Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel

Rate this book
Following on the heels of Lisa Cron's breakout first book, Wired for Story , this writing guide reveals how to use cognitive storytelling strategies to build a scene-by-scene blueprint for a riveting story .

It’s every novelist’s greatest pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into writing hundreds of pages only to realize that their story has no sense of urgency, no internal logic, and so is a page one rewrite. 

The prevailing wisdom in the writing community is that there are just two ways around this pantsing (winging it) and plotting (focusing on the external plot). Story coach Lisa Cron has spent her career discovering why these methods don’t work and coming up with a powerful alternative, based on the science behind what our brains are wired to crave in every story we read (and it’s not what you think). 

In Story Genius Cron takes you, step-by-step, through the creation of a novel from the first glimmer of an idea, to a complete multilayered blueprint—including fully realized scenes—that evolves into a first draft with the authority, richness, and command of a riveting sixth or seventh draft.

288 pages, ebook

First published August 9, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Lisa Cron

3 books295 followers
Lisa Cron is a story coach, speaker, and the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference. Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton and John Muir Publications, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and Court TV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency. Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and she has been on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Visual Narrative in New York City. On March 2, 2021 her new book aimed at the leadership/ business/nonprofit world, Story or Die: Why Story is the Only Way to Engage, Persuade and Inspire – and How to Use Brain Science to Create One that Will, will be published by Ten Speed Press. Lisa works with writers, business leaders, nonprofits, educators, and organizations, helping them master the unparalleled power of story, so they can move people to action – whether that action is turning the pages of a compelling novel, or taking to the streets to change the world for the better. Or both. For a library of her free myth-busting writing tips, and information on how to work with her one-on-one, you can find her at: wiredforstory.com

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,096 (47%)
4 stars
1,426 (32%)
3 stars
673 (15%)
2 stars
145 (3%)
1 star
55 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 838 reviews
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews112k followers
July 30, 2022
Hmm, mixed feelings on this one! I did find value in the author’s different take on story structure, which emphasizes character development and purpose to shape the story, rather than the traditional 'Save the Cat' method that can feel like paint-by-numbers plotting sometimes. One of the concepts I've taken away is having a misbelief, which is the faulty worldview the main character has at the beginning of the story that they will unlearn by the end, and specifically the life experiences/events that made them have that misbelief (which helps build out the character arc and their world).

However, I didn’t like that the author only walks you through one example of an author building out a story with this method, because that example didn’t turn out to be that great/compelling of a story IMO. In the example, some of the decisions that resulted from the author’s methodology felt forced to me. I think this would have benefitted from a more variety of examples and genres applied so that we could truly see how flexible this method works. Sometimes I thought there was so much emphasis on being character-driven that it felt like a limited tunnel vision. I love character-driven stories, but I do believe what makes a story great can be the plot and world too, even if they were ideated before the characters first. I don't think the methods for great storytelling can ever be boiled down to a one-size-fits-all solution, and this book makes it seem like their method is so.

I also think the author’s emphasis on this book having “science-based insights” were more pseudoscience and marketing, not something to be taken too seriously, especially since she’s not a neuroscientist. Also, I find it odd that she has all these writing books but has not published any novel herself, so she doesn’t even appear to be a fiction writer?
Profile Image for Amy.
326 reviews
September 9, 2016
The full title of Lisa Cron's book is Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel*, with the tinier sub-sub-title [*Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere]. The reason that I list the full title is because it gets at why I was so excited to read it, and my main problem with the work. This book, both with its prominent subtitle and its back cover description, promised to combine two of my favorite things: neuroscience and the writing process. I am a polymath, a woman of disparate loves, and I absolutely adore books that mix genres, using science or math to inform a more humanities-based field.

