us to sharpen our insights and skills in areas threatening areas, including social navigation. We get to try out various strategies and tactics without incurring the real-world risks.
- This capacity evolved because it improved survival (those who did it better survived to pass along their genes).
- Saying we're "wired for story" means our attention favors inputs that fit the pattern of a story. We may momentarily pay attention to a movement or sound (or a string of them in a James Bond film), but we are riveted by a story. Cron's definition of a story is "someone grapples with a problem they can't avoid" and changes in the process. (p. 30)
- In the presence of such a story, the protagonist becomes our 'avatar' and 'portal.' A story that contains the required elements activates brain systems that evolved to enable us to simulate the other's interior experience. Our minds are compelled to 'try on' the role and to experience the situation.
Cron's definition of story may seem narrow, but it's one that's relevant to this irresistible-mental-simulation thesis. She introduces the metaphor of the 'third rail' that provides electricity to power a train's engine. Without that rail, a train is just an immobile collection of hardware. In a story, the third rail is the protagonist's 'worldview' and particularly an unresolved inner issue (usually reflected in some self-complicating misbelief). A disruptive event or situation forces the protagonist to struggle with an unavoidable, "escalating problem"--the 'difficult goal.' Throughout the story (a novel, in this case), the protagonist reflects on what has happened and is happening, evaluating what it means and what she should do next. She's looking at it through the misperception(s) that arise from her unresolved inner issue. Her reactions trigger more complications and conflict. Over the course of grappling with the escalating problem and (if she's not to be a tragic failure) frequently examining her past experiences and beliefs, her worldview changes. She learns. She changes.
Cron guides the writer through the prework required to develop the protagonist and other contextual elements an organic (non-superficial) plot can spring from.
One of Cron's most helpful topics regards how to tell where to start telling your (protagonist's) story.
The scene card is a very useful tool for directly applying Cron's insights on story effectiveness. I added it's components to the Document Notes panel in my scene template in Scrivener 2 for Mac [Download]. She also has some specific suggestions for Scrivener users.
Another reviewer speculated that a raw beginner may not be prepared to recognize how helpful Cron's principles and process are. Perhaps one must fumble through an assortment of misdirected writing programs or become sick of the aimless, endless wandering of pantsing before gaining the required perspective. If it is possible to shortcut the millions of bad words one must write before consistent good writing comes within reach, this is one clearly lit path.
Top international reviews
It should have shorter sentences. Unless it was a deliberate ploy to write extremely long sentences in tediously long paragraphs - send the reader to sleep, brainwash them with the overindulgence of 'how good is this' repeated until it must sink in ...
Craft books purported to help a novice learn should be easy to read, should avoid issues with spinning back and forth, should lose all the repetition of intent.
Not impressed. Wasted my money, my time, and my goodwill. There are better out there.
All you have to do is remember: it's about the character, where they come from, why they're here, where they're going, what they learn. That's it.
Even by my tortoise standards, I took an inordinate period of time finishing this book. And before readers of this book get the wrong idea, let me clarify something. It was only through the first third or so of the book that I was not sure about whether the read was worthwhile, after that the doubts were gone.
So what took so long? I am not sure I have a complete answer to that question.
For one, Lisa Cron has stated, emphasized and reemphasized her arguments possibly with the belief that if you hammer issues enough times into your readers, they will all get it sooner or later. I agree.
For another—the more important another— I am writing a three-part (maybe four) fiction book myself, and am well through the second part. Sometime before I started on Lisa Cron’s book I had stopped work on the second part and gone back to the first part to add some meat to it and polish it up because I have a near definite deadline in mind for publication.
As I progressed through Lisa Cron’s book, I kept going back and forth through my first part making changes inspired by the book.
Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel played a big role in my tightening up the story flow of my own book and I hope I have made it riveting. If I have—and time will tell—I will owe much to Lisa’s Cron’s guidance.
And what was that guidance? I will summarize what I got from Lisa Cron; my readers will have to get the meat from actually reading her book.
I would say Lisa Cron teaches readers (authors) to use what she calls brain science to keep their books gripping and believable.
This is done by having a believable protagonist with a believable back story undergo an experience that is almost surely nasty and very surely earth shaking and raises serious doubts in the protagonist’s mind about the validity of his or her worldview. The turmoil and its aftereffects force the protagonist to adapt and that influences how the rest of the story flows. In a believable way, of course.
This is not anything new. It is something so many writing gurus harp upon. The difference here is Cron uses, with considerable success, a case study writer, her case study story and its case study protagonist and her experiences and reactions as examples to get her readers actually “involved” in the protagonist’s thought processes and decisions and the story twists those decisions bring about.
That is where the brain science comes in.
You can and should get a more detailed picture by actually reading the book.
We all have stories to tell. You all may go on to write a lot of novels, some pretty good, some pretty bad and some bestsellers. Read a lot of books. There are some you'll like a lot, and you'll find that some books you may not find interesting, no matter what the reviews say about them. Go out, travel a lot, meet a lot of people. It's where you'll get the ideas for your next book. Sometimes when you're alone, you'll ponder on those and one that you'll feel compelled to write about. Don't pressure yourself to churn out a bestseller. There is no formula that would guarantee you one. And this book certainly isn't one that can help you be a better writer.
I'm only through the first 60 pages of this book, had to have a lot of patience to go through them, and I don't intend to read it any further.
I have seen these theories in a couple of other writers' how-to books, so the concepts are not entirely new to me, but the way Cron shows how it works is different. She does so in conjunction with a fellow author who has kindly let us in from the very beginning of a novel she is planning (and has presumably now finished), using all the principles Cron espouses. Be warned, it is a long, involved process. No magic wands here.
I have seen criticism of this book on Amazon.com where a reviewer disparagingly refers to the method as only applicable to authors trying to write best-sellers. Hands up all those authors who want to write books that don't sell and that nobody reads! Hmmm - do I see any hands? Nope.