Writing Breakthrough. And Life. But Also Writing

  • by Gitabushi

I subscribed to Book Bub.  Every day they send me reduced price and free digital downloads.  A lot of the books are crap, but hey: free ebooks!  Every once in a while, a cheap book will catch my attention.

choice

And so it was that I decided to buy

“Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)”

I can’t tell you everything about the book, because that would be stealing from the author.

See, I’ve been writing, and studying writing, for a long time. I know lots of the techniques, in theory: Start with an opening that grabs the reader, format your story based on its type in the MICE categorization (Milieu, Idea, Character, Event), escalate the stakes, etc.

But these are all techniques to make writing better. None of these things really helped me understand how to *write*.

And, sure, you can just come up with a character, and an idea, and keep adding words until you resolve the problem and it’s around novel length.  You might actually end up with something good that way.  Many people have done it.

But that’s not the way to bet. And you’d be taking your chances on catching that lightning in a bottle again on subsequent novels.

So for me, I have a dozen story ideas. I can come up with a story idea a week, and have no idea how to develop it. I’ve got a character, a theme, an idea, and a hook. And it goes nowhere.

Moreover, I want to write a story that moves people. I want to write a good *story*, not just a narrative in which cool things happen.

This book gave me the key.

What’s more interesting, is it added a significant point to my personal life philosophy, and particularly helpful in trying to teach/raise/mentor my kids.

That concept is: everyone has misbeliefs.  Everyone has events in their past that they learned the wrong lesson, and they held onto it, and when it was challenged, they continued to follow the misbelief even though it was no longer appropriate, but they continued to survive, and to their psyche, that proved it worked so they clung to it even more tightly.

Everyone has these issues.

Everyone.

And that’s what makes a good story so compelling. We are hard-wired to resist change. We only change when we have no other choice, when we realize that continuing on our present course will cause disaster. And while we hopefully can think our way through the future minefields and change before we need to simply because we have the wisdom to see it will improve our lives, most of the time we just don’t.

It takes a traumatic event, one in which our old coping mechanism will clearly make the trauma into a disaster, before we finally admit that maybe, just maybe, we should change.

A compelling story lets us live that traumatic event vicariously.  It helps us learn lessons without having to go through the pain ourselves.

This book teaches you to ask questions, and how to find the choice morsels that will supercharge your stories that are hidden in the answers you give. It encourages writing exercises that will unlock depths in your characters.

I haven’t even finished the book, and I haven’t even done the exercises, and a short story that has been stuck for months is now unstuck, and the character is now vivid and lifelike, and has reasons to act.

It also has enriched my ideas for my first novel. I knew the protagonist wanted to be more well-known/popular in his school for something besides being a good impressionist/mimic. And from there, he finds magic-based martial arts.

But from this book, I learned/decided that just a few years earlier, he had a group of good friends, and he thought he was the center of it, but then the one popular friend moved away and the group fell apart, to the point that some of his friends were now rivals and enemies. So he has the misbelief that if he just becomes more popular, he will have friends again, and maybe even get his old gang back together.  And he thinks having an admirable skill will make him popular.

Instead, he needs to realize that magic has a cost, and popularity is elusive and not based on talent. It is his struggle against this reality that will drive much of the plot forward, including bullying of and by various former friends, and becoming a bully in trying to stop bullying.

And this is just from reading through the book, without actually doing the brainstorming and writing of specific past events that help you finalize these decisions.

The thing is, all these elements were already present in my head.  But I didn’t know how they fit together in the protagonist to drive the story.  Now I do.

And now I have additional reasonable arguments to convince my kids that although they crave being loved for who they are, trying to teach them more advanced adult standards isn’t rejecting who they are, but helping them overcome and eliminate their misbeliefs before they become a crisis.

The additional reason I’m convinced this is the key I’ve been searching for is in reading books, watching TV shows, etc., I can *see* how the misbeliefs and coping strategies of characters drive the narrative in great stories as diverse as the Man in the High Castle (first two seasons), Groundhog Day, Star Wars, Chuck, Flash Forward, the Mucker, a buttload of Terry Pratchett books, etc.  In fact, the reason the Man in the High Castle Season 3 isn’t as good as the first two seasons is that they’ve gotten away from that character depth and drive that they had earlier.  Now, pretty much only John Smith has that arc, and the series is the worse for it.  But still pretty good.  It’s why Orphan Black got boring.  It’s why The Walking Dead lost its way. It’s why The Walking Dead was so compelling.

I got the book for $1.99.  I probably wouldn’t have bought it for $10.  But having purchased it, I think this book is well worth the full price.  Highly recommended. For your personal understanding of life and yourself, as well as to boost your writing.

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