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The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better

The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better

by Will Storr
The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better

The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better

by Will Storr


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The compelling, groundbreaking guide to creative writing that reveals how the brain responds to storytelling

Stories shape who we are. They drive us to act out our dreams and ambitions and mold our beliefs. Storytelling is an essential part of what makes us human. So, how do master storytellers compel us? In The Science of Storytelling, award-winning writer and acclaimed teacher of creative writing Will Storr applies dazzling psychological research and cutting-edge neuroscience to our myths and archetypes to show how we can write better stories, revealing, among other things, how storytellers—and also our brains—create worlds by being attuned to moments of unexpected change.

Will Storr’s superbly chosen examples range from Harry Potter to Jane Austen to Alice Walker, Greek drama to Russian novels to Native American folk tales, King Lear to Breaking Bad to children’s stories. With sections such as “The Dramatic Question,” “Creating a World,” and “Plot, Endings, and Meaning,” as well as a practical, step-by-step appendix dedicated to “The Sacred Flaw Approach,” The Science of Storytelling reveals just what makes stories work, placing it alongside such creative writing classics as John Yorke’s Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey into Story and Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing. Enlightening and empowering, The Science of Storytelling is destined to become an invaluable resource for writers of all stripes, whether novelist, screenwriter, playwright, or writer of creative or traditional nonfiction.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683358183
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 236,055
File size: 656 KB

About the Author

Will Storr is an award-winning journalist and novelist whose work has appeared in the Guardian, Sunday Times, The New Yorker, and the New York Times. His books include Selfie: How the West Became Self-Obsessed and The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science (Overlook/Abrams Press). His writing courses are among the most in-demand offerings of the Guardian Masterclasses and the Faber Academy. He lives in Kent, England.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Creating a World

1.0 Where does a story begin? 11

1.1 Moments of change; the control-seeking brain 11

1.2 Curiosity 17

1.3 The model-making brain; how we read; grammar; filmic word order; simplicity; active versus passive language; specific detail; show-not-tell 20

1.4 World-making in fantasy and science fiction 31

1.5 The domesticated brain; theory of mind in animism and religion; how theory-of-mind mistakes create drama 33

1.6 Salience; creating tension with detail 39

1.7 Neural models; poetry; metaphor 41

1.8 Cause and effect; literary versus mass-market storytelling 48

1.9 Change is not enough 56

Chapter 2 The Flawed Self

2.0 The flawed self; the theory of control 61

2.1 Personality and plot 68

2.2 Personality and setting 72

2.3 Personality and point of view 76

2.4 Culture and character; Western versus Eastern story 78

2.5 Anatomy of a flawed self; the ignition point 84

2.6 Fictional memories; moral delusions; antagonists and moral idealism; antagonists and toxic self-esteem; the hero-maker narrative 92

2.7 David and Goliath 98

2.8 How flawed characters create meaning 100

Chapter 3 The Dramatic Question

3.0 Confabulation and the deluded character; the dramatic question 107

3.1 Multiple selves; the three-dimensional character 114

3.2 The two levels of story; how subconscious character struggle creates plot 119

3.3 Modernist stories 128

3.4 Wanting and needing 131

3.5 Dialogue 132

3.6 The roots of the dramatic question; social emotions; heroes and villains; moral outrage 136

3.7 Status play 143

3.8 King Lear; humiliation 149

3.9 Stories as tribal propaganda 153

3.10 Antiheroes; empathy 163

3.11 Origin damage 169

Chapter 4 Plots, Endings and Meaning

4.0 Goal directedness; constriction and release; video games; personal projects; eudaemonia 183

4.1 The story event; the standard five-act plot; plot as recipe versus plot as symphony of change 190

4.2 The final battle 198

4.3 Endings; control; the God moment 201

4.4 Story as a simulacrum of consciousness; transportation 206

4.5 The power of story 208

4.6 The value of story 211

4.7 The lesson of story 212

4.8 The consolation of story 212

Appendix: The Sacred Flaw Approach 215

A Note on the Text 257

Acknowledgments 259

Notes and Sources 261

Index 284

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