I spent years searching for answers to my writing questions. Years. Each new book on writing I opened filled me with hope. But I closed each book with more questions than answers.
While all of them offered good advice, most of it was metaphorical or philosophical in essence. I didn’t need to know the author’s thoughts on characters or whether or not you should have a writing space. I needed to know how to create characters and write their stories. I needed to know about world building and how it worked. And if I had what it took to be a writer.
The search dragged on and after I while I began to feel like that old knight in the poem, searching for El Dorado. My hope lessened as my sense of urgency grew.
Why weren’t these books helping? Did my lack of understanding mean that I couldn’t hack it as a writer? Was I wasting my time on a dream I’d never bring to fruition? Where were the answers? Was I even asking the right questions?
I turned to Google, hoping the internet could provide me with blog posts and articles that might offer a little insight. But every article that looked promising was only a teaser, some spammy bit of internet trickery sent to lure me in and spend money. Offers to get me published in a month for only $499. Or the chance to learn another blogger’s secrets in a 7 day course for only $299. Eye rolling turned into anger and then I abandoned my internet search all together.
But just when I started to think that El Dorado wasn’t real, I found it. Actually, I found two.
That’s right, 2 books on writing. With no further ado, let me introduce you to Wired for Story and Story Genius by Lisa Cron.
What They’re About
The science behind story telling and how to use that to your advantage as a writer. And not just in a vague anecdotal way. These books are filled with concrete and actionable advice.
“Story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result.”Wired for Story, page 11
Wired for Story
Gives you an overview of the science behind story telling. Each chapter covers a different aspect of story telling, shows you how to put that into action (with examples), and has a checklist at the end which comes in handy if you’re following along.
My copy is filled with page after page of highlights. But, for me, the real game changer appeared at page 62:
Wired for Story, Page 62
“‘Write what you know’ doesn’t refer as much to facts as to what you know emotionally, which translates to your knowledge of what makes people tick.”
Roll that over in your mind a few times. It changed everything for me and opened up new avenues I’d never considered exploring.
Basically this book was one “ah-ha” moment after another. Seriously, I can’t recommend it enough. Even writers who already have a process figured out can benefit from this book. And I’ve recommended it to friends and family that aren’t writers just because the science behind it is so interesting.
Takes everything we learned in Wired for Story and puts it into an actionable plan. Lisa Cron walks you through blue printing your story step by step.
She explains the differences between pantsing and plotting and why both methods come up short. But isn’t blueprinting the same as outlining? Kinda. But it’s so much more than that.
I see it as a way to develop your protagonist and your story at the same time. As you figure out your protag, you’ll also be figuring out what needs to happen in order to properly put him or her through their paces.
“The solution springs from what we’ve learned about story’s effect on the brain, and it starts, proceeds, and finishes with your protagonist’s inner struggle – your story’s third rail. Creating the inside story comes first, because without it you can’t create your plot.”Story Genius, page 22-23
Cron’s friend, Jennie Nash (she’s also a book coach and novelist), goes through the blueprinting process with one of her ideas so you can see firsthand how it works. Cron tells you what to do at the end of each chapter so you can blueprint your story along with Nash.
I found this to be both helpful and terrifying. Helpful because you get to see her process in action, terrifying because the idea I had fell flat. But it is a good way to try out an idea and see if it will even hold up and support an entire story before you get into writing it. I’ve used it on several ideas and found out they needed a little more work or wouldn’t work at all.
Each chapter of the book takes your further into the blueprinting process. By the time you’re done, you should have the bare bones of a novel. There’s even some sample worksheets in the last chapter you can use to write scenes.
Do I have to read both or read them in a certain order?
You don’t have to read Wired for Story before you pick up Story Genius. That being said, I would recommend reading both of them just because each one takes a slightly different view of the same information. But if I had to recommend one over the other, I’d say get Story Genius. It not only gives you the science behind story telling, it shows you how to put that information to good use and gives you an organic and intuitive method for developing your protag right alongside your story.
Why I Love Them
See above. Also, it just felt right when I was reading them. Like I said, most books on writing leave me with more questions than answers. But these books spoke to me on an intuitive level. They’re so logical and make so much sense. The entire time I was reading I felt like I already knew all of this deep, deep down and Cron was simply giving me access to that knowledge. Sounds kinda weird but I don’t know a better way to explain it.
Character development. Before I found these books, I realized I was spending way too much time focusing on setting and plot when what really matters are characters. But I couldn’t find any articles on character development or even how to come up with character ideas. Then I read Wired for Story and found all the answers I’d been looking for as well as answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask.
There’s so much information packed into these books that I could write several blog posts per chapter. I decided against that for many reasons, the main one being I don’t think I could do it justice. And the quotes, don’t even get me started on the quotes.
Writing this post was hard because I didn’t know how to condense my notes or select the most pertinent information to share because all of it feels pertinent. That’s why it’s taken me so long to get this post to you. And why I recommend these books so much.
A grain of salt…
We’re all different people with different writing styles and different ideas regarding what works and what doesn’t. For me, these books are the final word on story telling and they helped me solve writing problems I’d had for years.
But, even if you don’t love these books as much as I do, I feel strongly that you will at the very least enjoy reading them. Cron is an excellent writer and these books manage to entertain and be informative at the same time. Aren’t those the lessons that stick with us the longest?
What are some of your favorite books on writing? Let me know in the comments below. And feel free to email me with any suggestions or questions.
You can also find me on Instagram at @pensandwords.