Synopses & Reviews
This guide reveals how writers can utilize cognitive storytelling strategies to craft stories that ignite readers’ brains and captivate them through each plot element.
Imagine knowing what the brain craves from every tale it encounters, what fuels the success of any great story, and what keeps readers transfixed. Wired for Story reveals these cognitive secrets—and it’s a game-changer for anyone who has ever set pen to paper.
The vast majority of writing advice focuses on “writing well” as if it were the same as telling a great story. This is exactly where many aspiring writers fail—they strive for beautiful metaphors, authentic dialogue, and interesting characters, losing sight of the one thing that every engaging story must do: ignite the brain’s hardwired desire to learn what happens next. When writers tap into the evolutionary purpose of story and electrify our curiosity, it triggers a delicious dopamine rush that tells us to pay attention. Without it, even the most perfect prose won’t hold anyone’s interest.
Backed by recent breakthroughs in neuroscience as well as examples from novels, screenplays, and short stories, Wired for Story offers a revolutionary look at story as the brain experiences it. Each chapter zeroes in on an aspect of the brain, its corresponding revelation about story, and the way to apply it to your storytelling right now.
"Wired for Story reveals that stories are not only a metaphor for human striving and survival, but they are also the means by which the brain ensures that we survive. Lisa Cron translates the latest neuroscience into a master guidebook for how to write engaging, meaningful, and moving stories." Elizabeth Lyon, author of Manuscript Makeover
"We all love a good story but most of us struggle to write them. Lisa Cron enlightens us as to how to get the job done in a savvy and engaging way." Michael Gazzaniga, neuroscientist and director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara
"As a story consultant for business executives as well as artists, I am always searching for ways to convey the skill set involved in constructing a story. Wired for Story presents basic principles for harnessing the natural power of the brain to recognize and create stories in a way that is inspiring and entirely helpful." Murray Nossel, PhD, founder of Narativ Inc.
"Remember when Luke has to drop the bomb into the small vent on the Death Star? The story writer faces a similar challenge of penetrating the brain of the reader. This book gives the blueprints." David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
This guide reveals how writers can utilize cognitive storytelling strategies to craft stories that ignite readers' brains and captivate them through each plot element.
As a recent brain-imaging study revealed, the regions of the brain that process real-life sights and sounds are activated when we are engrossed in a compelling narrative — and having our curiosity piqued about a plot point releases a dopamine boost. So how can writers take advantage of the brain's hard-wired responses to weave reader-addicting tales? Enter Lisa Cron, seasoned producer, writing instructor, and plot consultant, whose groundbreaking guide reveals the 12 cognitive secrets that writers can use to start making a point on page one, help their readers experience things through the protagonist's eyes, and move enticingly from setup to payoff — grabbing the reader's attention from the inside out.
About the Author
LISA CRON spent a decade in publishing—first at W.W. Norton then at John Muir Publications—before turning to television, where she’s been supervising producer on shows for Showtime and Court TV. She’s been a story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, Village Roadshow, and Icon; an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency; and is featured in Ask the Pros: Screenwriting. Lisa is an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.
Table of Contents
1 HOW TO HOOK THE READER
COGNITIVE SECRET: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future.
STORY SECRET: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.
2 HOW TO ZERO IN ON YOUR POINT
COGNITIVE SECRET: When the brain focuses its full attention on something, it filters out all unnecessary information.
STORY SECRET: To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must be there on a need-to-know basis.
3 I'LL FEEL WHAT HE'S FEELING
COGNITIVE SECRET: Emotion determines the meaning of everything—if we’re not feeling, we’re not conscious.
STORY SECRET: All story is emotion based—if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading.
4 WHAT DOES YOUR PROTAGONIST REALLY WANT?
COGNITIVE SECRET: Everything we do is goal directed, and our biggest goal is figuring out everyone else’s agenda, the better to achieve our own.
STORY SECRET: A protagonist without a clear goal has nothing to figure out and nowhere to go.
5 DIGGING UP YOUR PROTAGONIST'S INNER ISSUE
COGNITIVE SECRET: We see the world not as it is, but as we believe it to be.
STORY SECRET: You must know precisely when, and why, your protagonist’s worldview was knocked out of alignment.
6 THE STORY IS IN THE SPECIFICS
COGNITIVE SECRET: We don’t think in the abstract; we think in specific images.
STORY SECRET: Anything conceptual, abstract, or general must be made tangible in the protagonist’s specific struggle.
7 COURTING CONFLICT, THE AGENT OF CHANGE
COGNITIVE SECRET: The brain is wired to stubbornly resist change, even good change.
STORY SECRET: Story is about change, which results only from unavoidable conflict.
8 CAUSE AND EFFECT
COGNITIVE SECRET: From birth, our brain’s primary goal is to make causal connections—if this, then that.
STORY SECRET:A story follows a cause-and-effect trajectory from start
9 WHAT CAN GO WRONG, MUST GO WRONG—AND THEN SOME
COGNITIVE SECRET: The brain uses stories to simulate how we might navigate difficult situations in the future.
STORY SECRET: A story’s job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams, she doesn’t think she can pass.
10 THE ROAD FROM SETUP TO PAY OFF
COGNITIVE SECRET: Since the brain abhors randomness, it’s always converting raw data into meaningful patterns, the better to anticipate what might happen next.
STORY SECRET: Readers are always on the lookout for patterns; to your reader, everything is either a setup, a payoff, or the road in between.
11 MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH
COGNITIVE SECRET: The brain summons past memories to evaluate what’s happening in the moment in order to make sense of it.
STORY SECRET: Foreshadowing, flashbacks, and subplots must instantly give readers insight into what’s happening in the main storyline, even if the meaning shifts as the story unfolds.
12 THE WRITER'S BRAIN ON STORY
COGNITIVE SECRET: It takes long-term, conscious effort to hone a skill before the brain assigns it to the cognitive unconscious.
STORY SECRET: There’s no writing; there’s only rewriting.
About the Author