Lisa Cron

Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence

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    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Cognitive psychology professor and novelist Keith Oatley puts it this way: “In literature we feel the pain of the downtrodden, the anguish of defeat, or the joy of victory, but in a safe space.… We can refine our human capacities of emotional understanding. We can hone our ability to feel with other people who, in ordinary life, might seem too foreign—or too threatening—to elicit our sympathies. Perhaps, then, when we return to our real lives, we can better understand why people act the way they do.”9 Or put more simply, as the aggravated newsreel producer barked at the beginning of Citizen Kane, “Nothing is ever better than finding out what makes people tick.” Because with that comes the predictive power of knowing when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, and when to run for cover.
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Remember, it is the job of a story to dig beneath the surface and decipher life, not just to present it. Stories illuminate the meaning the protagonist reads into events that, in real life, would not be so easy to understand. Julian Barnes sums it up nicely: “Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t.”8
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    from the text and integrated with personal knowledge from past experiences. These data are then run through mental simulations using brain regions that closely mirror those involved when people perform, imagine, or observe similar real-world activities.”5
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    lead author of the study Nicole Speer points out, the “findings demonstrate that reading is by no means a passive exercise. Rather, readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative. Details about actions and sensation are captured
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Here’s what Jeffrey M. Zacks, coauthor of the study, has to say about the physical effect a story has on us: “Psychologists and neuroscientists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that when we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story.”
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Make us feel, and believe me, we’ll know who’s right and who’s probably not. Tell us what to feel, on the other hand, and what we’ll feel is bullied.
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    The most common mistake writers make is using body language to tell us something we already know. If we know Ann is sad, why would we need a paragraph describing what she looks like when she’s crying? Rather, body language should tell us something we don’t know. At its most effective, it tells us what’s really going on inside the character’s head. This is why body language works best when it’s at odds with what’s happening—either by telling us something that the character doesn’t want known
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Lest the significance of this be lost, bear in mind that our brain evolved with just that goal—to see into the minds of others in order to intuit their motives, thoughts, and thus, true colors.6
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    This is what gives narrative story its unique power. What sets prose apart from plays, movies, and life itself is that it provides direct access to the most alluring and otherwise inaccessible realm imaginable: someone else’s mind
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Gone with the Wind is about a headstrong southern belle whose unflinching gumption causes her to spurn the only man who is her equal, as she ruthlessly bucks crumbling social norms in order to survive during the Civil War by keeping the one thing she mistakenly believes matters most: her family estate, Tara.
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    But what about the other themes that run through the novel—for instance, the nature of love, the constraints of class structure, and of course, nineteenth century society’s tightly corseted gender roles? Couldn’t any one of them be the central theme? Good question. Here’s the litmus test: the central theme must provide a point of view precise enough to give us specific insight into the protagonist and her internal issue, yet be broad enough to take into account everything that happens
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Evelyn Waugh says, “All literature implies moral standards and criticisms, the less explicit the better.”12
    Besides, did you ever
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    She was glad she had never left Henry. She’d never had a friend as loyal, as kind, as her husband.
    And yet, standing behind her son, waiting for the traffic light to change, she remembered how in the midst of it all there had been times when she’d felt a loneliness so deep that once, not so many years ago, having a cavity filled, the dentist’s gentle turning of her chin with his soft fingers had felt to her like a tender kindness of almost excruciating depth, and she had swallowed with a groan of longing, tears springing to her eyes.11
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    MYTH: The Plot Is What the Story Is About
    REALITY: A Story Is About How the Plot Affects the Protagonist
    While thus far it’s been implied, it
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    What is it I want my readers to walk away thinking about? What point does my story make? How do I want to change the way my reader sees the world?
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman say in their book The Elements of Persuasion, “For those of us whose business depends on being able to persuade others—which is all of us in business—the key to survival is being able to cut through all the clutter and make the sale. The good news is that the secret of selling is what it has always been—a good story.”8
    Knowing your story’s point is what
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    give a story focus, telling readers what it’s about and allowing them to interpret the events as they unfold and thus anticipate where it’s heading. This is crucial because “minds exist to predict what will happen next
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    , what is this thing called focus? It’s the synthesis of three elements that work in unison to create a story: the protagonist’s issue, the theme, and the plot
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    Here are just a few telltale signs that a story is going off the rails:
    • We have no idea who the protagonist is, so we have no way to gauge the relevance or meaning of anything that happens.
    • We know who the protagonist is, but she doesn’t seem to have a goal, so we don’t know what the point is or where the story is going.
    • We know what the protagonist’s goal is, but have no clue what inner
    loevelifehas quoted4 years ago
    MYTH: Beautiful Writing Trumps All
    REALITY: Storytelling Trumps Beautiful Writing, Every Time
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