Unfortunately, my expectations were shattered, and not in a positive way. This book contains virtually no "brain science." In fact, most of the citations and references in the back of the book cite direct quotes by other authors [often about writing], to the best of my count, I can only find five cited mentions of "brain science" in the entire 267 pages of this book--most of those were just one short paragraph reference of a study. The rest of the "brain science" is merely statements by the author that mention "brain science says..." or "We evolved to..." or "We are wired to..." or "Biologically..." with some throwaway sentence, no evidence, no citation, and no explanation or context. This is not science. You cannot just call something science because it sounds good or because you read it somewhere and didn't feel like researching it properly and including it.

I'm not saying that I was looking for lengthy descriptions of studies in the main text. It would have been acceptable to have an endnote after a sentence like, "brain science says..." with a more detailed explanation in the back of the book for those who wanted to read more about it. But it's completely irresponsible to just make claims that "brain science says..." without any sources or any real credibility (the author is not a neuroscientist). If the book had not been marketed as brain science--by both the publishing company and the author herself, who repeatedly refers to "brain science", without much real substance, in the first several chapters--then this might have been forgivable. But to intentionally mislead the reader by using brain science as a gimmick is not something I can respect in a book. Not to mention that the book itself gives up on the "brain science" gimmick about halfway through, "From here on out we're going to focus much more on writing than on brain science....You know how the brain works, and you understand the unparalleled power of story. You know that story is the language of the brain..." (144). I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew I wouldn't need to continue writing, "Source? Explanation?" in the margins for the remaining 130 pages. And yet I was frustrated that there hadn't been any real in-depth explanation topic in the first 140 pages. Instead there were mostly throwaway lines like, "...story's purpose evolved from simply decoding the mysteries of the physical world..." and "It turns out the brain is far less picky about lyrical language than we've been led to believe..." (Really? How do we know these things?) sprinkled among Cron's actual points.

In addition to the gimmicky use of "brain science", the author constantly reiterates in the first several pages that her techniques are so unique, and that they're contrary to everything that people have been taught about writing before. The author's main points focus on the importance of creating a strong internal conflict as opposed to focusing on external plot points, developing a deep understanding of your characters and their contexts. None of these things are particularly unique, they both seem to be common sense, and I know that I certainly teach them to my own creative writing students. My frustration is that ultimately these "gimmicks" distracted from the rest of her information--I was frustrated that she was claiming to be showing me "brain science" without actually doing that, and irked that she was trying to "sell" her method by acting as though it was incredible and unique. Without these two major flaws, this book might have been a three-star read for me. The writing techniques are okay, they're certainly not terrible points and would be good for a beginning writer, or one who has no idea how to develop a character. But I'm not convinced that they come from "brain science" or are contrary to the ways in which writers already think.

The final issue is that while I think the author was insightful to include a work-in-progress by a novelist as a test case for her work, and while I absolutely commend the bravery of the novelist to open her novel development up to us in this way, at some point I began to feel as though Cron's method actually damaged the novel. I don't think it had to be this way, it was more of an error in application than a fatal flaw in the method itself--there are some good organizing techniques mentioned, and I do think that the idea of focusing on internal conflict is a good one overall. However, the novelist originally hoped to write a story about a woman and her complicated relationship with a dog...somehow it became a story about a woman who didn't want to make connections with other people, so when her lover/screenwriting partner falls into a coma after an accident precipitations by an argument, she kidnaps a [unbeknownst to her] famous dog. She does this in an attempt to prove to her sister that she is stable and doesn't need help, before retreating to a hotel to try and finish the last episode of the show that she and her lover had been working on. There were a few other bizarre details, but those are the main plot points. This isn't meant to be a farcical comedy either, the goal of the process was to develop and push the main character to realize how important human connection really is--albeit a little too late. But the constant push to drive a character to "face" her internal conflict by all these extreme measures twisted a potentially good story into a really bad Lifetime movie. Again, I don't mean to offend the novelist who was vulnerable in opening up a work-in-progress and using this method, I just am concerned that neither Cron nor the novelist seemed able to see how out-of-control the story became.

