I just read a great book about how fiction works in and on the brain, a great tool for writing to engage readers.
Writing to engage readers, she says. Someone out there is going to argue that he or she doesn’t write for anyone but him- or herself. I know. I know. But actually, writing only for yourself, which is a fine life strategy, is not necessarily a great bookselling strategy. If you want to have other people read what you write, maybe you should think a bit about who that person might be, and what they might want from your story.
So the writing-for-only-yourself people should march off and do that. We’ll wait.
OK, good. Now that THAT guy’s gone. I’m very concerned with writing in a way that keeps readers turning the pages. I like stories, and I like stories where things happen. Otherwise, they’re not…actually…stories. They’re, um. Treatises? Gorgeous sentences about stuff we don’t care about? I have less and less time to keep up with all the reading I wish I could do, which helps me understand why readers select the way they do. I don’t necessarily like everything that goes supernova on the best-seller lists, but I get why they do as well as they do. Well, most of them.
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron gets at the brain science behind fiction: what story is for, why it’s important to us, why stories need focus and characters we care about, why plot and story are not interchangeable concepts. One of the chapters is a self-contained primer on giving characters trouble to deal with that I could see myself handing out in a class. The chapter on flashbacks and foreshadowing might need to be Creating Writing 101 reading.
I love reading books like this. I know that some writers don’t like to read about writing, and it does cut into my writing time. But it also renews my enthusiasm for my own project, and spins out a couple of good ideas every time I read a chapter.
I would recommend this book to those of you who have the sentence thing down, but still aren’t quite sure how to shape a story. Yes, it’s a science book, and once in a while it reads like it. But it has a sense of humor and, better, will remind you that someone else, eventually, might want to read your beautiful sentences, if you put them in the right order.