Book Review: Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

By Sarah Pinneo

I was intrigued by Wired for Story by Lisa Cron the first time I read the subtitle: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. Whenever I'm writing fiction, or revising it, I spend plenty of time wondering about that mysterious juncture between what the author intends and the reader receives. If that illusive nexus were easier to understand, then anyone who's ever read a great novel would be able to write one.

The book, published in July by Ten Speed Press, aims to help authors understand what goes on in a reader's brain while reading fiction. What self respecting author of fiction wouldn't want to know that? From the back cover:

Imagine knowing what the brain craves from every tale it encounters, what fuels the success of any great story, and what keeps readers transfixed. Wired for Story reveals these cognitive secrets--and it's a game-changer for anyone who has ever set pen to paper.

The book delivers on the promise of this examination, but it does so for a fairly novice writer. Each chapter begins with a cognitive secret and a corresponding story secret. For example, chapter four begins with a Cognitive Secret: Everything we do is goal directed, and our biggest goal is figuring out everyone else's agenda, the better to achieve our own. And the Story Secret: A protagonist without a clear goal has nothing to figure out and nowhere to go. What follows is very solid writing advice, but often of the sort that you will read in many worthy books about story. Often this advice wanders away from the brain theory that supposedly drives the book, i.e. a discussion about body language in chapter three, and a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of outlining in chapter five.

But chapter 10 "The Road from Setup to Payoff" is especially tight and useful, and delivers most effectively on the book's original promise--to help the writer understand the reader's experience. And I couldn't help thinking back on it as I struggled to put my finger on weaknesses I perceived in a novel I read this weekend. The book was all head and no heart (a clear violation of Wired for Story's chapter 3!) and contained a lot of 17th century medicinal detail which, in the end, was not relevant to the plot. (Violation of chapter 10!)

If you are interested in exploring the subconscious brain's reaction to story elements, give Wired for Story a try.

Disclosure Statement: I received a free copy of Wired for Story when I expressed interest in reviewing it.