Story and the Brain

Wired for StoryI’ve been reading a fascinating book called Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. The book discusses the way the brain responds to story. While Ms. Cron approaches her work from an evolutionary standpoint, her research can easily be approached from a Biblical worldview.

Bottomline, God wired us for story. The whole of human history is a story–His Story–as we believers recognize. Moreover, God created the human heart to respond to story. Hence, the powerful parables of Jesus.

Given these truths, how can we write our stories in such a way that they align with the way God created our brains to function?  Here are a few key points that Ms. Cron calls “cognitive secrets” to keep in mind as we write our stories:

  • The brain thinks in stories. Therefore, when we write, we must hook our reader from the very first word because the reader wants to know what will happen next.
  • The brain is goal-oriented. Therefore, the protagonist we create must have a clear goal.
  • The brain thinks in specifics. Therefore, we must use details, not abstracts, in creating our story.
  • The brain resists change. Yet, story is about change. And change produces conflict.
  • The brain continually makes cause-and-effect relationships. Therefore, our stories must follow a logical pattern of cause and effect. 

As you write your next story, keep these points in mind. Your story will be more powerful and effective because it will be aligned with the way God made the human brain to work.
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Source Cited: Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2012). Print. 262 pages.

Your Protagonist’s Inner Journey

It is a fictional truism to say that the best stories are character-driven.  Starting with this premise, let’s look at how we can make our protagonist–whether hero or heroine–one who will stand out forever in the memory of your readers. 

When creating your protagonist, it is essential that you give her an inner conflict. This inner conflict results from an issue the character has, an issue about which she may not even be aware.  But the issue is there, nonetheless, keeping your protagonist from fulfilling her destiny in your story. Unless she faces her issue and deals with it, the issue will eventually “break” her. The story is the protagonist’s process of facing her issue. This process, also known as the character arc, will force her either to deal with her issue or to miss her destiny. 

In his excellent book, The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, novelist and editor Jeff Gerke states: “If great fiction is about bringing the main character to a breaking point over a particular ‘sin,’ then all the events of the story are about bringing the character to that moment” (p. 76). 

With what “sin” is your protagonist dealing? Bring your character to an emotionally powerful breaking point over that sin, and watch your fiction move up a notch on the scale of excellence.

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Source Cited:

Gerke, Jeff. The Art & Craft of Writing Christian FictionColorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord Press, 2009. Print.

(Business) Direct-to-Digital Publishing

digitalIn a recent article in Publisher’s Weekly, Barbour Publishers announced the release of a new imprint entitled Shiloh Run Press.This imprint will publish both genre fiction and non-fiction.

What I found particularly interesting about Barbour’s new line is that it will publish fiction in series or installments. This is a throwback to the early days of publishing when novels appeared in magazines in installments over an extended period of time. That practice proved very effective in not only gaining readers for the magazine but also in gaining buyers for the novels. 

Apart from its questionable origins in the legendary One Thousand and One Nights, the serial novel had its roots in France. In 1836, a Parisian newspaper owner brainstormed for ways to get people to buy his newspaper on a daily basis rather than a weekly one. He hit upon the brilliant idea of publishing a novel in installments. His thought process was simple: If the reader were left hanging on a cliff each day (the cliffhanger), she would be compelled to buy the next day’s issue of the paper to find out what happened to the protagonist. To this end, the Parisian business owner hired Honoré de Balzac to provide the stories, resulting in the birth of the serial novel.

The process took hold in England as well when Charles Dickens published The Pickwick Papers in serial form. Soon the serial novel had become the rage.

Now, with Barbour’s launch of the serial novel in digital format, this venerable publisher has resurrected an old practice and given it a new contemporary look. Kudos to Barbour! This house may have hit on something big, making the digital serial novel the new rage. Only time will tell.
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Source: A Short HIstory of Serial Fiction
Photo Source: Google Images

Preventing a Sagging Middle

It’s a known fact that one of the most challenging parts of writing a novel is the middle. Most of us have little trouble building momentum in the beginning of our story and then winding down at the end. But, oh, the middle!  How do we keep it from sagging?

Here are a few tips that may help you as they have helped me:

1-Up the stakes for your main character. Usually a middle sags because the tension sags. Ask yourself what new problem you can introduce for your character in the middle of your story. This new problem could be in the form of an unexpected turn of events or even a new character.

2-Introduce a “ticking clock”.  Perhaps your main character learns that she must accomplish something by a certain deadline or else something terrible will happen to her or someone she loves.

3-Introduce a complication. This could be something in your main character’s past that has been hidden up until this point.

4-Put the main character in a new location, preferably one she didn’t anticipate. Adding a new dimension to your story almost always causes reader interest to rise.  Perhaps your main character’s boss taps her to go on a business trip on the other side of the world. Depending on her occupation, perhaps she is assigned to handle a secret mission of some sort.

5-Reveal something from the main character’s past that has serious implications in her life now. This could be virtually anything. Perhaps she discovers she has a half-brother she never knew about. Or perhaps she learns that the man she thought was her father is not her father.

You can avoid a sagging middle if you plan ahead.  If your interested in more information on doing so, check out Alicia Rasley’s article, Tightening the Sagging Middle.

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Copyright 2010 by Dr. MaryAnn Diorio. All rights reserved. This article may not be published or reprinted in any way or by any means without the written permission of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.

 

(Attitude) Regrouping

Sometimes in our writing career, we get blindsided by an unexpected event that temporarily throws us off course. It could be a family situation, a medical diagnosis, or a job loss.  Whatever the situation, we suddenly find ourselves facing a circumstance that diverts our full attention from our writing.  What can we do?

1) Stop and stay calm.  Panic gets us nowhere and stifles sound thinking.  The best way to stop and stay calm is to stay focused on Jesus. Isaiah 26:3 states: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”  Focusing on Jesus arouses our trust in Him. When we are at peace, we can think straight.

2) Remember that God is ordering your steps.  Our Lord knows exactly what is happening in your life. It is of no surprise to Him.  He also knows that He will see you through as you trust in Him.  No matter what happens to us, we can know that all things work together for our good because we love God (Romans 8:38).  As you look back in the future, you will see that God has brought good out of a bad situation.

3) Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself time to grieve. If God remembers that you are flesh (Psalm 78:39), so should you.

Are you going through a difficult time right now? Do you need help regrouping? If so, please share so that we may pray for you.

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Copyright 2013 by Dr. MaryAnn Diorio. All Rights Reserved.