Why are we wired for story? What makes a page-turner? Why do some books keep us up through the night, our eyes glued to each word? Why is it that some stories just keep us reading, and we can’t stop it? These are exactly the kinds of questions which Lisa Cron answers in her new book Wired For Story.
Turns out this is not just about prose or metaphors or anything that has to do with literature – it’s about the way our brains are hardwired.
What our brain craves is a sense of urgency.
That feeling that we must know what will happen next.
If there is one thing that your writing must accomplish in order to be read, then it is this: ignite the brain’s hardwired desire to learn what happens next.
There is a reason why we respond so strongly to stories. And it’s not a fancy, sophisticated, intellectual, cultured reason. It’s survival of the fittest biology. The power of story serves an evolutionary purpose.
As the Lisa Cron has recently written ((Why Are We Wired for Story?, Writer Unboxed))
It’s long been known that the brain has one goal: survival. It evaluateseverything we encounter based on a very simple question: Is this going to help me or hurt me? Not just physically, but emotionally as well.
The brain’s goal is to then predict what might happen, so we can figure out what the hell to do about it before it does. That’s where story comes in. 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.
Story was so crucial to our survival that the brain evolved specifically to respond to it, especially once we realized that banding together in social groups makes surviving a whole lot easier.
Suddenly it wasn’t just about figuring out the physical world, it was about something far trickier: navigating the social realm.
A good story creates physical, measurable reactions inside ourselves. We get curious how a story will unfold, and every time when we learn more about the stories unfolding (and thus satisfy another bit of curiosity) our brain rewards us with a nice dopamine shower. Yes, dopamine, the neurotransmitter that also makes eating and sex pleasurable, and that is responsible for many of the positive feelings drug addicts get when they consume their drug of choice.
If you take a look at the current bestsellser lists (or the past bestseller lists for that matter), you will find that it’s not the best writing that makes a book popular. You could easily explain this by saying: well, it’s all about marketing and pushing a writer with a blown up publishing budget, but that’s not it. Bestsellers become bestsellers not because of a writers lyrical abilities – they become bestsellers because of the way the stories they tell engage the readers.
It’s about the characters of the story, the problems they face and how they overcome them.
The purpose of your writing is to make your reader feel something. And as a reader you feel what the protagonist feels.
And ultimately, it’s not about what happens outside, it’s not about external problems, but it’s about how what is happening outside is causing change inside the protagonist. How is the protagonist changing? The character of your story has to undergo a transformation of character and/or personality.
Your character has to confront things he’s tried all his life to avoid. Your character has to earn success, snatch it out of the hands of defeat.
Why is that?
Because it’s experiences like these which we human beings ultimately crave. And stories are virtual realities. Neuroscientists have shown that when you are reading a story that captivates you, the same areas in your brain are active which would be active if you actually experienced what the protagonist experiences.
If you are a writer, or even if you are not a writer but just want to master the art of storytelling in any medium (even a verbal conversation), then the book Wired For Story by Lisa Cron could make a fascinating and eye-opening read, helping you to further hone your storytelling skills.
Click here to start reading Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron.