BOOK REVIEW: “Wired For Story” by: Lisa Cron



Two things that fascinate me are storytelling and how the brain works. Normally these are separate areas of study but in the book, “Wired for Story” the author Lisa Cron explores them both simultaneously. On a neurological level storytelling provides stimulus that allow our subconscious mind to create tools to help guide us through our lives. Below are a few excerpts from the book. If you are a playwright, novel writer or screenwriter this is a must read.

The biggest thing that this book does a good job of, is reminding us of the easily forgotten truth that it’s our job as the writer to keep the audience asking what’s going to happen next. In the first chapter, “How to hook the reader” the author says, “From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.” This is such a simple truth but one that I know I can forget especially when I’m trying to remember all of the other story telling elements. This idea is the foundation of good storytelling and is a truth that all writers need to be reminded of.

Here are the rest of the ideas I really enjoyed from this book:

“Is there conflict and what’s happening? Will the conflict have a direct impact on the hotel you miss quest, even though your reader might not know what that quest is?

“Is there a sense that all is not as it seems? This is especially important if the protagonist isn’t introduced in the first few pages, in which case it pays to ask: Is there a growing sense of focused foreboding that’ll keep the reader hooked until the protagonist appears in the not-too-distant future?”

“It’s the synthesis of three elements that work in unison to create a story: the protagonist’s issue, the theme, and the plot.”

“Because as crucial as the theme is, it’s never stated outright; it’s always implied.”

“…They had mistaken the story for what happens in it. But as we’ve learned, the real story is how what happens affects the protagonist, and what she does as a result.”

“That’s why in every scene you write, the protagonist must react in a way the reader can see and understand in the moment. This reaction must be specific, personal, and have an effect on whether the protagonist achieves her goal. What it can’t be is dispassionate objective commentary.”

“That’s what readers come for. Their unspoken hardwired question is, If something like this happened to me, what would it feel like? How should I best react?”

“Your job is not to judge your characters, no matter how despicable or wonderful they may be. Your job is to lay out what happens, as clearly and dispassionately as possible, show how it affects the protagonist, and then get the hell out of the way. The irony is, the less you tell us how to feel, the more likely will feel exactly what you want us to.”

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”

“In fact, Steven Pinker defines intelligent life as “using knowledge of how things work to attain goals in the face of obstacles.” Almost sounds like the definition of story, doesn’t it?”

“… without a goal, everything is meaningless.”

“Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are worth things are explained to you; Life is where things aren’t.” – Julian Barnes

Quote from Citizen Kane: “Nothing is ever better than finding out what makes people tick.”

“No one ever does anything for no reason, whether or not they’re aware of the reason. Nothing happens in a vacuum, or “just because”–especially in a story. The whole point of the story is to explore this ”why”…”

“Why, then, do writers so often leap in without knowing what, exactly, the protagonist’s problem actually is? Often it’s because they’re hoping it’ll become clear if they just start writing. But if you don’t know what’s broke, how can you write a story about fixing it?”

“That’s why, when writing your protagonists’s bio, the goal is to pinpoint two things: the event in his past that knocked his worldview out of alignment, triggering the internal issue that keeps him from achieving his goal; and the inception of his desire for the goal itself.”

“… story is about something that is changing.”

“Character is action.”

“Our actions tend to reflect our automatic intuitive thinking or beliefs.”

“Do you know why your story begins when it does?”

“Have you made your characters reveal their deepest, darkest secrets to you?”

“…the only real constant is change, and change is driven by conflict.”

“Talk about conflict! And that brings us right back to story. Story’s job is to tackle exactly how we handle that conflict, which boils down to this: the battle between fear and desire.”

“This is crucial, since the protagonist is only as strong as the antagonist forces her to be.”

“If we don’t know there’s intrigue afoot, then there is no intrigue afoot.”

“Show me!”

“…there’s nothing readers love more than to be fooled, as long as, once the truth is revealed, everything still makes complete sense, both in the moment it happens and in hindsight after the “real truth” is revealed.”

“Have you made sure that the basis of future conflict is sprouting, beginning on page 1? Can we glimpse avenues that will lead to conflict? Can we anticipate the problems that the protagonist might not yet be aware of?”

“The good news is when it comes to keeping your story on track, it boils down to the mantra if, then, therefore. If I put my hand in the fire (action), then I’ll get burned (reaction). Therefore, I’d better not put my hand in the fire (decision).”

“The first law of thermodynamics: you can’t get something from nothing. Or as the equally brainy Albert Einstein reportedly quipped,”Nothing happens until something moves.”

“Does your story follow a cause-and-effect trajectory beginning on page 1, so that each scene is triggered by the one that proceeded it? It’s like setting up a line of dominoes, you tap the first one, and they all fall in perfect order as each scene puts the “decision” made in the prior scene to the test.”

“A story’s job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams, she doesn’t think she can pass.”

“We are social creatures, the need to belong is as basic to our survival as our need for food and oxygen.”

“No man is more unhappy than the one who is never in adversity; the greatest affliction of life is never to never be afflicted.”

“Information is currency. It has to be earned. No one gives it away for free, and everything has a price. Your protagonist needs a compelling reason to admit anything. It either gains him something or keep something bad from happening. It’s never neutral.”

“Surprise ’em with what they expect.”

“It must be that those who aim at great deeds should also suffer greatly.”

Carl Jung said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

“Has everything that can go wrong indeed gone wrong?”

“Have you exposed your protagonists deepest secrets and most guarded flaws?”

“Does your protagonist earn everything she gets, and pay for everything she loses?”

“Does everything that you’re protagonist does to make this situation better actually make it worse?”

“Is the force opposition personified, present, and active?”

“Is there a clear series of events, a pattern, that begins with the set up and culminates in the payoff?”

“Do all your subplots affect the protagonist, either externally or internally, as he struggles with the story question?”

“Have you given your reader enough information to understand what’s happening, so that nothing a character does or says leaves are wondering whether she missed something?”

“When you leave into a subplot or flashback, can the readers sense why it was necessary at that very moment?”

This brings us to a very helpful set of questions to ask yourself as you begin writing or rewriting each scene:

–What is actually going on in the story’s “real world”– That is, objectively?

–What does it each character believe is going on?

–Where are there contradictions?

–Given what each character believes is true how would they act in the scene?

–Does what each character does in the scene makes sense, given what he or she believes is true?

“Finally, there is one more person whose shifting beliefs you want to chart: the reader.”

Feedback questions

– What do you think is going to happen next?

–Who do you think the important characters are?

– What do you think the characters want?

–what, if anything, leads out as a setup?

– What information did you think was really in porn?

– What information were you dying to know?

–what did you find confusing? (this is as close to a real critique as we’ll get.)

“Writers need impartial feedback, and one of a lot of places to get it is a writers’ group. The members of an effective writing group need to be astute and able to not only point out what isn’t working but also tell you why. The rub, of course, is that they also have to be right. The places where something isn’t working are not hard to spot. What’s hard is explaining exactly why it isn’t working. This often leads to misguided advice, which results in the writer either making the problem worse or simply substituting one thing that isn’t working for another.”

Everything that I have just cited are my personal notes. I’m documenting these more for myself than anyone but I believe that this book is a great read for anyone who is putting together a story. Good luck with your writing.

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