The best insights of this book are, first, simply to pay close attention to the internal conflict of the main character and to be mindful of that in every scene. This is sage advice, and something that I deeply value in a story. Second, authors should work to create well-rounded and complex characters with fleshed-out back stories, and challenge them to grow and develop throughout the novel. This can't be an afterthought, but should always be considered. No extreme kidnappings, tragic sudden-comas, or last-minute forced re-writes of a TV script need to happen to push characters to grow and develop. The best stories, in my opinion, capture the powerful changes that occur as a part of our daily experiences: many mundane moments stitched together with occasional extreme events. Focusing on internal conflict without going to bizarre extremes helps the characters be more relatable and cathartic, which was the goal after all. A book focusing on fleshing out techniques without all the gimmicks of "brain science" or claims of uniqueness, would've been a much more enjoyable read.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for this review. However, this did not affect the content of my review in any way. To be completely honest, I would not have finished this book had it not been for the fact that I had to review it.
Profile Image for Rebecca Renner.
Author 4 books613 followers
May 21, 2017
I feel very mixed about this book. I teach creative writing, and I've tried to make a study of "what works" in popular stories. Liza Cron both hits and misses in this book.

The strongest section by far is Part II "Creating the Inside Story." One of the things I've noticed many of my students do is create short stories that encompass a series of exciting events that don't really matter. Cron says essentially that it's the character's internal struggle that makes the external struggle important. I totally agree with that.

For me, there are two major things that make a story work:
1. Characters that the reader can feel for, who want something and do things to get it; and
2. A promise is made in the beginning that the story fulfills.

Cron says those two things more or less. The major problem with this book is that Cron goes on and on and ON belaboring each and every point as if her reader must be thick in the head. The pretend novel that was being developed throughout the book fueled this fire. Those parts were so boring and useless that by the end of part two, I mostly skipped them. The examples Cron uses from actual books, like The Great Gatsby and A Prayer for Owen Meany (okay, okay, I know I'm being biased here, because those are two of my favorite novels; Cron has good taste) do a much better job of illustrating her point than the crappy in-development stuff she's padding her word count with.

Basically, that's what this book read like: a little bit of really stellar advice that was almost eclipsed by the rest of the junk surrounding it.

My advice? If you read this, check it out from the library. Read pages 35-123 and skip the rest.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,032 reviews1,423 followers
August 14, 2016
I received this on a read to review basis from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Lisa Cron, and the publisher, Ten Speed Press, for this opportunity.

This non-fiction was of unparalleled help whilst writing my own first novel. I assumed this to be a rehashing of well-known and repeated knowledge but it addressed the complexities of fiction writing with a new ingeniousness!

The premise of this helpful guide is that novel writing should be character-, and not plot-, driven. This means that the most successful of books will have an author behind it who knows the ins and outs of each character, from personality to history, before even attempting to structure a plot or narrative. This seemed a daunting task at first, but with the formulation of simple exercises, well-researched explanations and on the author's assurance I now feel well-educated in what to do and where to go from here!
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
539 reviews123 followers
November 12, 2020
This is a tricky book! There are some great insights in here about writing, wrapped up in some lame pseudoscience that I suspect was used for marketing purposes. It's really too bad because the book's points are solid.

The main claim of the book is that brain science (usually called neuroscience...) can reveal how we're hardwired for the kind of stories that you should write. As claims about writing go, it's suuuuch absolute crap. But don't let that stop you! I mean it.

Like I said, there's actually a ton of useful advice in here. The focus is on characters and on how to write so that readers can see themselves in the protagonist's shoes. The premise is a bit simple, actually: readers want to identify with the character they're reading about. The book gives some genuinely useful guidance into how to do exactly that.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 58 books8,097 followers
February 1, 2021
As so often with writing books: some really good insights but a lot of prescriptiveness and nonsense too.

There is some excellent advice in here, which really did get me thinking about what wasn't working in the novel and how to change the focus, plus tackling some things I hadn't faced. I bet she's an excellent one on one book coach and I'm definitely looking at my novel in a new way, which is terrific.

