Wired for Story

My latest book to read is called “Wired for Story.” It is a writer’s guide to using the science of how the brain science helps hook readers in the first sentence.

We humans are wired for story, and there are countless authors out there, including myself, who are working on selling stories to others. We hope others love our stories as much as we do, and eventually see some income from selling our books. The book began with this quote from Flannery O’Connor:

“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”

In the second or so it took to read the sentence above, your senses had 11,000,000 bits of information to process. We miss most of it. We can only register about 40 of them, and what we process is only about seven of them. On a good day, under perfect conditions. On a bad day? Maybe five. We think in story. It’s how we envision the future. Isn’t that remarkable?

Most writers talk about things like writer’s block (usually procrastination) and other reasons (excuses) why they cannot write. I had no problem getting over 50K words down before I knew anything about writing. That’s a lot of words when you don’t know what you’re doing.

My book coach (I worked with Sam Tyler for about six months during the pandemic) really put me to thinking about the scope of the story I was trying to tell. I stripped away a lot of the story. And settled on writing one part of the story. In great detail. I’m not sure where it will end in it’s current form. That is the project I’m picking back up come November 1, 2022, for NaNoWriMo. I’m looking forward to making progress on it.

Fictional stories are best liked by the brain; they’re more interesting. That’s the best reason. A story is about our changing. That’s it. It’s not plot, setting, the protagonist, or the goal. It’s how the protagonist changes. Universal appeal is how it would feel to navigate the plot. It’s not the external journey, it’s the internal one.

This kind of book is hard for me to read anymore. Yes, I need to learn this information, but I have a time keeping my interest on the facts, ma’am, just the facts. Yawn! If I can’t figure out what’s happening in a story, I lose interest and put it in my pile I started and didn’t finish. There are a bunch of those on my Goodreads list. Probably 20 books of all kinds I just can’t get into. I feel guilty for buying books I’m not going to read. I did pick one back up and realized it was a series of short stories, not one long book about dogs. Oops! That makes a little difference.

Many folks think good writing is flowery words, adverbs and adjectives all over the place, and beautiful writing. WRONG! Great storytelling trumps everything. Make people want to keep reading, into the wee hours of the morning. Telling a great story is not equal to great writing. They’re two very separate things.

What do you do with details? They should all be on a need to know basis. If they’re not critical to the story, I need to leave them out. No one will notice them anyway. A story is interesting, highlighting key points. Maybe they don’t all happen in two hours chronologically; but they should in the story, or the action will grind to a halt and your book/story will be in the “I can’t make it through this book” pile.

If you can’t tell what’s going on, your story needs help.

If you can’t tell who the protagonist is, your story needs help.

And so on. Your story may need help in a lot of places. That’s why, I hear, the first book an author writes never sees the light of day. It never sees a beta reader, an editor, a printer, a cover designer, etc. I have one, I’d like to salvage it someday. If that is possible.

I suppose my writing coach would tell me focus was missing in this literary folly of mine. The maiden voyage, if you will. It had a point and a cast of colorful characters. Fleshing out the story, focus, and all the adventures the protagonist has will be a good way to see if this story can go anywhere. But later. Not now.

So I’ll read some more tomorrow, and share what I’m learning with you. It may help explain why you start a book, and just can’t get into it. We all have that happen. It’s tortureous to keep going when your journey is doomed, when your dopamine dries up and can’t be replenished. Get over feeling bad, and put yourself out of your misery. Have a great evening and tomorrow. We’ll see each other then.

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