Story genius, by Lisa Cron

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) Book Cover 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)
Lisa Cron
Non-fiction, writing
Ten speed press
August 9 2016

Following on the heels of Lisa Cron's breakout first book, Wired for Story, this writing guide reveals how to use cognitive storytelling strategies to build a scene-by-scene blueprint for a riveting story.

It’s every novelist’s greatest fear: pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into writing hundreds of pages only to realize that their story has no sense of urgency, no internal logic, and so is a page one rewrite. 

The prevailing wisdom in the writing community is that there are just two ways around this problem: pantsing (winging it) and plotting (focusing on the external plot). Story coach Lisa Cron has spent her career discovering why these these methods don’t work and coming up with a powerful alternative, based on the science behind what our brains are wired to crave in every story we read (and it’s not what you think). 

In Story Genius Cron takes you, step-by-step, through the creation of a novel from the first glimmer of an idea, to a complete multilayered blueprint—including fully realized scenes—that evolves into a first draft with the authority, richness, and command of a riveting sixth or seventh draft.

So the full title for this book is long:  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)

Phew, right? Some of the writing advice books I've read could have their whole content summarized in a shorter sentence than that. Which is symptomatic of the genre, really - there's a lot of writing craft books out there that are more like discussions over one particular facet of how to craft a novel.  They tend to have pagecounts that are a widdle bit larger than they really needed to be to communicate the One True Thing the book wants to teach you.  This is also true of Story genius.  

I haven't read Lisa Cron's older book, Wired for story, so I don't know how the two compare.  Also, I am the kind of person who  reads books about writing craft, even though any actual writing tends to just... not happen.  Yeah.  Sometimes that's exactly why I read craft books, though;  Their advice and exercises are inspiring all by themselves.  Again, this is true of Story Genius. It's packed with exercises following longer texts about how and why a thing works. 

Rather than focus on plot, this book wants you to think about the plot as a consequence of your character(s), and how your characters need to have their papers in order, so to speak.  There's only so much story that can come welling out of a character who was essentially born on the first page.  Unless we're talking about a baby, but very new babies are also pretty bad at being hip-and-happening story protagonists, so that's... that. 

If you're looking for ideas, techniques, patterns or clues regarding how to build a useful and functional character, this is a good choice.  It does offer something different from the myriad "Get to know your character"-questionnaires out there.  Cron's writing is clear and instructional, and the examples are solidly detailed.

If you're looking for something more focused on plot structures or themes or world-building or anything other than characters and character-driven action,  you'll be better off with something else. 

Waiting on: The village effect

Susan Pinker’s The village effect: Why face-to-face contact matters is published on September 4th, and I found out about it through one of Steven Pinker’s tweets.

I’m interested because I eyeroll so hard when anyone harps on about how looking at gadgets and screens is ruining everything, eeeverythiing.   I’m pretty sure the book deals with the topic on a different level than the tabloid write-ups about “parent checks facebook, misses offspring’s first public embarrassment” et cetera, though.  I really would like to know some stuff about… this… stuff.  (If there is a self-checkout line at the store I will always choose it, and if something can be done through a form instead of a phone call, that’s what I’ll do – but this doesn’t mean the topic of face-to-face interaction isn’t interesting.)

Sixty years ago the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote ‘hell is other people’. Now, new evidence shows us that he was utterly wrong. Beginning from the first moments of life and at every age and stage, close contact with other people – and especially with women – affects how we think, whom we trust, and where we invest our money. Our social ties powerfully influence our sense of life satisfaction, our cognitive skills, and how resistant we are to infections and chronic disease. While information about diet, exercise, and new classes of drugs were the life-changing breakthroughs of the past decades, the new evidence is that social bonds – the people we know and care about-are just as critical to our survival.

The Village Effect tells the story of the ways face-to-face human contact changes our minds, literally. Drawing on the latest discoveries in social cognition, social networks and neuroscience, salted with profiles of real people and their relationships, Susan Pinker explains why we are driven to trust other people and form lifelong bonds, and why we ignore these connections at our peril.