We are so excited to introduce you to WU contributor and craft guru Lisa Cron’s new book, STORY GENIUS, and that she’s with us today for a Take Five interview — and a sneak peek of her book.
Let’s get right to the good stuff.
Q1: Can you tell us a bit about Story Genius, and how it’s unique in the market?
Lisa: You bet! In a nutshell: Story Genius is a fully prescriptive how-to guide that decodes what is actually captivating us when we’re lost in a story, while taking writers through the step-by-step process of creating a novel, starting with the first glimmer of an intriguing idea.
By the way, Story Genius almost didn’t get written, because right off the bat I ran into a thorny problem: I knew that while we could talk forever about “how to create a novel” in a conceptual way, the only way to make it work is to see the steps in action. How could I write a prescriptive book without examples of what writers need to actually do – step by step — order to write a novel? Where on earth could I get those examples?
Which brings me to something that’s completely unique about Story Genius: Enter the brilliant, savvy, courageous novelist and book coach Jennie Nash, who volunteered to begin her next novel – utterly from scratch – within the pages of Story Genius so that readers could watch the process in action. It’s not a pretty process (which is a reassuring part of the point), because in the beginning it can’t be about “writing pretty,” instead it’s about creating the story itself, which then gives birth to the plot. Watching the process unfold is invaluable because you can see, first hand, exactly how a writer starts by digging to the heart of the story, and how everything else organically builds from there.
Another thing that makes Story Genius unique is that it focuses – first, foremost and always – on creating a story rather than on mastering “writing.”
Most other books tend teach in bits and pieces – learn to write a scene, learn to write dialogue, learn to create conflict, learn to craft interesting characters, learn to write a great metaphor, learn pacing, learn plot structure – as if these are distinct, separate, generic elements, and by conquering each one individually you will have learned to write a story. Couldn’t be less true!
Worse is the heartbreaking, manuscript-derailing implication that these elements can then be randomly applied from the outside in to spice things up: add a little more drama here, add a bit of humor there, amp up the tension in chapter 3, throw in a ton of “sensory details” all over. It doesn’t work that way. As Story Genius makes clear, all of those things – internal drama, humor, tension, everything — must spring, organically, from the story itself.
So what exactly is a story? A story is one single unavoidable external problem that grows, escalates and complicates, forcing the protagonist to make an internal change in order to solve it.
Which brings me to the third thing that makes Story Genius unique: It makes very clear that the story is not about the plot; you can’t create the plot first, which shatters the myth that is at the heart of both the Pantsing and Plotting method of writing: that the story begins on page one, and moves forward from there. Not so! The story begins long before page one, and a lot of work must be done in order to get there. That work is not pre-writing – it is the most seminal layer of the story itself, and will be laced into the novel on every page. We’re not talking about “general” backstory, or about sometimes asking a question or two about the protagonist’s past, all the while writing forward. We’re talking about digging to the heart of the story itself: the creation of the internal problem the protagonist will enter the story with, already fully formed.
After all, if a story is about how the plot forces the protagonist to change, you have to know what that change needs to be – and why they need to change – first. This is what creates the internal lens through which the protagonist will see, evaluate, and struggle with everything in the novel – beginning on page one. And the beauty of it is, by diving deeply into your protagonist’s story-specific past (rather than a general all purpose bio), your plot will begin to appear. After all, as Faulkner so astutely said, “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.”
Q2: Why this book, now?
Lisa: It was a one, two, three punch. Here’s to the rule of threes! To wit: [Read more…]