But I cannot be having with any Unifying Theory of Books that claims the essence of all storytelling can be boiled down to *insert hobbyhorse here*--and that applies whether you're gossiping to your hairdresser, writing a Homeric epic, doing a literary novel about creative writing teachers committing adultery, or penning the fifth detective novel in your cosy mystery series. Sorry: no. Books do different things in different ways, they don't all have, or have to abide by, a same basic structure or development. And the idea that there's only one proper/effective/essential way of storytelling is, frankly, one that white Brits and USians should think twice before trotting out and then not do it.

The brain science stuff is just woo, though after a couple of chapters it gets dropped for the most part.

Basically, 30% of this is fantastic. Which isn't a bad rate for a self help book.
Profile Image for Abbie.
Author 2 books2,278 followers
November 23, 2019
4.5 STARS. As always, LOADED WITH INSIGHT AND INSPIRATION. I love Lisa Cron's writing advice because it's not like traditional writing advice — it resonates deep within your soul so you KNOW without having to fly blind into what "experts" think is true — you KNOW it makes sense because something inside of you just CLICKS.

Unlike Wired For Story (which is also amazing) this book feels more like a guide — a step-by-step playbook to building a story from the ground up. Lisa's "blueprinting" process makes so much sense and it's truly awesome. I notice a lot of people said this book didn't have enough "brain science" to back it up — especially since the words "brain science" are on the front cover. But I find absolutely nothing wrong with that, seeing as this IS more of a guide book than a research report. And at every turn, Lisa is showing how human psychology responds to story — and honestly that is what's important.

The only reason I wouldn't give this book five stars is just because it's more of a system. Which is totally fine, of course! But I'm an outside-the-box person and I like to find my own groove. I've developed my own outlining process that works super well for me when building a story, so I found myself skipping lots of the "steps" in this blueprinting process. But I find nothing wrong with the method used here and if you're someone who has no clue how to begin outlining your roadmap of your novel, you might LOVE this process.

So although the second half of this book was mainly instructions on how to outline your novel, it is PACKED with brilliant advice and truths about story and human psychology and I HIGHLIGHTED EVERY SINGLE PAGE. SO THAT SAYS A LOT RIGHT THERE. 10/10 recommend to every writer who wants to unlock the secrets of building a story, especially writers who don't know where to start when blueprinting their next riveting novel!
Profile Image for Francisca.
184 reviews82 followers
March 10, 2021
I bit too recipe-for-success for my taste but I do understand how for many it may feel like an eye-opener, writing wise.
Cron knows what she talking about, but I don't like this idea of One-Solution-Fits-All. If you're stuck in your writing and feel like you need a new perspective, this book may offer some alternatives. And that's how I saw it, as a new perspective on a particular subject: how to write a novel. Nothing else. Nothing more.
Profile Image for tappkalina.
649 reviews399 followers
December 26, 2020
"We don't turn to story to escape reality. We turn to story to navigate reality."

Probably will reread several times in the future.
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,642 reviews405 followers
May 13, 2023
This has been a fantastic book! There are so many great writing tips and advice.

I highly recommend this book. It identifies every time that I can't LOVE another book because I can't emotionally connect to the characters and how important that is for me.

My only complaint is that Lisa Cron sometimes uses absolutist points that grate on me, which is why I can only give it 4 stars.
Profile Image for Jo Berry ☀️.
242 reviews5 followers
October 5, 2022
Rounding up to three stars. A story of almost two halves. I enjoyed the first 40 percent of this book and made a handful of notes, but the rest gets lost in a work-through of an imaginary novel in development. It sounds like a terrible novel as well, so it was quite painful to read long passages about a woman who is scared to love, who then steals a celebrity’s dog and takes it to the bedside of her writing partner who was knocked off his bicycle and is not expected to live. It’s as bad as it sounds, but I suppose if you had a really stellar idea for a novel, you wouldn’t want to just give it away in this writing guide. But, it might have been better for the author to have drawn on some well-known novels and movies to illustrate their point instead though.

Also, and quite oddly too considering the title of the book, there’s no mention of ‘brain science’ in here at all. I was hoping to read something scientific about how the brain processes and understands stories. But there’s nothing. It’s just a book of regular writing advice, so how we got the title of this book is a mystery and a disappointment.

