Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lisa Cron's "Story Genius" urges aspiring authors to get to know their protagonists

These days a lot of books like to tout brain science in order to seem wiser and more cutting-edge. I found the subheading of Lisa Cron's Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, to have that same draw. The literary agent and now story workshop teacher proposes that humans are sucked into story because we feel that learning how other people like us face their challenges might help us navigate our own. She also throws in a few random statistics about the percentage of would-be authors who receive rejection letters and book sales averages in an attempt to show that the failures are due to stories that lack the blueprints she outlines in the book. I found this introductory part of the book that debunks the supposed myths of prevailing writing camps (the plotters and the pantsers) to be what many introductions are: a sales pitch for her methods and perhaps for her workshops. 

While the book doesn't quite live up to its "sciency" promise, I have been finding it very helpful in its clear course of action and encouragement as I attempt to flesh out a story idea that's been running around my brain for a while.

The fun part about this book is that Cron's friend and fellow writer, Jennie, plays the role of the guinea pig, offering up her own flicker of a story idea and developing it according to Cron's steps so that it gradually unfolds over the course of Story Genius. Following Cron's steps, Jennie fashions a storyline that follows a topic I find utterly insipid (a woman adopts a dog so her dog-loving friends will think she's normal as she deals with the fall-out of a romantic relationship gone awry) into something that tugged my heart strings and even caused me to shed tears. 

In short, Cron asks the right questions, such as who is the protagonist at her core, what event made her that way, what myth is at the core of her worldview, and what event will totally upend her current way of thinking? By skillfully answering these questions, Jennie made me actually care about her budding dog-lover. 

I can see how some writers might find Cron's methods limiting... there are indeed great stories out there that don't quite fit her protagonist-centric mold or perhaps leave the ultimate meaning of the book ambiguous so that diverse readers can find their own message. 

But as a complete novice to novel writing, I'm pretty excited to follow Cron's detailed advice, if nothing else, as a way to keep myself motivated in the face of so many distractions and procrastinations!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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