Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #7 - All about Story

 Last March I posted about Lisa Cron's Wired for Story and Story Genius. You can check that out here.

I mention that post again because last week I had the opportunity to attend a virtual workshop that Lisa Cron did for the FHL Writer's group.

If you weren't fortunate enough to catch that workshop, there are several versions online.

Joanna Penn with Lisa Cron

This presentation for the School of Visual Arts covers essentially the same things as the FHL workshop.

Lisa focuses on how to write better based on brain science. 

The key is her focus on STORY.

Lisa talks about how we use story to make sense of things. She posits that "story was more crucial to our evolution than our much touted and genuinely beloved opposable thumbs, because all  opposable thumbs do is let us hang on. Story tells us what to hang on to!"

Lisa goes on to talk about the importance of story in helping us to prepare for the unknown. More on that in a minute.

Don't you love how sometimes life just throws you things that are meant to go together? That happened to me with the Story workshop and a book I was reading called Once Upon a Wardrobe.

Perhaps you are familiar with Patti Callahan's Christy-winning novel Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbably Love Story of  Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.

This week I was reading her luminous new novel called Once Upon a Wardrobe.

Once Upon a Wardrobe tells the tale of a young invalid named George who is fascinated/obsessed with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. George was born with a heart condition, and at 8 he has already exceeded predictions on how long he will live. His sister attends Oxford, and George wants her to find out where Narnia came from. Megs will do anything for her beloved brother, so she approaches C.S. Lewis to ask that crucial question. Rather than give a simple answer to her question, Mr. Lewis shares a series of stories from his life.

One of the things I loved about this book is that Megs is a mathematics student at Oxford. She is not a reader and has no clue about how stories can grip you. She thinks they are useless, unlike math and physics which provide all the answers. Her growing understanding and awe of story help us to also deepen our understanding of their power.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, but I want to point out how Patti, in pulling out C.S. Lewis's thoughts, gives us so much to think about with regard to our stories and what we are trying to accomplish. In her own way, the message she shares is very similar to what Lisa Cron is saying - stories matter. They help make us who we are. They help us make sense of things. 

There is a line in Once Upon a Wardrobe

I can't really understand my life without stories. They offer me...they offer all of us the truth in their myths, mysteries and archetypes" (144).

There is so much discussion in the book of the power and worth of story, and there is magic in the way Megs comes to understand. As I learned about story through her eyes (and her brother's), I couldn't help but reflect on the awesome power we hold when we create our stories. And of course the responsibility that goes hand-in-hand. 

And that ties in so well with Lisa Cron's work, because her study of brain science teaches us how to tell those stories in a way that captivates readers.

I love when something really makes me think, makes me evaluate what I know and what I'm doing. The workshop and novel left me so inspired to go out and create great stories.

What about you?

I should also ask about you as a reader. Have you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Somehow I never read it as a child, but I read it with a class last year and I was every bit as enchanted with the story as my students were. That experience of reading it with them was magical, so I completely understood George being so captivated.  I have to admit to being slightly envious of Megs getting to sit and sip tea and chat with C. S. Lewis about his story. 

So let's talk about story.


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  2. I devoured the Narnia books when I was a kid. And a few years I read Becoming Mrs. Lewis and it was one of my favorites of that year. I haven't read her new book yet, but it's on my list. I absolutely believe in the power of story to make us think more deeply, empathize, to see the world in better ways, and to remember truths in different ways. Great post, Cate!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Glynis. I love how Lisa differentiates between plot and story because I feel like Patti's book really captures the essence of story as life-giving and life-changing (which plot is not).

  3. I had never read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe until a few years ago when I was doing a long term sub job for a teacher whose class was reading the book. I enjoyed it. I also read Becoming Mrs. Lewis with my book group a few months ago. This book looks interesting as well.

    1. Sandy, it sounds like we had similar experiences reading it for the first time as adults but reading with students. I wasn't sure what to expect from Once Upon a Wardrobe, but I was thoroughly enchanted.

  4. Am I remembering correctly, Mary Cate, that you attended Lisa's first workshop at RWA some years ago? I was fascinated when you shared what you had learned from her session, and the next time she spoke at RWA, I was sitting there taking notes. She is amazing. I missed the FHL Writers' Group session. My bad! But I'll check the link you provided today.

    I always go back to The Hero's Journey, by Christopher Vogel, and the earlier book by Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Both men share that all story throughout history and spanning all cultures follows a similar formet, ie, the Hero's Journey. I believe that's a God thing, for sure! Story is at the heart of who we are.

    Patti Henry Callahan is a GA writer and former GRW member. She's a delightful person and a fantastic writer. I haven't read either of the books you mentioned. Now, they're on my TBR list. Thank you!

    1. I did attend that RWA workshop, Debby, as well as another one she gave at a later RWA conference. I'm laughing that you bring up The Hero's Journey because Lisa specifically brought that up in her talk. IIRC it had to do with her discussion of plot vs story.

  5. I read the complete series as adult and loved them. I then watched the movie with my grandson and needed tissues.

  6. It was such an inspiring workshop! Made me really think about my WIPs.
    I have Becoming Mrs Lewis but I haven't had time to read it yet. I'll have to pick up the other book you mentioned.

    Lee-Ann B


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