Science Of Storytelling Hardcover
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"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
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The appeal of this topic will vary according to who’s asking, but for writers there’s certainly a desire to unravel the mystery of story. Every story builder would like to venture into new and uncharted territory, but there seem to be key criteria around which stories live or die. The most glaring illumination of this can be seen when filmmakers spend tens or hundreds of millions on films that utterly flop, and when they spend that much money and flop it’s not because the CGI was hinky. It’s inevitably because the story lacked appeal. At its worst, this has led to strategies such only rebooting films that have worked in the past, and at it’s best it results in following one of the many fixed patterns (e.g. Joseph Campbell’s “the hero’s journey.”) Understanding the science of story offers the hope of being able give one’s audience what they need to find a story fulfilling without following a beat-by-beat sequencing from a manual -- in the manner of a pre-flight checklist.
The book is divided into four chapters that are designed to look at story through its various levels, and within each chapter there are many subsections. The chapters are: 1.) creating a world; 2.) the flawed self; 3.) the dramatic question; and 4.) plots, endings, and meaning. Chapter 1 isn’t just advice about how to build the story environment, but rather it looks at how our brains take in and model the world as written so that one can use that knowledge to more smartly approach presenting a world. As one might guess, chapter two is a crucial one because it introduces the study of characters and their flaws, and why said flaws are critical to the appeal of a story. The author also addressed differences between Eastern and Western approaches to story and I found the discussion of culture to be an intriguing inclusion. Chapter three continues the work of the second by focusing on how the interaction of subconscious and conscious minds contribute to a protagonist’s problems. In keeping with the coverage of culture, there’s a section that looks at stories as tribal propaganda that was quite insightful. The final chapter examines how plots and good endings arise as a logical result from setting up the character.
There’s an appendix that lays out Storr’s “Sacred Flaw Approach.” This is the approach that he teaches in his writing course. The book is also annotated, though it is text-centric and doesn’t employ much in the way of graphics.
I found this book fascinating. It does rehash some of the same examples as other books on story (e.g. “The Godfather” movie,) that’s simply because those stories are widely known and thus have broad usefulness. But there were plenty of insights to keep me intrigued, even having read other books on the topic. If you’re interested in the science of storytelling, this book is worth giving a look.
He also referred to psychology when talking about building personalities and flawed characters. He occasionally referred to scientific studies that show things like how our brains like cause and effect and prefer sentences that allow us to "see" the story unfold like a movie. He admitted these principles are already found in common story writing advice like "show don't tell" and "use active rather than passive sentences."
I didn't find his musings very useful. In fact, I didn't agree with some of his conclusions--like you should build suspense by including a lot of detail to draw out a scene. I suppose it depends on what sort of suspense you're trying to create, but this is bad advice for a fast-paced thriller or suspense genre novel.
I received an ebook review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Instead Storr delivers much more. Drawing from a much wider range of psychology than I expected, including Personality, neurology and perception and how this impacts different elements of storytelling. So rather than a sort of interest piece of why people like stories anyone who reads this gets a fairly thorough bundle of both a 'how-to' book on writing and a thesis of the science of storytelling.
The tome ends with a plotting model for writers called the Sacred Flaw approach, which is probably the most well explained character development tool I've worked with - and doesn't preclude using any of the other useful plotting tools out there.
Top reviews from other countries
I suppose this book is useful if you want to write popular fiction but haven't a clue where to start. It's a bit like painting by numbers. When I taught Creative Writing I concentrated on the technical aspects, like point of view, use of adjectives, metaphor and simile etc. I didn't feel the need to spell out basics like 'all stories start with conflict'. You can't teach writing: you can only teach writers to become better writers. And in view of the deluge of dreadful dross that gets published these days I doubt that people should be encouraged to write at all. So I don't teach any more.
If you feel you need this book I suggest you become a reader for a couple of decades. There's no better way to learn about plot and character. But people want shortcuts, and a lot of money is made in the Creative Writing industry.
Ask yourself who taught Shakespeare to write? Jane Austen? Emily Bronte? Thomas Hardy? And how many graduates of writing courses will still be read or remembered in ten years?
Though writers and would-be writers are clearly a major audience for this book, it's appeal is wider than that. Somewhat profoundly, it throws a new light on the story of our own lives. To realise that we're passing through life in a subjective bubble of our own creation - with objective reality an illusion - is sobering and enlightening in equal measure. We're essentially characters in our own story, but with only a vague (and often inaccurate) grasp of where and why we're heading in the direction we are. What's your sacred flaw?
I often find non-fiction (particularly around the subject of writing) quite boring. I also find myself thinking 'why am I reading this when I could be writing?!' But I've really enjoyed reading this, checking in on it every day and then taking some time to register what I've learned (lots of it is so fascinating, I don't want to whizz through it.) I guess it makes sense that someone who has studied storytelling to such a degree would know how to grip my attention! Oh also I really like that it looks into what makes a brilliant story but doesn't implore you to follow a particular formula down to a precise degree (such as in Save The Cat) as, while useful, I do find books like that to be stifling.
I really think that this book is going to make me a better writer in my fiction books as well as a better writer and editor in my job as a journalist.