Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Cate's Favorite Writing Books Series - #2

 Hello everyone. It's that time of the month again. I'm back with another craft book post and giveaway.

This week I'm sharing a post I did many years ago on the original Seekerville.

Wired for Story:  The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. By Lisa Cron

How can a title like that not snag your interest?

The back cover blurb says:

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.

That was enough to convince me to purchase a copy!  (Clearly bookstores have reason to love me!)

I'm really, really glad I did. I've learned so much about storytelling from this book. My copy is full of Post its and underlining and notes written in the margins. I read and thought about my stories, realized where I was going wrong, and got excited about new ways to do it right.  And I've learned to look at story in a whole new light.

The book is chock full of so many interesting points that I'd need a month of posts to do it justice. Rather than doing a poor job summarizing, I'm hoping to whet your appetite with some of the more intriguing thoughts, and prompt some discussion on your thoughts about neuroscience and writing.

I also want to use this study of brain science and story as a lens to look at our roles as writers of inspirational fiction.

Calgon Take me Away

Any of you who are a certain age may recall the Calgon ads - usually a harried housewife pleading, "Calgon, take me away."

Stories have always been my Calgon. The one reliable escape from madness.

But according to Lisa Cron, I've had it all wrong. Stories aren't about escape, but rather about survival.

 "Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well old is nature's way of seducing us into paying attention to it." (p. 1)

And why do we have to pay attention? 

To survive.

Lisa Cron discussed her book on Writer Unboxed saying,

 "By letting us vicariously experience difficult situations and problems we haven’t actually lived through, story bestows upon us, risk free, a treasure trove of useful intel, just in case. And so back in the Stone Age, even though those shiny red berries looked delicious, we remembered the story of the Neanderthal next door who gobbled ‘em down and promptly keeled over, and made do with a couple of stale old beetles instead."

So story is essential to our survival.

What does that have to do with us as writers?

Because of the way our brains are wired, we respond in certain ways. According to Cron, this explains why some stories captivate us while others leave us cold.

She claims writers often mistakenly believe that beautiful prose and fascinating plots make good stories.


Have you ever read a beautifully crafted writing sample that left you feeling nothing? Or one that was so perfectly structured you were conscious of the craft? By contrast, books that are universally acknowledged as horribly written often become mega best sellers.


Because they appeal to our cravings for story.

What makes a story work is that inescapable need for the brain to know what is going to happen next. That's what keeps us awake at night reading. Curiosity is roused. Your survival instincts kick in. It's a drug - literally
. A dopamine* rush. 

Sounds easy, right?

Apparently that's another way we go wrong.

Because stories engage our attention effortlessly, they seem easy to write. And that's where our job can become difficult.

"Not only do we crave story, but we have very specific hardwired expectations for every story we read." (p. 10)

For the remainder of the book, Cron goes through these expectations step by step, explaining how we can create our stories in a manner that gives readers that dopamine high.  Each section begins with a Cognitive Secret and a related Story Secret.

There's so much more information about mirror neurons, plot expectations, the protagonist as her own worst enemy, meeting reader expectations, etc.  So much  good stuff that not only do I seriously recommend this book for your own reading, but I'm going to give away a copy to one lucky commenter. More about that in a bit.

Now I'd like to shift the focus slightly. Seeing that this is Seekerville and most of us write inspirational fiction, I couldn't help but think of discussing this book with our particular writing in mind.

We're following in the footsteps of the greatest storyteller ever known. Jesus taught with stories to make lessons accessible and meaningful to his people.

As I read Wired for Story, I couldn't help but wonder, can we use the discoveries of neuroscience to help build the Kingdom of God?

Early in the book, Cron writes;

"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 never dreamed of, and reveal subtle universal truths that just might alter their entire perception of reality." (p. 2)

That can be a powerful burden or an awesome opportunity.

There's so much wonderful information in this book about how to carefully craft your story to meet reader expectations. I think we could easily learn to adapt those techniques to subtly craft a message that inspires.

So what do you think?

Are you interested in learning more about how neuroscience can help you craft engaging stories?

Do you think we should use this knowledge and these skills to evangelize?

Did I thoroughly confuse you?

I can't really begin to do neuroscience credit in one blog post, so I'm offering a copy of Lisa Cron's book, Wired for Story (ebook or paper), as a prize. Please let us know in the comments if you want to be in the drawing. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

If you're interested in more information, Lisa Cron has a website here. 

*According to Psychology Today, Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses.


  1. Cate, what an interesting look at the psychology of story. That's an inside view!

    How's life going in your part of the world? Are things opening up or getting better?

    1. Sadly the answer is yes to the first and no to the second. Things are opening up, but the numbers are going up accordingly. We've had more kids with covid at school in the last weeks than at any previous time this year.

