Review: Story Genius

honing the craft recommended resource tips and tricks Mar 03, 2021

Post written by Katie Wall. This post contains an affiliate link. This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, we will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain our own.

If you are going to read one book about the writing craft, Story Genius by Lisa Cron is easily in my top 5 options to give you… and, to be honest, is currently sitting in my number 1 spot for resources to recommend to fiction writers.

Why do I think this book is so good?

Because while Cron lays out a method for planning and writing a novel, she does so with science and common sense backing it. She does so in order to help you, the writer, create a story that will be compelling, engaging, and rewarding to your reader.

In her introduction Cron asks, “What’s the biggest mistake writers make?” (pg. 1).

What do you think it is?

You might think it’s having plot holes, or the characters being too flat, or problems with world-building or setting.

Cron, however, argues that the mistake goes deeper than all of that. She writes, “The answer is easy: they don’t know what a story is” (pg. 1).

Now hang on, you may be thinking, I know what a story is. I read books all the time!

While that may be true, the skill of reading and recognizing a good story is different than the skill of writing a good story. And in my time as a book coach I’ve also seen that many writers don’t understand the fundamentals of story in a way that will allow them to create a compelling story, one that keeps their readers turning pages and satisfies readers deeply when the book draws to a close.

The fundamental piece that is so crucial for writers to understand is that “story is not about plot, or what happens. Story is about how the things that happen in the plot affect the protagonist, and how he or she changes internally as a result” (pg. 3).

In other words, “Story is about an internal struggle, not an external one. It’s about what the protagonist has to learn, to overcome, to deal with internally in order to solve the problem that the external plot poses. That means that the internal problem predates the events in the plot, often by decades. So if you don’t know, specifically, what your protagonist wants, what internal misbelief is standing in his wayand most important, whyhow on earth can you construct a plot that will force him to deal with it? The answer is simple: you can’t” (pg. 4).

In Story Genius Cron walks her reader through the science behind story, how to create this underlying internal struggle (what she calls the “third rail”), and finally how to create a plot that ties in to this internal struggle.

Her method goes step by step and involves using a system of folders and scene cards to take ideas from general to specific. She writes in an accessible, friendly style that acknowledges the difficulties of writing a novel and the temptation to disregard the importance of planning and dive into writing instead. In other words, she recognizes that writing is hard and that her readers are human. As a writer I felt encouraged and empowered to write my novel as I read this book, something that not all writing craft books accomplish.

In her final chapter, Cron reminds her reader “of the two simplest, yet most essential writers’ tools you’ll ever possess:

  • Ask ‘Why?’ of everything, and don’t stop asking until you’ve chased it down to its most story-specific, flesh-and-blood, ‘close your eyes and you can see it unfold’ origin and there is not another ‘Why’ to ask.
  • Ask ‘And so?’ of everything. And so, why does my reader need to know this? And so, how does this move the story forward? And so, what will happen as a result? In other words: What. Is. The. Point?” (pg. 266)

Throughout the book Cron teaches her reader how to use these skills through a balanced mixture of explanation and example. She even uses the unique approach of showing a writer taking each step of planning a novel as those steps are presented. If you learn best by seeing concepts applied, this book does that extremely well.

I really cannot recommend this book enough! I think I even underlined about half of the text. If you are interested in purchasing it, please consider doing so from this affiliate link to support our work here at Craft Better Books.

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