Are We Wired for Story?


Back in July I was in San Antonio, Texas attending the Romance Writers of America national conference. The few days I spend at conference are booked solid with appointments and luncheons and meetings with friends. I was only able to attend a handful of workshops, but one in particular impressed me.

After having the privilege of hearing Lisa Cron at RWA, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her book, Wired for Story. If you are a writer, this book is definitely an eye opener, and in case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend it. Wired for Story

I’ve decided to share my notes because I believe it will entice you to buy and read her book.

Let me preface this by saying that reading her book helped me change the opening sentence from the book I just turned in from: “Ms. Sterling?” The young and attractive medical clinic receptionist called her name as if it was a crowded waiting room.

To: Julie waited to face the guy who’d knocked her up thirteen years ago.

“Ms. Sterling?” Julie flinched. The young and attractive medical clinic receptionist called her name as if it was a crowded waiting room.

Here are my notes on 5 Things the Brain Craves

STORY helps us step out of “now”. It allows us to experience difficult situations that we are afraid of.

  1. Stories feel good for the same reason food does – both help us survive.  If early man didn’t warn others through stories and cautions, more lives would have been lost.  Stories – cognitive subconscious – are like angels, they look out for us.  i.e.  What am I going to learn that will help me make it through life?  Story helps us navigate reality.  Story releases Dopamine – a good thing!
  2. We use Story/not facts to make sense of everything.  When we try to pay attention, our minds wander to things that matter to us.  We only hear what we agree with – confirmation bias.  Homeostasis – we like to stay there – comfortable – to stick with the devil we know.  Dopamine tells the analytic brain to shut up and listen.
  3. Reading Fiction enlarges the brain for empathy.  There is no such thing as mindless entertainment.  Story enters through the gut.  It affects others.


4.  Emotion – feelings – an irascible scamp! Our ability to think rationally isn’t how we make decisions.  It is how we feel that makes decisions.  Feelings – Big Box feelings: Love, Hate, Anger, Jealousy etc. – are a chemical reaction to everything we see.  So we make decisions on how they make us feel.  Good or Bad.  Feelings don’t just matter – feelings are WHAT MATTERING MEANS.

5.  Story – it’s something that happens or happens to someone,  but a story is HOW what happens affects someone in pursuit of a difficult goal and how they change as a result!  Story is NOT about THE PLOT.  Story is how what happens affects someone – our characters, for instance.  Our characters must be uncomfortable and how they change as a result.  The plot affects the protagonist.  It’s ALL internal conflict.  We think in images and narrative.  A misbelief.  How is what’s going to happen in the plot going to affect the character?  Plot and its effect on a character is the third rail – that which supplies the electricity.  Story is what goes on beneath the surface: what I’m saying isn’t what I’m thinking and what I’m thinking is juicier.

Stories are about the raging sweat beneath our surface.  Wow!  Loved that quote.

Where did the character’s misbelief come from? Story creates new eyes for the character by the end.  We must know what our character sees the instant he/she walks on the page.  Story is all about the Internal Struggle.  We must identify where, the specific place (the genesis), that misbelief came from.  We must know specific memories that go through our character’s brain.  Decisions are based on our specific history.

Take time to write out what INNER CHANGE the character is going to go through, and how did they get there misbelief?  The INTERNAL Struggle must be used as a yardstick

These kind of stories will resonate with the reader.  The story is the raging mess where readers can feel vulnerable with our characters.So, above are my quickly jotted-down notes from a great workshop presentation, but the book Wired for Story by Lisa Cron is loaded with amazing analysis and information about what we writers do – STORY.  I recommend you buy and read this book!

What book would you suggest for me?

I leave you with this single thought: STORY is not about the PLOT, it’s about that raging mess beneath the surface – the most interesting stuff!

Here’s a link to her TED talk:






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14 Responses to Are We Wired for Story?

  1. robena grant says:

    I remember a discussion between Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer. They talked about the subtext being the crunchiness of the story. It’s hard to write subtext though. : ) At least for me. However, I do think there is more to be understood of a character by what is not said but shown through action and having those not match up. I’ve also heard that we writers should think of the story as the tip of the iceberg but mine the depths for emotion. And now I’m off to listen to that TED talk. I love those talks.

  2. Janie Emaus says:

    Great info! And just what I needed to hear I delve near the end of my women’s fiction novel. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Mia Hopkins says:

    Thank you for sharing your notes and for the link to that great TED talk. I love this: “You can’t change the way someone thinks about something without first changing the way they feel about it.”

    You’ve sold me on her book! Can’t wait to read it.


    • Hi Mia – thanks for stopping by. Lisa was a very energetic speaker, and the amount of information she squeezed in, in one hour was amazing. I learned so much, but I needed to get her book too. Would love to hear what you think about it.

  4. Thank you, Lynne. This may be just what the doctor ordered. No puns intended. I think the world of you!

  5. Hi Sarah!
    I thought these notes would be helpful to fellow authors. I’m really glad they resonated with you.

    Thank you for the kind words!

  6. Hi Lynne,
    I loved this. Great info on the what makes a story. I’ll have to get my hands on that book! My friend, Cheryl St.John, also wrote a great book on Emotion, Conflict and Tension. and it was eye opening.
    Thanks for sharing your notes!

  7. Sam Beck says:

    Hey Lynne,

    Thanks for letting us copy your notes. 😉 I think the only craft book I’ve read was “Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies,” so anything without a reference to “Dummies” in the title would be a step up! I’ll have to check out Wired for Story.

  8. Hi Sam – the last thing you are is a dummy! I have a few craft books that I really love. I’ll be glad to share them with you sometime, if you’d like?

    Thanks for coming by.

  9. Wow. This is excellent advice. Thank you.