Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel-Goodreads Review

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)

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel

Author: Lisa Cron

NonFiction: Learn how to build fictional characters and tell their stories in a way that will captivate readers.
Tone: Conversational and interactive. Follow along as one author builds her story by implementing the techniques presented in each chapter.
Take Away: Ask why and then ask why again, and again, and again!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why do we binge-watch or read late into the night? According to Lisa Cron, our brains are addicted to story. She explains, “Story evolved as a way to envision the future and thus plan for the unexpected— lest those alternate scenarios catch us completely unaware. That’s why we’ll always need stories— because the unexpected keeps being so darn unexpected— and it’s why we’ll always need writers to explore those What-If scenarios for us.”

I saw a similar explanation in this blog post by Kristen Lamb. “Audiences love rooting for their favorite character to overcome his weaknesses and come out the other side better and stronger than when the adventure began.”

However, telling a story isn’t as easy as reading one. Lisa writes, “The maddening catch for writers is that although responding to a story is something we can do from birth without thinking, the ability to write a story capable of hijacking the reader’s brain is not part of the package. Although many of us are ace social storytellers— think gossip, anecdotes, and a riveting rendition of what happened on that date from hell— when it comes to creating a whole fictionalized world from scratch? That’s a different skill altogether, and not standard- issue equipment in the human brain.”

So how do we learn to tell a story? In a recent post, Jami Gold wrote, “The trick in juggling differences between story goals and our protagonist’s character goals is to come up with plot obstacles and events that push the character closer toward the story goal. Trigger the characters to get on board with coming up with a solution, such as creating an obstacle to force the character out of their status quo.” Although I’ve consistently studied excellent teachers like Kristen Lamb and Jami Gold (among others), I’ve still found my own writing lacking…something. As I continue my struggle to improve, I found Lisa’s book helpful. For instance she writes, “Trying to write a novel based on an external story structure model often leads to genuine heartbreak for writers. They follow the instructions religiously, and sure enough, the surface shape of their novel matches the prescribed structure, beat for beat. And yet, it’s not nearly as engaging as all those novels, movies, and myths that the “story structure model” was based on.”

Lisa Cron’s advice resonated with me. As I read this book, I highlighted sections, took written notes, and compiled the steps into a personalized worksheet. I began to understand why previous methods hadn’t worked for me. I’m excited to try her suggestions. She breaks down how to develop ideas, flesh out interesting characters, and build a novel layer by layer. Her suggestions inspire a patient and exploratory approach. “A cursory glance at your Idea List will no doubt reveal many plot points that made total sense when stated as a simple, declarative sentence, but that once you ask yourself, Um, so how exactly would that actually work? become uncomfortably vague. It will feel a little intimidating, not because there’s something wrong with you and if you were a real writer you’d automatically be filling in these blanks without breaking a sweat, but because the process itself is intimidating, for experienced and fledgling writers in equal measure. Facing that fear is part of what makes you a pro. Not to mention, flat-out brave.”

If you are a writer struggling to improve, I recommend you read this book. Have you read this title? What did you think?

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