Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel

Story Coach Lisa Cron has updated her writing handbook, Wired for Story (Ten Speed Press, 2012) with this new edition that builds upon and expands her earlier book. Her premise is that the human brain craves story—it is as necessary as air and water. I, for one, agree.

She also posits that what we crave is not beautiful language, or skillfully executed techniques (those are bonuses) but the deeply held misbeliefs of characters and the chain of cause and effect linked by character motivation because of those misbeliefs. Not surprisingly, a great deal of background detection to uncover those misbeliefs must happen before the writer begins page one. I call this going backward to the beginning.

The writer is sent packinginto a character’s childhood because that is where most of the misbeliefs about ourselves are rooted. As the character matures this misbelief is reinforced as truth. That is, the misbelief, in some way, serves the character well and explains the workings of the world. Finally, a flawed, and very real, character can enter upon page one. From this point on, it is that character’s worldview that will influence the plot and will lead to the heart of the story—the shattering of that deeply-held worldview and replacement of it by another.

Story Genius is a hard taskmaster, but it’s a writer’s guide I know I’ll return to time and again. It should be on every writer’s bookshelf.

–Ann Arborite Shutta Crum is the author of over a dozen books for young readers, from babies to teens.

Featured in October 2017 newsletter