Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron
Humans are "wired for story,” but writers often miss the boat: "Writers often don't even know what a story is: So, even though they have a great idea, their prose is gorgeous, and there’s a lot of action, there’s no real story, and so no driving sense of urgency.”
Here's the essence of a story: “A story is about how the things that happen affect someone in pursuit of a difficult goal, and how that person changes internally as a result.” EVERY part of the book has to support the struggle of the protagonist. No matter how beautiful the prose, if it doesn't relate to the protagonist's struggle, the story falls flat.
STORY GENIUS is designed to help you, the novelist, figure out how to make your story work. Here’s the key: It’s all about the struggle of the protagonist--how she is "making sense of what’s happening, how she struggles with, evaluates, and weighs what matters most to her, and then makes hard decisions, moving the action forward.”
I believe Lisa Cron is dead-on right about the struggle of the protagonist in weaving a compelling story. I thought about a few authors that I really love. What makes Dean Koontz' "Odd Thomas" series great? Clearly, it's the struggles of Odd Thomas. We see the same thing in the famous "Kinsey Milhoune" series by Sue Grafton. These stories are a lot of fun because we identify with the struggle of Kinsey. Of course these two authors write well--but the books are good reads because of the compelling struggle of the protagonist.
STORY GENIUS is not just theory, however--there are lots of excellent, practical suggestions. Here's the most important recommendation in the entire book: Use a story “blueprint.” The blueprint is not the same as making an outline; rather, it's the plan for all the layers of your story. It's a "scene-by-scene progression of your external plot, as driven by the internal struggle each event triggers in your protagonist.” So, the blueprint explains how all the layers of the story come together.
Ms. Cron provides a template to use in creating your blueprint. She calls this a “Scene Card.” Use a separate card for each scene in your story. The most important information on the scene card is called the "Alpha Point," which defines how "the scene will play in your novel’s external cause-and effect trajectory.” The left side shows the cause; the right side shows the effect. Finally, the scene card also identifies any subplots in the scene.
The scene cards are like the pieces of a great symphony. The cards fit together to make your story work—just like a well-designed piece of music: “The layers of a novel are built exactly like the layers in recorded music. When you hear a finished song, everything melds into a single, transcendent experience.”
All in all, I found STORY GENIUS to be an outstanding guide to creating a powerful, believable story. I believe Lisa Cron knows exactly what she is talking about. I found the practical suggestions, especially the scene card idea, excellent. These tasks seems like a fair amount of work to me, but then again, no one ever said writing a novel is easy.
Advance Review Copy courtesy of NetGalley.