Today I'm discussing the writing craft book 'Wired for Story' by Lisa Cron.
According to the cover, 'Wired for Story,' is the writer's guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence.
Lisa Cron is a story coach and author. She has worked as an agent, as a producer, and as a story consultant. She has been an instructor at UCLA since 2006, and she is also on the faculty for the school of visual arts MFA program in New York City.
So, I'd say she has the credentials, which is always vital for me when I go into a writing craft book.
A sign of a good writing craft book for me is finding those nuggets of information, which are concise enough, yet inspiring for me to fit on a sticky note on my computer. I always find when I'm able to locate these golden nuggets of information, that they just strike something within me, I'm able to quickly look at the information and apply it to my own writing.
In 'Wired for Story' I found several of these when it came to PRE-WRITING.
When I'm brainstorming a new project, there are times I get very overwhelmed with the process as a whole. Now, the idea is the first thing, and I have published a lot of books and I know the entire process from start to finish: outlining, drafting, revising, revising again, marketing, publishing, etc. So sometimes I can feel all of that pressure at once.
I love being able to channel my bigger thoughts into smaller, more manageable tasks.
For instance, writing a premise line. In 'Wired for Story', Lisa Cron really boiled down how a writer can establish the most important elements to ground you in the story for the rest of the process.
In the book she writes,
'A story is how what happens, affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal and how he or she changes as a result.
“What happens” is the plot.
“Someone” is the protagonist.
The “goal” is what's known as the story question and how “he or she changes” is what the story itself is actually about.'
I've published thirteen books so far under my name, so this information wasn't really earth shattering for me. But the overwhelming process for writing a book and publishing it, I liked having this very succinct information as sort of a reminder for myself at that beginning process and what I really want to look for when I have an idea that I want to write next.
I do plot out my books, so I really connected with this particular passage in the book about outlining. 'When 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). Action, reaction, decision, is what drives the story forward.'
It's one of those quick reminders when I'm writing my outline to keep the story moving to where it needs to be. For me, during this brainstorming process, I want to get the entire story out. So, when I draft, I don't have too much to think about when I want to get all of the story down.
My second takeaway was with SCENE WORK. I had a lot of notes on this one because I'm always trying to improve my craft.
Now the next quote relates to the previous one that I mentioned about outlining. To progress the story there are certain steps to follow to make sure you keep that cause and effect going. Lisa wrote,
'Every scene must in some way, be caused by a decision made in the scene that proceeded it.
Move the story forward via the character's reaction to what is happening.
Make the scene that follows it inevitable.
Provide insight into the characters that enables us to grasp the motive behind their actions.'
In the book, she also gives questions on how to gauge whether a particular scene has that great cause and effect. As someone who is so deeply invested in my stories, which is the reason that I love my critique partners, my beta readers, and my editor, sometimes I'll jump to conclusions during my early drafts, before the narrative calls for it. This is a nice reminder to do in the outlining and drafting stages to keep the story really tight into the character's perspective and keeping the reader stringing along behind the character.
My biggest takeaway with 'Wired for Story' was CHARACTER BIOGRAPHIES (BIOS). Now I have no idea why, but I've always wanted to be the writer who is able to have these massive character biographies. Yet every spreadsheet and form that I have found has never worked for me. I'm the type of person that when you give me a form to fill out, oh I'll fill it out in excruciating detail. In trying these different sheets, I quickly learned that this tended to be a procrastination technique for me instead. After a while (I'm talking about the time before I was published) I started to think it was a little ridiculous to see sheets with questions like: What's your character's favorite color? What did they want to be when they grow up when they were five? All sorts of random details.
I never really understood how those worked for authors because they certainly did not work for me. And eventually I just gave up on the idea that I've ever find a character sheet that worked.
Usually during my outlining process, I have some idea about my characters, but I'm the type of writer who will discover these character traits while writing through situations where the character has to interact with others. For most of my books, I start off with a basic physical description of the character, so I can visualize them enough in my head to carry on with these conversations and instances in my books.
Like the other nuggets of information I found in this book, when Lisa Cron talked about character bios, it was a light bulb moment for me. She said that as a writer, you should really just focus on the relevant information for the story to put in a character biography. And through the theme of brain science, she encourages you to dive into the characters psyche and do these character biographies for all of the major characters, so that you're able to show how they interact with each other based on their beliefs at different parts of the story, even if that information never appears in the narrative.
I'm NOT saying if you are the type of person who loves character biographies and character sheets and forms that that doesn't work. Just because they don't help me does not mean they can't help someone else, but this idea that it was okay not to do those types of specific sheets was a relief for me. That's the thing about the writing process. It's different between every single writer you will ever know, which I think is pretty cool.
Also, for some reason I really needed to feel acknowledged to the fact that I did not need to fill out these forms myself and that my process isn't wrong, and neither is yours.
Moving forward with my own books, I'm interested in incorporating this into my process. I have already done it with my current project. I have been taking notes for myself as I'm writing and putting them into these character biographies. Lisa Cron does mention that they don't always have to be pretty. They can be as messy as you want them.
While 'Wired for Story' had a lot of these fun nuggets of information that really spoke to me. I'm actually glad that I was able to get the audiobook of this craft book and also listen to it at a higher speed. I tend to listen to audio books at higher speed anyway, but for this one, it really helped. The only con for me was that some of the examples were extremely dense and sometimes repetitive throughout the book. I have also read enough craft books in my writer life that I know what I'm looking for when I read a one. The denser the example sometimes doesn't necessarily work for me. Most of the time, I would prefer to have a smaller book getting right to the point versus a longer book with drawn-out examples.
That con aside, I think this book is worth it to read at the very least one time. I think as I said, all writers are different. You may find different information from this, but I took a ton of notes from this book. As I said, those little golden nuggets of information. There were a lot of them sprinkled in there, but you just really had to look for them.
This book is unique in that fact that because it deals with brain science in addition to writing. There’s a lot of information that many different writers can get out of it.
Comment below and let me know if you’ve read ‘Wired for Story’ and/or your biggest takeaway from this post.
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Author. Dreamer. Storyteller.