But back to the first 40 percent! It’s a good write up of how your story should be character driven, not plot driven, and to concentrate on your protagonist’s misbelief and why everything that happens in a story should matter to your protagonist. Otherwise, you just have a series of things that happen, but who cares? That’s it in a nutshell. This isn’t new writing advice though, and there are plenty of youtube videos that will talk you through the same things. If you can get this book from your library (or very cheaply) it’s worth reading, but I wouldn’t buy a new copy, because you probably won’t get enough out of it.
Profile Image for Amalie Berlin.
Author 139 books43 followers
March 17, 2017

There's no science in this book, at least not the first 40% of it. I was reading it for actual data that would back up storytelling advice, but all there is in here is anecdotes. Anything that relates to the 'brain science' is a line her or there(unsupported, all opinion), which backs up whatever advice the writer has just given.

Bait and switch at it's finest. It's just another book on storytelling, there are literally hundreds(or maybe even millions, my brain just told me my guess is science!) of books on the craft of writing out there. Many are far better.

Writing for Emotional Impact, Karl Iglesias? VASTLY SUPERIOR.

Normally I would never leave this kind of review, but if you're going to title a book in this fashion, blatant lies and manipulation, these kinds of ill feelings are going to follow.
Profile Image for Theresa Alan.
Author 10 books1,010 followers
November 29, 2016
When you buy this book, also buy a new package of mini-sticky notes to flag things as well as a brand-new highlighter—you’ll need it.

I’ve been writing and editing fiction professionally for fourteen years, and I wish I had this book fourteen years ago. It would have saved a lot of time.

It’s inspirational as well as helpful. It’s slightly less helpful if you write in the traditional romance format of having the hero and heroine’s stories be essentially equal or write multiple POVs—Cron glosses over these formats. Regardless of what you write, Cron’s book is filled with useful tips and advice.
Profile Image for Noula.
258 reviews14 followers
July 28, 2021
I wish I didn't hit send on about 40 queries last year. I sent off my novel to literary agents and received rejections without knowing what was missing. When I listened to this book, everything I wasn't supposed to do, I did.

Now, after listening...I have a better understanding of the craft of writing fiction stories. I encourage other writers to please read this book before you send that query letter. It will save you a chance of representation! Believe me Lisa Cron's books are worth every advice that you will not get out of that Writer's Digest Conference.
Profile Image for Kelly D..
805 reviews23 followers
September 23, 2016
Completion: While I read the whole thing, I did have to skim in places because Cron kept hammering the same simple point for pages at a time which becomes quickly repetitive.

Writing/Style: The style is both unsurprising and yet disappointing. The book reads like any basic writing guide which wouldn’t be as bad if it didn’t advertise itself with a subtitle that reads “How to Outline Your Novel Using the Secrets of Brain Science”. I was expecting more depth and substance involving interesting facts and tips on writing plot, pacing, character development, etc. in relation to science. I expected answers to questions like which physical character traits trigger sympathy or anger? What words create a certain reaction from the reader? Instead, we are given a pretty straightforward guide disguised as something more.

Characters: Since this is a book on writing, there are no characters per se. Instead, I will just mention that Cron uses the same story example throughout the book to demonstrate how a writer could flesh it out into a stronger story.

Plot/Pacing: The pacing is acceptable only if you have never picked up a book on writing before or taken a writing class. Otherwise, it is slow and lacks originality.

World-building/Atmosphere: Cron spends very little time on world-building. This is not a book worth picking up if you are interested in genre writing.

Sub-genres (Romance, Humor, Mystery, etc.): Cron’s voice throughout the book didactic with small attempts at humor that just fell flat for me. Cron focuses on telling a general story and does not focus much on particular details related to different genres such as romance, humor, mystery, etc.

