Or so claims Lisa Cron in “Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence,” and I believe her. Her entire book is valuable, but she hooked me with the Introduction.
When I was in college, I hoped my next step would be to earn a Ph.D. My dad had one, and he was the smartest, most accomplished person I knew. I wanted to be like him. I’m not. Two things characterize my working life: 1) Since my 20’s, I’ve made my living as an artist of one sort or another, and 2) since then I’ve also always been on the lookout for a more important, more valuable profession
Instead of becoming a scientist like my dad, and after casting about for years for a suitable profession, I became a children’s book author-illustrator. Huh? Is that important or valuable?
But I couldn’t help myself. I should have accepted my fate earlier and saved precious time. After all, although I do consider children’s books my true path, my first book only just came out, and I’m not young.
But is writing children’s books important or valuble? Of course, it’s easy to make teacherly arguments in favor of books and literacy and whatnot, but listen to this, from Cron’s Introduction:
Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution – more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it— a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.
I love her focus on story. Not that writing isn’t important but, according to Cron, simply telling stories is a big part of what makes us human. And it’s wonderful to consider that stories must be pleasurable or we wouldn’t pay attention and then learn from them. It’s like food. Can you imagine if eating weren’t pleasurable? Or sleeping? What we must do must also give us pleasure.
Cron continues, calling new ideas from neuroscience research about story “a game changer for writers”:
Research has helped decode the secret blueprint for story that’s hardwired in the reader’s brain, thereby lifting the veil on what, specifically, the brain is hungry for in every story it encounters. Even more exciting, it turns out that a powerful story can have a hand in rewiring the reader’s brain— helping instill empathy, for instance — which is why writers are, and have always been, among the most powerful people in the world.
Wow! Writers are the most powerful people in the world. I suppose that’s only true if you know “what the brain is hungry for in every story it encounters.” For that, read the book – though those of you who already write, or have studied writing, will find that the brain is hungry for what you’ve already learned to offer. But Cron’s neuroscience perspective is worth reading, and if I sense interest from Tollbooth readers, I’ll sketch in a synopsis on Friday.