      I love the psychology of story. The brain is a fascinating bit of work!

  2. Good post, Cate. I missed it the first time around, so it's new to me.
    And I agree. Most readers seek not to escape, but to identify and be inspired. One of the first Christian fiction series that grabbed me was The Thoenes' Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicles. Trust me, nobody wants to "escape" into Hitler's Germany and smuggle children out of the Reich. I was also inspired by Lauraine Snelling's Red River series, and trust me, that first winter Ingeborg spent on the plains was not something you want to escape to. Rather, these characters and their struggles inspire me that maybe I can do the same when my time comes (and hope it never does). I tend to read, and write, more historical for that reason, although people in contemporaries have problems too. If it's well-written suspense, I don't care about the period.
    I find I'm referring more to craft books and craft posts with my latest WIP. It's a period I'm not used to writing in, and characters I still don't know all that well. Not that I didn't apply craft to my first three books and two novellas, but it was a little more organic than this one is turning out to be.
    Good spring day in NH, sunny, going out to lunch with daughter and to do Easter errands. May be back later.
    All the above is my way of saying, Please enter me in drawing.
    Your Kaybee
    Out to Lunch in New Hampshire

    1. Hope you enjoyed your lunch and the weather, Kaybee. It's rainy here, but I'm home from work and snuggled in with my coffee and my pup while I catch up on comments here. Happy times.
      I used to be a very organic writer. I still am on my first drafts, but I try to pay attention to craft more now.

  3. I like this. I've never read Wired for Story but I've heard of it and heard the theory of it.
    For me, my like when you said sometimes beautiful writing fails to touch you emotionally, that's my bottom line. Emotion. Put emotion, have your characters FEEL, because then your readers feel.

    1. Did you go to the RWA workshop on this a few years ago, Mary. I'm trying to remember which one it was. I'm thinking NYC, but maybe not the last NYC one. I totally remember sitting in the room listening. I can visualize the room, but not the city. LOL I know it wasn't the last NYC one because she did Story Genius at that one and they gave her a much bigger room!

  4. This was so fascinating! I love learning new things and this has really piqued my interest! I tend to lean more on dialogue and plot, and sometimes forget about the emotion. But like Mary said, it is soooo important. Readers feel when characters feel. I'd love to be entered in the drawing. :) Thank you!

    1. This is the kind of craft book I Love, Sherrinda. It gives me something to dig my teeth into and really understand how storytelling works. I'm glad it piqued your interest.

  5. Thanks for reposting this, Cate!

    We ARE wired for story, aren't we? That's why when a story doesn't meet our unconcious story expectations, it just feels wrong. Often we can't even say why!

    1. That's an excellent point, Jan. So often it's hard to tell why a book appeals to some readers and not to others.

  6. What a wonderful post! I must have this book, so please enter me in the drawing!

    I have done lots of research on neurological effects because my husband has Parkinson's. I must say that most of that research has been dull and disheartening. From your explanations of this book, it sounds like I could get inspired with my writing and maybe even find ways to make my husband's journey a little easier. Thanks for the encouragement, and don't forget to add me to the drawing!

    1. I promise to enter you, Lynne. That's fascinating that you think it could help with your husband's journey. I will pray that it does. I'm glad I managed to inspire you today. :)

  7. I am going to have to look into this! I've not heard of it, but I have learned through the years that people read books so they can worry. Worry about the characters, worry about the outcome, and then celebrate when everything works out! :)

    1. That's the part I personally don't get, Erica! I read to escape from worry. Giving readers something to worry about is the hardest part of writing for me (I just want everyone to be happy!!!), so that's why this book was so helpful to me.

  8. I haven't read Wired for Story, but I love Story Genius (also by Lisa Cron). It totally changed the way I outline and write. While I disagree with her about the reason we're wired the way we are (I think it has more to do with God than survival), I agree that we are created to crave stories.

    1. If you read Story Genius, you probably got most of what was in Wired for Story, Sarah. Wired came first, and I believe I wrote this original post before Story Genius was released.

  9. I hopped online to buy the book before I finished reading your post! I’m fascinated with brain science. And, of course, I love story. When I was an acquisitions editor at Zonderkidz, our whole department took a master’s class in child development that focused on the brains of children and why and when certain concepts should be introduced. It was amazing and helped me identify what drew children into stories. Loved your post. Thanks for reposting.

    1. I really love that, Barbara. I have a 5 year-old in the book I'm writing, and I keep checking in with my sister who teaches kindergarten to see what's appropriate.
      I hope you enjoy the book.

  10. This book sounds fascinating! Please enter my name. :)

    Thanks for sharing Cate.

  11. I am thoroughly intrigued and even your blog post it makes perfect sense. Please enter me in the drawing. Thank you!

  12. Great post! Thanks for sharing and I'd love to be entered in the drawing.


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