FINAL VERDICT: While I am disappointed that this writing guide’s angle of science is so shallowly executed, this guide is far from a horrible book. For many beginning writers, it might be helpful, and for more experienced writers, it can be a nice reminder to focus on your characters’ internal struggles; just don’t expect this guide to be more advanced than what it really is.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jane Lively.
178 reviews52 followers
December 19, 2017
#DNF @ 104 pages. I received this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Cron writes with verbosity, thus leading to 1) long-winded paragraphs that could easily be exchanged for a few sentences, 2) repetitive statements and 3) quick disinterest. I started reading this book before bed because it exhausts me. I frequently have to reread paragraphs to figure out the point she is trying to make, because she rambles on and on and on and on.

While I agree a character's internal struggle drives the external plot, I don't believe every inch of something needs to be mapped out before an author begins working on it. Considering Cron said, at the beginning of the book, one's writing (grammar, punctuation and spelling) is not as important as the plot, I couldn't help feeling like she was berating readers and people for feeling like it IS important -- especially with her own poor grammar and punctuation. She throws high-vocabulary words out in a way that feels like she's trying to show off.

Really, Cron's cocky attitude grew too annoying.

The advice offered in this book seems detrimental to a story, especially since the sample novel by the budding writer seemed to change based on what Cron wanted rather than what the writer wanted -- a common top point indie authors often point out: indie publishing means you've more of a chance to publish the story you need to tell than what some editor or publishing character will want.

Don't even get me started on the misleading title.
Profile Image for Susan Haught.
Author 13 books197 followers
February 8, 2017
Making sense of nonsense

This is the first craft book to tap into what I thought was chiseled in stone in my brain. I'm a pantser. Or should I say, was.

I'll be using Lisa Cron's formula for my next book, and thanking a writer friend for guilting me into reading it, though it had been on my TBR shelf for a very long time.

Now, to reread and take each chapter one step at a time...
Profile Image for Kimberly Sabatini.
Author 1 book374 followers
October 21, 2016
This book is genius!!!! It may be the book that's had the biggest positive influence on my writing--the most organically influential book on craft I've ever read. Now that I've digested it, I will never create a story the same way again. And I'm so grateful I won't ever have to. This book has changed everything for me and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you write--read this book.
Profile Image for Luther Siler.
Author 9 books110 followers
June 30, 2020
If you have never written a novel and you have no experience in psychology, you should not write a book about how “brain science” will help you write a novel, because you don’t know anything about either of those things.
1,065 reviews72 followers
May 18, 2019
I had extremely mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand: I think it helped me a lot. On the other hand: at times it was really, *really* annoying.

Things it helped me with:
* Character motivations
* Representing abstract goals through concrete, specific needs
* Using backstory to give characters more depth, not just in the obvious ways but more subtly
* Working out an underlying character arc that would help underlie the plot as a whole.

As a result of these things, I think I can now go on and figure out a much more solid outline, and hopefully fix this entire book, even if there's still a LOT of work ahead of me. So, yay! From that point of view, SUPER helpful. Even if I could have figured some of that out for myself... I hadn't. This book asked the questions I needed it to ask, and by forcing myself to face the fact that I didn't know the answers, I made a lot of progress.

I also had a couple of breakthroughs and now I get to work in a bunch of SYMBOLISM and some LITERARY DOUBLES and that kind of stuff wasn't *exactly* what Cron was talking about, but it was through looking at abstract-made-literal in order to answer the questions she was asking that I came to those conclusions, so I guess she gets some credit.

Other things I liked:
* That it wasn't focused on squashing your book into a 3-act structure or specific beat sheet, but about the emotions and characters, because I'm not great at prescriptive plot stuff
* That it's pretty genre-neutral, so although there are some aspects it doesn't cover (you'd probably want more guidance on worldbuilding and how to make that a part of your character arcs for speculative fic), it felt broadly applicable to most approaches to storytelling.

