New Craft Book – Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Post cover image showing Story Genius.

Getting back into the blog swing slow and easy after returning from vacation – more meaty stuff coming next week as I get back into my Engineering, School, and Writing series. So starting back in with some thoughts on the current craft book for writing I’m working my way through, Story Genius by Lisa Cron.

So far, I quite like it, sort of a lighter version of John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story in a lot of ways, as least to me. Lots of focus on character (particularly the protagonist’s change) with mirroring between Truby’s “ghost” and Cron’s “past context”, the idea that all elements of story should flow from the protagonist’s change and journey, a rejection of “structure” as the means of finding story, and discussion about how the writer should spend time turning inward and querying themselves about what any one story means to them.

Cron’s work so far (I’m 3 chapters in) is less regimented and a bit less self-congratulatory or off-putting in the way the Truby’s early chapters could be – less shouting down of other approaches or being insensitive to a writer’s past beliefs. But I’m not sure how far Cron’s continued connection to “brain science” can really be carried. I am not a brain scientist, so a lot of what she says seems reasonable. But neither is she a brain scientist, and her list of citations at the end supposedly showing how story is an evolved mechanism and directly connected to things like the flight/freeze/fright response and the drive for procreation is paltry at best. So…yeah. I think I’d be using the advice and teaching here more for it’s merits alone than because it’s somehow illuminated by current neuroscience. By contrast, at least Truby’s denouncement of other methods or approaches is centered in his examples showing why they don’t work, not in trying to appeal to a neuroscientific connection which may or may not be accurate.

I do like that Cron is centered almost exclusively on novels/written works. Truby tries to use his methods with novels and, while it mostly works, it’s harder when 80% of his examples are film and screenplays. As screenwriters are his primary audience, this is very understandable, but is abstracted from novel writing – a craft where we don’t have the benefits of things like an actor’s take on a particular scene, a cinematographer who captures a very compelling shot, or a soundtrack timed to perfection with the action on screen. Many of the examples of “good story” he uses have other things going on in the background that might take a decent story and elevate it beyond what was actually written by the screenwriter. It also doesn’t help that film is far more a community creation then that of any one writer (in general, and in particular for all of the examples he cites) so how much does the writing really contribute to the overall success of a film? A lot, but maybe not quite as much as he would content. So having Cron’s focus on a what a single author’s work can achieve may be more useful.

I’ve almost finished the first “homework” and it’s been instructive. I’d be curious to see how useful it will be when starting a new story. Hopefully if it covers the same kind of ground as Truby (my current favorite) in a faster and less cumbersome way, I’ll have a new favorite. More updates to follow.

2017 – Leveling Up

Now that I am nearing the end of NaNoWriMo again, I have been pondering on how I have been able to level up this year as a writer. Sort of a year-end review, a month or so early.

  • Found a local writing community that gets me and who I truly appreciate.
  • Purchased a domain name – personalized website, here I come!
  • Learned how to better write “scene by scene” so that I don’t so bogged down with figuring out transitions which further let me…
  • Learned how to move scenes around to improve flow and arc; not having all that transition baggage to carry helped me see scenes as more self contained.
  • Learned to write faster – I now am able to regularly achieve prose drafts of 1200 words per hour, which for me is blazing fast.
  • Achieve my largest day of writing ever – 3684 words in a day (which again, for me is huge).
  • Completed a second novel – rough draft only, but its a complete draft.
  • Written the most difficult book I’ve ever attempted.

It’s this last one that I feel has been the most interesting to reflect on. During this year listening to my favorite podcast Writing Excuses, something one of the presenters said struck me. He said that every time you finish a story, is should be the hardest thing you’ve ever done as a writer. That this was proof of continuing to level up.

And it’s true. I’ve found myself comparing that idea to my progression as a person, as an employee, as a spouse, as a parent – each year seems to get a little harder or more intense or more complicated. Each year there’s more to contend with, more stress, and just more…well, more. But like in writing progression, never in the same place and never exactly where you expect to find it.

For me, this book project was already going to be the “hardest” because I was trying to write a story with two POVs – everything I’ve attempted so far has been one, so trying to balance two character voices and all the threads that come with that has been a new and difficult experience. And I’ve found that it’s something I will be able to handle better in the future, a skill set I have, but can improve. But for the next story, it may not be that skill set, but another which will make that book the hardest ever.

So, for another NaNoWriMo done and another draft done – I say hurray! Now I’m off to the next one.