May 17, 2019 • 40M

159: #StoryGenius

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Entertaining, actionable advice on craft, productivity and creativity for writers and journalists in all genres, with hosts Jessica Lahey, KJ Dell'Antonia and Sarina Bowen.
Episode details

Story expert Lisa Cron joins Jess and KJ to dig into the mechanics of a good book, including the difference between plot and story, and looking beyond “what happened” to “why did it happen”.

To talk to Lisa Cron is--unless you've already read Story Genius or Wired for Story--to possibly flip everything you thought you knew about story--fiction, nonfiction, short, long, whatever--onto its head.

Story, she points out, isn't plot. It isn't what happens, and then what happens next, and then what happens next. It's the why behind those happenings. It's not, well, a spaceship just landed on the green in front of the library, and I'll either a) rush towards it or b) head for my car.

It's WHY I do those things. It's not just what I do next, but what it is about me, now the main character in this rather stressful tale that may end with us all being the entrees on some giant interstellar menu, that makes me make the no doubt terrible choices that I make (good choices make bad books). And that's my backstory. Which brings me to one of the many, many quick-write-that-down moments in this episode.

Backstory isn't backstory. It IS the story. It informs every line of every page, every decision, every "because of this, then that," right up until the end, when whatever screwed me up in the first place becomes something I can overcome in order to win the aliens over and persuade them that we're not tasty after all (before I fry them with my laser gun and it's alien nuggets for everyone, with a variety of dipping sauces).

Our guest, Lisa Cron, is the author of Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel* [*Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere] and Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. She also contributed to Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published.


Jess sings the praises of The Lewis Trilogy, Peter May

Lisa recommends Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

KJ is still finishing her favorite novel of this year so far, There's a Word for That, Sloane Tanen.


Book Soup, Los Angeles

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.