STORY GENIUS: howto use brain science to go beyond outlining and write a riveting novel* [*beforeyou waste three years writing 327 pages that go nowhere] by Lisa Cron is a gem of a craft book. I think it’s the first book I’ve read where I’ve been privy to the actual process because Lisa Cron gets her friend Jennie Nash to work on her new novel. That itself was fascinating to see. The Story Genius is built on the foundation that what we write is the second half of the story, that everything the characters do is based upon who they are (this seems obvious but so often goes missing) and their motivations. The thing that has hit pay-dirt for me is the notion of the “misbelief.”
Cron says, “all protagonists stand on the threshold of the novel they’re about to be flung into with two things about to burn a hole their pockets:
1. A deep-seated desire – something they’ve wanted for a very long time.
2. A defining misbelief that stands in the way of achieving that desire. This is where the fear that’s holding them back comes from.Taken together, these two warring elements will become your novel’s third rail, the live wire that everything that happens must touch, creating the emotional jolt that forces your protagonist to struggle as he tries to figure out what to do.”
The SG method is organic. This is sort of how I write a big book. I usually write an outline AFTER I write a first draft. And this is where SG comes in handy as well. The scene cards that Lisa Cron has developed make sure that your plot will follow a logical progression of events. Not predictable. Logical.
I could make a template to show you her scene card but it’s best if you get yourself a copy of this book. I highly recommend it both for developing your story and for revising it.
Some criticisms. I wish Lisa Cron wouldn’t call this brain science because it isn’t. Just because you can measure some dopamine does not make this science. This is art folks. And I wish artists would own up to it. Also, she spend the first part of the book dismissing other methods like writing by the seat of your pants or outlining. The craft books I have sitting on my shelf all have something that resonates. The Story Genius method is about getting to know your characters first and a lot of that happens by the seat of your pants and the structure comes from outlining. Normally, I'll dock off a star for something like this but I make an exception here because the merits of the book far outweigh these quibbles. I’ve already marked my copy extensively and will use not just to revise but to write new books. Thanks Lisa for writing a wonderful craft book and to Jennie for sharing her work-in-progress. And thanks to Blogging for Books for sending me a review copy. I've cross-posted this review on Amazon.
There are mysterious aspects to storytelling that, despite having written more than a few, I'm still mystified as I do it again. I find how-to books that attempt to explain and organize the process to be helpful, but never complete.
I have to confess, other than articles online, I haven't read a "how-to" book on writing for a long time. I do like the quote - she puts it so succinctly.
Funny, your honesty with the parts you did not like convinced me that the rest must be amazing. 😊 I'll add this to my Christmas wish list for Mark!
Mirka, I have a good collection of craft books already and didn't think I needed yet another one, but SG is a goldmine. And to actually see a novel in progress is fascinating. I get to see this in my critters' works of course, but compressed like this is educational.
Jan, there is certainly a wealth of information online, but books are my friends. I return to them again and again. It's funny, I got my first "how-to" even before I decided to become a writer. It was Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I was at Purdue at the time and this book jumped out at me.
Faith, even the parts I didn't like had some wisdom. I tend to react negatively when people say this isn't the right way or that isn't because most of us have to learn by writing what works for us and I see the value of both plotting and writing freely. I do think you will gain much from this book. My copy is already heavily marked up.
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