The reader expects that the story will start making a point, beginning in the very first sentence. All stories make a point, and that point, it's what we were just talking about, all stories make a point about human nature, about what makes people tick. Now, in no way am I saying that you're gonna make that point, meaning you know what it is and you're gonna step in front of the story as if you were writing an op-ed, and tell the reader what that point is. You are not gonna do that at all. In fact, it might never be stated outright throughout the novel, but all stories make a point. Readers sense this from the beginning. It is a yardstick they use to go forward, and if you're thinking what do you exactly mean by a point? What is that? Let's dive in and let's-- I love the notion of getting to maybe either kick out or redefine writing terms that can very well lead you astray. So let's talk about that. Let's talk about theme for a minute because point is a substitute for theme. Writers ta...
lk about theme all the time. What's your theme? What are you writing about, what's your theme? And it's terrifying, because it's vague and it's abstract. I mean, in that school district, they were teaching theme to seven-year-olds, and I said to them, "Really, seven-year-olds? Adult writers get nervous when they think about theme. Can't we just substitute point?" And they went, "Well, we'd love to, except theme is on the standardized testing so we have to teach them theme." But we substituted point and actually, it helped their test scores go up. But here's an example. If you think of theme, people go, "What's your theme?" And I'll go, "I'm writing a book, and it's about love and loss and grief." It's like okay, so what happens in your story? I don't know, what are you going to do with it? I don't know, it's a big, giant, abstract concept. The story, like life, isn't a specific always. So that isn't going to help you even in the least to sit down what you're going to write about. If you look at point, which is specific and concrete... The question is, what are you saying about love, loss and grief? Maybe, it's something like, well, you know what, there are a lot of people, who are afraid to really let themselves love someone else. Because they know, that at some point, that person might die and the thought of that loss and the grief that would follow, feels so devastating, that they don't think it's worth it at all. What I'm writing about, my point is, that if you really let yourself love someone, and then, they do die, you do lose them, the strength that you can pull from that love not only allows you to get through, and once they get through the grief, I don't think you ever get through grief, I think it stays to some level, it's all the way there, but it makes it worth it, it gives you the strength to go forward. That's my point. If you think about that, you can start maybe writing a story That's a point. And you can think, wait, yeah here's someone who's afraid in the beginning, maybe they will love someone, and look, when this happens, they're going to learn that I can already start to see what that story might be. You need to think about what the point is. The other reason you need to know, from the beginning what that point is, is because since all stories make a point beginning from the very first sentence, if you don't know what your point is, how will you even string things together going forward? You're just going to kind of throw things in at random, because it seems like, perhaps, a good idea. You need to know what it is. When you think of anything else you ever would have written in your life, you wouldn't not know your point if you're writing a term paper at school, or an op-ed or even an e-mail. You know the point you want to make, and then you're cherry picking what you say, and I don't mean that in a bad way, like you're leaving, well maybe you are, you're leaving out anything that wouldn't go to that point. And you make the point toward the end. And because readers read like all of us, we think if this then that. We think in cause and effect. So if there's no point, we don't have any way of adding things up, and neither do you when you write. It's sort of like, and I know I always use this example, but I can't help it, it's sort of like, and I know most of us have a person in our lives like this, I call it, my dithery friend Todd. Some of us more than one dithery friend like Todd. And Todd is the guy who, he calls you up and he says, I gotta tell you what happened at work today. And he comes over, and he goes, here's what happened. My boss got this phone call, and he jumped on the desk, and then he ran out the door as the UPS guy was coming in. And then I got a call from my grandmother, who either was going to the doctor or she was in Hawaii, I'm not really sure, and there's something about the cat getting out, and there's this smell of mildew in the couch and either, the milk or the yogurt's gone bad, and then there's this rave, that might have happened in 1997, or it might be a week from Tuesday. And as he's saying this to you, you're trying to hold it in, but you want to shake him and you want to go, why are you telling me this? What's your... And to make the point, you never say, why are you telling me this, what's your theme? You say, why are you telling me this, what's your point? You really want to figure out what your point is. You want to ask yourself, what point are you making? What do you want to tell us about human nature? About what makes people tick that we don't already know? What is the change you want to see in the world? Because at the end of the day, when you get to the aha moment is, we'll discuss, your story will make its point. And by diving into that, what is that change? What matters to you? Where do you see things going? When you think of if only they knew this, then maybe they'd have the strength to do whatever that would be. What is that? Why does that matter to you? The deeper you dig into that for yourself, and really get that meaning, the more likely you are that you're going to stick with the project. Because the truth is, writing anything is like, really hard. And you're going to hit that long boring part, where you think oh my gosh, I'll never be able to do it. Knowing what that change is, what change you want to see in the world will really keep you at it. So what is that change? I mean, again, I can't say strongly enough, you guys are so powerful as writers, you can change people, So what is that change?
Lisa Cron is a story coach and the author of <em>Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers From the Very First Sentence</em> and <em>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)</em>, both published by Ten Speed Press.
Awesome -- Lisa Cron is the best writing teacher I've ever had the pleasure of reading/watching. And I majored in comp lit! :) Thank you Lisa!
Impressed! Lisa's storytelling approach makes so much sense to me and so refreshingly different to the expected 'generic writing structure’. Great delivery, easy to listen to and understand. Thank you.
I appreciated the differentiation between plot and story. Inspiring and usefull throughout. Thanks Lisa.