An Excellent Primer for Developing a Story

★ : Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Paperback) by Lisa Cron, reviewed by  C. J. Singh on amazon.com, copy posted January 1, 2014 (2 of 2 people found the review helpful) – See all my reviews
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Wired for Story presents the fundamental elements for developing a story, mirroring the topics in many other books catering to the creative-writing industry. However, this book does have a unique, distinguishing feature: Throughout its text, the author includes excerpts from the published works of leading contemporary brain-scientists that validate the principles of narrative craft. The principles of narrative craft are explained in eleven well-organized chapters that focus on theme, the protagonist’s issue, characters’ bios, points of view, rising conflicts, subplots, suspense, reveals, and the arc from setup to payoff. At the beginning of each chapter, Lisa Cron presents sentences in italics that illuminate the cognitive-science underpinnings of narrative craft. Examples follow.
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“Cognitive Secret: When the brain focuses its full attention on something, it filters out all unnecessary information.
Story Secret: To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must be there on a need-to-know basis” (page 23).
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“Cognitive Secret: Everything we do is goal directed and our biggest goal is figuring out everyone else’s agenda, the better to figure out our own.
Story Secret: A protagonist without a clear goal has nothing to figure out and nowhere to go” (p 65)
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“Cognitive Secret: It takes long-term, conscious effort to hone a skill before the brain assigns it to the cognitive unconscious.
“Story Secret: There’s no writing; there’s only rewriting” (p 219).Also remarkable are sentences in bold that challenge advice offered in some writing-craft workshops and books. Examples follow.”Myth: Write What You Know.
“Reality: Write What You Know EMOTIONALLY” (p 62).”Myth: Sensory Details Bring a Story to Life.”
“Reality: Unless They Convey Necessary Information, Sensory Details Clog a Story’s Arteries” (p 118).

“Myth: `Show, Don’t Tell’ Is Literal – Don’t Tell Me John Is Sad, Show Him Crying.
“Reality: `Show, Don’t Tell Is Figurative – Don’t Tell Me John Is Sad, Show Me WHY He’s Sad” (p 152).

Has the author introduced a Myth of her own? I am afraid so. On page 67, “No matter whose point of view you’re writing in, you may be in only one head per scene.” In my opinion, Reality is: No matter whose point of view you’re writing in, you may be in only one head per PARAGRAPH. This is the new reality — virtually all fiction-readers’ perception has been reshaped by watching films and TV dramas.

At the end of each chapter, Cron presents a concise series of checkpoints to remind the writer while the develop their work-in-progress. Throughout, she includes many examples from literary works and films. Literary works like Gabriel Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind,” and Caroline Leavitt’s “Girls in Trouble.” Films like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Vertigo,” and “American Graffiti.”

WIRED FOR STORY fully earns its title with its numerous citations of recent contributions of neuroscience that validate narrative craft. A cynical review might criticize such citations as mere padding. I find citations from the works of eminent brain-scientists as enhancing the nexus between art and science. Examples of cited works included are: Michael Gazzaniga’s “Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique,” V. S. Ramachandran’s “The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human,” and Steven Pinker’s “How the Mind Works.”

An inspiring citation for writers: ” `Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story…. It turns that a powerful story can have a hand in rewiring the reader’s brain — helping empathy, for instance – `which is why writers are, and always have been , among the most powerful people in the world’. ” (On p 239 of Endnotes is the specific citation of three scientists’ 2009 article “On Being Moved by Art: How Reading Fiction Transforms the Self” in the Creativity Research Journal vol. 21, no.1 )

A five-star primer.

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