Things I didn't like:
* That it felt very prescriptive at times. (You SHOULD do this, this is the ONLY way you can do that, etc etc.) I ignored a few things because with all these kinds of books it's best to just take what's useful and leave the rest, but that kind of approach can feel frustrating
* The writing style. OH MAN. THE WRITING STYLE. I did NOT mesh with that. It was kind of trying too hard to be colloquial and friendly? Which just ended up feeling vaguely patronising. And if I had to read the phrase "here's the skinny" one more time (what does that even mean?!?!) I probably would've thrown it at something.
* The fact that it seemed more aimed at people who'd never written a book before.

Other things I noticed:
* Some aspects of Cron's advice didn't work brilliantly for writing YA or children's, especially how she talked about backstory. She talked about characters have often been shaped by their 'misbelief' for years or decades, and how the story needs to challenge these very deep-seated elements of their worldview. But often with a YA character, they haven't had years to develop these ideas, let alone decades, and even less so with kidlit. These protagonists' worldview is still in much more of a formative stage. Once I realised that this was why I was struggling with some pieces of advice, it became easier to ignore those and move on, but it's worth being aware of, I guess? I'd be interested in something that takes some of the same approaches to character motivation and arcs, but looks at how you'd handle them differently with a character for whom all of this is brand new, or at least, still in a much earlier stage in their life.

I'm glad I persevered despite the writing style being super annoying, and I began to notice that a little less as the book went on (not sure if it got less annoying or if I just tuned it out). It has definitely helped me a lot, though it still remains to be seen whether I'm actually able to translate this into a book that isn't deeply structurally flawed. WE SHALL SEE.
Profile Image for N.
808 reviews195 followers
March 24, 2018
There is no "correct" way to write a novel -- only what works for you -- so reading craft books (other than those that are objectively fantastic*) can be a frustrating experience. That said, I still think you can get one or two nuggets out of any craft book.

From this one, by far the most useful nugget imo is Lisa Cron's idea that every character should have a guiding "misbelief", or faulty worldview, which is challenged by the events of the novel. Cron's suggestion for building a compelling character is to focus on that misbelief (e.g. the character believes love isn't worth the potential for heartache) and write 3 backstory scenes that demonstrate how this faulty worldview was formed.

As someone who struggles and struggles and struggles with creating compelling emotional arcs, I found this a rather clean solution and it's something I'll be toying with in future.

However, the rest of this book? Ehhh. The "brain science" stuff is mostly bunk. The book is rambling and jargon-y. It keeps referring to "the third rail", which for the life of me I can't figure out. Google tells me it's something to do with electrification of railways. But I don't know what this means as a metaphor. ???? THIRD RAIL ????

I also think Story Genius misrepresents the novel-writing process as something clean and orderly, when ... c'mon, it's more like blood and guts everywhere. In general, I wonder if this book is more useful to experienced writers than anyone just starting out?

(Don't get me started on the truly abysmal-sounding novel that Cron uses as an example throughout Story Genius. In theory, getting to see a writer "in action" using Cron's method should have been useful. In practice, the novel -- involving famous dogs and nefarious fangirls and ~the healing power of love~ -- was so eyeroll-worthy that I quickly began skipping those sections. Woof.)

*Objectively fantastic craft books: Self Editing For Fiction Writers, Writing Down the Bones, The Story Grid.
Profile Image for Stacey Bookerworm.
758 reviews5 followers
July 27, 2016
In my opinion this is a must have read for any aspiring author. This book sets out a program based on the idea that in developing a novel you need to be examining the protagonist and their motives rather than looking at the plot.

Lisa Cron set out the program in a refreshing and humorous way that made it very readable. She clearly sets out not just what works, but how it works and why. She outlines why are a whopping 96% of submissions to publishers are rejected and what authors can do to try and stop this happening.

I enjoyed the clear outlines and helpful tasks peppered throughout the book. I would definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for Debbie.
3,209 reviews60 followers
August 28, 2016
"Story Genius" is a guide on how to create powerful, character-driven stories using the Story Genius writing system. If you expect a lot of brain science, you'll be disappointed. The author only referred to a couple of studies. Instead, she resorted to speculative stuff, saying, "Evolutionarily speaking, our brain is wired..." followed by a story about what advantage we might have gotten from telling stories.

