There’s no other way to say it. Writing a book is complicated. The further into the process I go, the more complex it becomes. My saving grace is I love word puzzles, and this is a word puzzle in the extreme.
I’ve discovered there are parts of the writing which don’t come naturally to me, probably because this is my first book. Until I worked my way through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius process, I didn’t consciously know these bits existed.
Yesterday, I decided I needed a cheat sheet to help me along.
My book is a memoir of healing, and I am the protagonist. Under my cheat sheet header, the first note talks of the two things driving me all through the story—what I most desire, and the core misbelief that shapes my world view.
I most desire love. Being loved, giving love, having and doing what I love—all the things my illness makes difficult, if not impossible. I have a core misbelief, formed in childhood, which says love can’t keep me safe from the bad things in life. Every day I am ill, and my misbelief is made stronger. My desire and misbelief are in constant opposition. My emotions fly between love and fear, with fear in the ascendant.
The second note is something Lisa repeats throughout Story Genius—the answer to why always lies in the past. I spent much of last year writing backstory. The time spent was worth it. I found the answers to most of my why’s, and the story is so much richer as a result.
Two questions make up my third note. As the protagonist, what am I most worried about? How will it affect my judgment and reaction throughout the story?
The fourth note is another set of questions, under a heading “as I write ask why of everything”. For every scene I ask:
- Why does the plot need this to happen?
- Can it happen? Is it logistically possible?
- Given my inner struggle (desire vs. misbelief), why would it happen? (Here is the scene’s true meaning.)
- Ask “and so . . . .” Why does my reader need to know this? How does this move the story forward? What will happen as a result? Aka what is the point of including this in the story?
Asking ‘why’ is so crazily key to everything. I feel like a toddler who has discovered her new favourite word. Sometimes I feel like the mom who is really tired of answering.
Finally, the fifth note is all about building the emotional connection with my reader. The connection exists because I make both thought and emotion visible in the writing. I do three things:
- The protagonist (me, in the story) draws a conclusion from all she notices. Think ‘survival’.
- Emotion shows on every page, and it is complicated, layered, nuanced, and conflicted. For example, grief is a constantly shifting mix of anger, pain, guilt, regret, confusion, numbness, denial, and more.
- I stay in the protagonist’s (me, in the story) subjective mind set, and filter everything I write through it. This means I consider how my world view, core desire, and core misbelief are running me, and I need to track how these things shift as my healing experiences change me.
Yes, just a little complicated.
At the very top of my cheat sheet is the header. From page 267, I copied the third to last sentence of Lisa’s book. “…the only way to change how someone thinks about something, is to first change how they feel about it.”
This quote captures the essence of the book I am writing, and it shows me, in a few words, how to tell the story.
In truth, it is what I experienced as I healed a chronic illness. My feelings changed, and as they changed, my thoughts changed. As my feelings and thoughts changed, my body healed. It was a long miracle.
I love my new cheat sheet. It’s helping me write the best book I can.
I’ve said this before. Thank you, Lisa Cron, for creating Story Genius.
In this post:
Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Ten Speed Press, 2016. http://wiredforstory.com/story-genius-1
The page references are: first note from chapter 5; second note from page 210; third note from page 265; fourth note from pages 210 through 215, plus page 266; fifth note from pages 256 through 266; header from page 267.