For this month’s contribution to #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, I’m reviewing Story Genius by Lisa Cron. A member of one of my Facebook groups recommended it to me.
Story Genius’ Core Message
Story Genius’ core message is to know your character’s why. The author emphasizes the importance of you knowing the origin of your main character’s world viewpoint. What specific event happened before the story started that has significantly driven all of her life decisions?
The “Know Your Why” concept is something I explored in my book, The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel, in the chapter “5 Whys”. A member of my former writing group, Lisa, always drilled down to the character’s motivation. She force me to answer why they make current decisions based on a specific turning point in their early life.
For example, in an unpublished work of mine, the main character, Naomi, is fiercely loyal to her adopted family. She makes wrong and unethical decisions to salvage her brother’s reputation. Her “Why”? Peeling through the layers of her past, at age eight, she witnessed her birth parents’ murder/suicide. She vowed to do anything necessary to thank her adoptive family for taking her in. She validated their decision with her loyalty. This causes multiple problems from the start of the story, pushing her through the rabbit hole of bad decisions. Ultimately, she has to question her misbelief to attain her true goal.
Questions the author asks you to ask your characters
My very first, official writing conference I attended was Deb Dixon’s, based on her book, GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. Since then, I’ve always looked at my character’s motivation, but Story Genius, asks you to look further and question more.
- What early event changed your character’s view on the world?
- How did it form a false belief that has stopped him from getting what he really wants?
- What inciting event at the story’s start pushes against his misbelief and causes him to make more and more wrong decisions as the story progresses?
- What ultimately forces him to confront his misbelief and allows him to reach his goal?
Story Genius, the Subtitle:
How to Use brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel
The book’s subtitle is misleading. While the author touches on how humans are hardwired for story, she did not delve deep enough into the biology of explaining how our beliefs affect our behavior. For the best, in-depth explanation on that theory, pick up a copy of The Biology of Belief by Bruce H. Lipton.
Story Genius reinforces a story tool I’ve used since the beginning: the character’s “Why” matters and drives the plot. I have not sharpened this tool lately, as I tend to gallop from one plot point to another. I now have to step back, ask questions, and make it clear to myself and my readers why my character makes the decisions she does. If I can bring her “Why” to the forefront, I’ll have a realistic, flawed character the reader can identify with.
What do you think?
Do you explore your character’s background before writing? How deep do you go? I hate character interviews. Who cares if she hated chocolate milk in the second grade? (unless her classmates teased her, warping her sense of friendship that carries on into adulthood, and clouds her view of society). See, that’s what I’m talking about.
Please comment if an event in your character’s past (B.S., before story) shapes the decisions he makes A.S. (after story).
More about #AuthorToolboxBlogHop
#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop is a monthly blog hop for authors who want to learn more about being authors. Held the third Wednesday of the month, the members participate with “posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.” If you would like to learn more or become a member, go here.
I’ll be back in July with another AuthorToolBoxBlogHop tip, and twice a week (fingers crossed) with other writing information and happenings in my life.
Great post Cheryl! I’m outlining a new WIP for Camp Nano at the moment and you’ve given me some really good tips from making my MC credible and flawed. Thanks!
I love knowing the hows and whys of my MC’s life – it makes for really strange blindspots and reactions. Great post 🙂
I can’t say I write a backstory, but I do consider what may drive a character do to what I want them to do. Best to have answer lined up with some foundation to build on. 🙂
Anna from elements of emaginette
I just picked up a copy of this book yesterday! I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m really interested in seeing other people’s takes on the importance of Why’s, and your review makes me want to jump it to the top of my stack.
I also just bought a copy of 21 Ways, which I’m equally interested in looking at!
Story Genius has a lot of good tips, though I think the author gets a little heavy handed with repeating her message. But I did write 12 pages of notes (one way to help me remember).
Thanks for buying 21 Ways. It was a collaborative effort with an early critique partner. If you want something similar for FREE, go to:
It’s a compilation of 26 writing and marketing tips I blogged about for this year’s AtoZChallenge. theblogchatter.com has exclusive rights to publish and promote them for two months, then the book will be available on Amazon, etc. Get it while it’s still free!
Thanks for the feedback, and leave a review for 21 Ways when you’re done!
I’m a big backstory person. I don’t interview my characters, but I dream about them, percolate on the story until I find their motivation, what made them into the person they are at the outset of my novel. Great post, Cheryl! Thanks!
I like Story Genius too. Lisa Cron made reading about research easier with her tone. Backstory helps me create a vivid picture in my mind. I admit, I’m also not a fan of character interviews, but I did do one recently that worked pretty well. Have a great rest of your day. 🙂
Great post. I like to know my character’s backgrounds, but I don’t write huge essays on them. I always know what event prior to the story starting motivate the character. For each scene I ask myself how does the scene affect the POC character. Knowing their background helps answer this.
great post. Knowing a character’s backstory is an important part of realizing them as a complete person.
I keep meaning to buy this book. I have so many others I have to read first, though. 🙂 It sounds interesting. As a psychologist and previous mental health worker the Why is ALWAYS what interests me and it is what drives any plot. I want to know my characters as well as myself before I begin to write because if I don’t, there’s no ‘life’ in the words.
I’m like you: I galloped from one plot point to another, and as a result I’m doing some work on my characters today. Arckia’s past influences him a lot! These character questions and pointers are really useful, Thanks for sharing 🙂
I’ve heard really good things about this book, and knowing the character’s “why” is definitely important. I try to know the “why” for all of my secondary characters as well.
I love knowing my character’s backstory, even if I never share it with the readers.
I am working through Story Genius right now and have found I instinctively do a lot of what Cron recommends. However, several of the exercises have been enlightening for my current WIP. Thanks for sharing your insight, and I will definitely check out the other three books you mentioned.
Knowing the why for your secondary characters is one of the points the author makes. No matter how small their role, all characters have an agenda.
I don’t know how an author can write a relatable book if she doesn’t know what’s driving her characters.
Good write-up! I will have to pick up a copy and add it to my list for authors.
Great post! I also hate character interviews and I find that many of the questions on them don’t really apply to my characters. I’m writing a post-apocalyptic romance so “what is this characters favorite food? or what do they do at the mall?” aren’t very helpful. There are no malls, and they eat what they have. Of course they have preferences but as my husband said during survival school- hungry men don’t turn down food. (He ate wild blueberries, and he hates fruit!)
Thank you for the review.
Character interviews are not tailored for sci-fi/fantasy/post-apocalyptic stories, but delving into a character’s past is necessary to know how they’ll react in the present.
Thanks for writing and good luck with your romance!
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you find the book useful in your writing.
Great post! Knowing your characters is so important! 🙂
Brilliant book. My only problem with it is that I loaned my copy to a friend and she seems reluctant to give it back …
Great post! It’s so important to know a character’s ‘Why’ to help add depth to who they are. That simple question will answer more than any character interview can!
Thanks for the review, Cheryl. I’m always looking for a new technique book to help me grow in my writing. I’m adding this one to my list.
Pingback: Author Toolbox Blog Hop: A Year in Review – E.M.A. Timar
Great post! I found this book quite helpful too. Knowing what motivates your characters really makes the story come alive for the readers. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thanks for visiting. With so many guides and workbooks on the market, it’s difficult to chose which method to follow. Story Genius makes sense. We all, consciously or subconsciously, make decisions based on our past experiences and expectations. Why shouldn’t our characters?