She believes that all powerful stories are ultimately character-driven, so she has you start your story creation with the character rather than a plot. She takes you step-by-step through deciding what the story is about, what your main character desires, and the misbelief that prevents him/her from gaining that desire. From there, you come up with what happens scene by scene to force the character to re-evaluate that misbelief. She described each step, then she had a fiction author--who is coming up with her next story--write that step to demonstrate it.

This system will prevent your book from wandering around aimlessly, full of filler scenes. Overall, I think a person could successfully follow this Story Genius system. It seems best suited for literary writing. She didn't really show how it might be used in genre fiction, where some genres are expected to contain very specific plot elements (which runs counter to her purely character-driven system). However, she does give some good advice on how to come up with a strong story and this can be used in any case.

I received this book as a review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.
Profile Image for A.E. Bross.
Author 7 books39 followers
September 26, 2020
All right, I want to preface this by saying that I spent my undergrad studying stories and their place in society. I majored in English Lit and minored in History. This is not to say that I "know better," because that is ridiculous, but that I've had some experience and study in this particular field.

First and foremost, there are some very valuable ideas that Cron presents in this book. She approaches storytelling from a character-centric position (which I applaud) and works on drawing out the importance of not only what drives a character, but how what goes on around said character does and should affect that drive. It all relates back to the character for Cron, and personally, I think that's how stories make a greater impact, as that is often how people experience the world.

However, Cron falls into the popular trap of attempting to invalidate other forms and varieties of writing in order to put her own forward as the one that WILL work. It's a frustrating place that many writing craft books occupy, and often takes away from their authority.

Subtitled as "How to Use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel," there's almost NO actual brain science within the book itself, and it often relies on claims the author makes that have no support (or at least the author has deigned not to share said support with the audience). The over simplification of the history of storytelling and why stories have evolved in and of itself was frustrating enough to make one doubt the author.

Overall, I think this book has some valuable lessons and strategies for writers who find themselves stuck with character-driven plot or plots that seem to move without much emotional or character development. The charts and exercises could definitely be useful in plot, scene, and book development. However, writing in general, be it fiction or nonfiction or poetry, is different for each person, and attempting to invalidate the "myths" of writing, the way the author did, to put forth their own brand of writing as the best way always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There's no doubt that this book can be helpful, even revolutionary for some, but it just wasn't for me.

And that's okay. :)
Profile Image for Gabe Novoa.
Author 7 books686 followers
June 28, 2020
There were things I liked about this book and found helpful, and things I definitely didn't like.

Of the good, Story Genius pushed me to dig deeper into my characters in pre-writing than I usually do, and I found the exercise to be pretty helpful for brainstorming before I dive back into my partially-written WIP. It helped me generate some new ideas and make some connections where things were previously fuzzy.

That said, this book was very prescriptivist in a way I didn't appreciate. I'm always very leery of writing advice that claims a "my way or the highway" approach, and it was very critical of pantsers in a way that—even though I'm not a pantser—irked me. Much of the advice was wrapped in "you must do this or you will fail" type pressure which was not only unnecessary but obviously not true. No one writing technique works for everyone.

It also uncritically quoted Joyce Carol Oats (*insert eyeroll emoji*) and ended with a weird send off that claimed Harper Lee was hugely influential in the success of the civil rights movement with To Kill a Mockingbird? It was an odd, white savior-y way to end a book that was entirely unnecessary and left me frowning at the final pages.

So overall, this was okay. I'd say if you read it, only do so if you're able to ignore the prescriptivist pressure. There's some useful stuff in here, but it's not a book I'm going to recommend without caveats.
Profile Image for Karina.
192 reviews33 followers
July 22, 2016
Most of these types of books are one-trick ponies, and that is fine: This one has a single trick to it aswell, and it's a reasonable one, with a bunch of exercises and examples. Helpful when brain is frozen.
Profile Image for Abigail.
Author 6 books22 followers
May 22, 2017
DNF. I don't like it when someone thinks their way is the only way to do something.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 838 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.