Wired for Story

I read this book over a few weeks, working my way through it a chapter or a few pages at a time, and using some of its ideas in my outlining and goal-seeking work for Song. Despite mentioning it before, I wanted to post a more comprehensive discussion since it’s an interesting concept for a book which deserves some more specific consideration.

The premise of the book is that neurological research can inform us both about the origins of our deep love for story, and some methods to write more engaging and compelling narratives. There are many bibliographical footnotes attached to the text* which provide citations to support the arguments.

These neurological insights are presented within chapters covering separate aspects of storytelling, from how to make your protagonist engaging (which is not the same as sympathetic, to be sure) to how to keep the reader reading, to common mistakes that naive writers often make when presenting mysterious plots. They’re used in three ways:

  1. to substantiate the chapter structure
  2. to puncture common misinformation about how to write well
  3. to bolster arguments in favour of more effective writing practices

I’m not entirely convinced that Wired for Story really delivers on the promise of neurologically justified writing advice. The neurology is used well when describing the effects of stories – both good and bad – on the behaviour of our brains, but it seems to fall a little short when it comes to deriving writing advice from the technical literature. It’s better to think of the neorology as framing for the writing advice laid out.

Because the writing advice itself is good, to my eye. There is concrete analysis and substantive counsel, as well as helpful checklists which serve as reminders of the book’s content at least as much as definite lists to be followed. There is certainly more here than I can keep in my head at one time, and I am thinking that the chapters would provide a good starting plan for editing passes.

Ultimately, this is a concise and well-organised collection of writing advice, often distilled down into immediately usable gobbets of information. Recommended for what it is rather than for the neurological presentation.

[*] these footnotes are collected in a reference ghetto at the end of the book, which makes reviewing those references in concert with the text quite irksome.

One Reply to “Wired for Story”

  1. It’s one of my favorite writing books, Duncan. Lisa Cron also writes regularly on Write Unboxed, and she always have valuable things to say.

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