Wired for Story - The Writers Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence
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"A Story is an internal journey, not an external one."
smart people were completely convinced the world was flat. Then that the sun revolved around the Earth.
smart people have believed story is just a form of entertainment. They’ve thought that beyond the immense pleasure it bestows—the ephemeral joy and deep sense of satisfaction a good story leaves us with.
Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution.
Writers can change the way people think simply by giving them a glimpse of life through their characters’ eyes.
They can transport readers to places they’ve never been, catapult them into situations they’ve only dreamed of, and reveal subtle universal truths that just might alter their entire perception of reality.
But there’s a catch. For a story to captivate a reader, it must continually meet his or her hardwired expectations.
“Art is fire plus algebra.”
Fire is absolutely crucial to writing. Passion is what drives us.
But don't forget the algebra.
an implicit framework that must underlie a story in order for that passion, that fire, to ignite the reader’s brain. Stories without it go unread;
So if we’re hardwired to spot a good story from the very first sentence, how is it possible that we don’t know how to write one?
Evolution dictates that the first job of any good story is to completely anesthetize the part of our brain that questions how it is creating such a compelling illusion of reality.
a good story feels like is life.
It’s only by stopping to analyze what we’re unconsciously responding to when we read a story—what has actually snagged our brain’s attention—that we can then write a story that will grab the reader’s brain.
there’s nothing more exhilarating than watching your work improve until your readers are so engrossed in it that they forget that it’s a story at all.
1- How to hook the reader
Cognitive secret: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future.
Story secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.
I find that most people know what a story is, until they sit down to write one.
-- Flannery O'Connor
although we don’t register them consciously, our brain is busy noting, analyzing, and deciding whether they’re something irrelevant (like the fact that the sky is still blue) or something we need to pay attention to (like the sound of a horn blaring as we meander across the street.
Simply put, the brain constantly seeks meaning from all the input thrown at it, yanks out what’s important for our survival on a need-to-know basis, and tells us a story about it, based on what it knows of our past experience with it, how we feel about it, and how it might affect us.
Rather than recording everything on a first come, first served basis, our brain casts us as “the protagonist” and then edits our experience with cinema-like precision, creating logical interrelations, mapping connections between memories, ideas, and events for future reference.
Story is the language of experience, whether it’s ours, someone else’s, or that of fictional characters. Other people’s stories are as important as the stories we tell ourselves. Because if all we ever had to go on was our own experience, we wouldn’t make it out of onesies.
Stories allow us to simulate intense experiences without actually having to live through them. This was a matter of life and death back in the Stone Age, when if you waited for experience to teach you that the rustling in the bushes was actually a lion looking for lunch, you’d end up the main course.
It’s even more crucial now, because once we mastered the physical world, our brain evolved to tackle something far trickier: the social realm.
Story evolved as a way to explore our own mind and the minds of others, as a sort of dress rehearsal for the future.
As a result, story helps us survive not only in the life-and-death physical sense but also in a life-well-lived social sense.
Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them. What are the options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother? If my hapless older brother got no respect in the family, are there circumstances that might lead him to betray me? What’s the worst that could happen if I were seduced by a client while my wife and daughter were away for the weekend? What’s the worst that could happen if I had an affair to spice up my boring life as the wife of a country doctor? How can I avoid a suicidal confrontation with raiders who want my land today without looking like a coward and thereby ceding it to them tomorrow? The answers are to be found in any bookstore or any video store. The cliché that life imitates art is true because the function of some kinds of art is for life to imitate it.
When a story meets our brain’s criteria, we relax and slip into the protagonist’s skin, eager to experience what his or her struggle feels like, without having to leave the comfort of home.
So, What Is a Story?
a story is not just something that happens.
A story isn’t simply something that happens to someone.
A story isn’t even something dramatic that happens to someone.
A 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.
- “What happens” is the plot.
- “Someone” is the protagonist.
- The “goal” is what’s known as the story question.
- And “how he or she changes” is what the story itself is actually about.
a story is not about the plot or even what happens in it. Stories are about how we, rather than the world around us, change.
They grab us only when they allow us to experience how it would feel to navigate the plot. Thus story, as we’ll see throughout, is an internal journey, not an external one.
stories do what our cognitive unconscious does: filter out everything that would distract us from the situation at hand.
In fact, stories do it better, because while in real life it’s nearly impossible to filter out all the annoying little interruptions—like leaky faucets, dithering bosses, and cranky spouses—a story can tune them out entirely as it focuses in on the task at hand: What does your protagonist have to confront in order to solve the problem you’ve so cleverly set up for her?