You Need This Book

7 Oct

I’m only half way through, but I’m making the call. You need this book:

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As I try to get my novel on track, I’ve been exploring quite few how-to-write books to help me along. Most of my favorites are already in the Bookshelf under Recommending Reading, and everything else has been just so-so. Not incorrect necessarily, but not especially revelatory.

This one is different.

One thing I’ve noticed about how-to-write books is that I click better with authors who share my writing process. I’m a proud Plotter. I make outlines, I have too many index cards, I want to know my whole plot before I write a word. You might be a Pantser. You might start writing immediately and let your idea and story structure work itself out as you go.

Lisa Cron doesn’t believe in either. Well, actually,  in the first chapter she’ll tell you that whichever you are, you’ve been doing it wrong. A bit hard to take at first, especially if you’ve been working on a project for any length of time, but a grain of salt on that proves well worth it.

This book isn’t about inspiration, and it isn’t about plot structure, it’s about something every story has and needs: an emotional core. Every writing book I’ve ever seen has mentioned character motivation, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it explained in depth, a whole book’s worth of depth: why you need it and why it works, right down to the neuroscience behind it. (Don’t worry, the science is broken down in small bits that this English major had no trouble chewing on).

Part of the hook of this book is that you follow a novel through its development process, with the author moving through the chapters as you do. Most how-to books break down finished commercial works that we all recognize, which is helpful but can be a little daunting when your own project is a jumbled work-in-progress mess. Of course every published pieced started that way, but that can be hard to imagine once you’ve met them in their finished, polished form. In this book, you get to watch as someone embarks on the development process from the ground up, just like you’re doing.

The one thing I can’t say about this is book is I don’t know how this would play to someone who’s just beginning to develop an idea. While that’s ostensibly how Cron’s process is presented, I would likely feel overwhelmed with the depth of character exploration she’s asking for without at least some time-derived understanding of my protagonist.

So basically, someone please read this book, because I want to know what you think of it, if it really is as universally ground-breaking as it’s coming off to me, and also, of course, because I think it’ll help you with a topic we’ve never covered up until now in CWC: character motivation and vicarious reader experience as the make-or-break emotional “third rail.”

However, like I said up top, I’m only half-way through reading it. I was trying to wait until I finished, but I just had to gush.

(Check back here in a few day to find out if it stayed amazing or if the second half flamed out and I incinerated it in my emotional fireplace, much like I am continually doing to Age of Ultron, but that sucker won’t burn, if just keeps melting into a reeking, gooey mess.  (Newbies don’t ask).)

P.S. This is a, not really a sequel because it stands on its own, but a follow-up to Cron’s first book, Wired for Story, which, I assume, is more of her neuroscience-based argument for the universality and biological necessity of storytelling. Anyone read it?

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