I often throw around the statement “Writing saved my life.” But what does this really mean? Below, I’ll be talking about one very specific way that writing saved me, and how important it is to all humans.When I was a little girl I used to walk in circles around my backyard, twirling my curls around one finger and sucking my lip and, most importantly, telling myself stories. When I made a “mistake” I forced myself to start over from the beginning. Obsessive Compulsive or Aspiring Writer? You be the judge.
Jokes aside, later I realized that this activity served a very specific purpose for me as a child—it alleviated my anxiety. But why?
In WIRED FOR STORY, Lisa Cron argues that story was crucial to our evolution, providing templates for survival in a dangerous world. “Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it.”
So by telling myself stories I was “preparing” myself for my future. I was helping myself “survive.” But I wasn’t content just telling myself these stories. I wanted to become a writer and share my stories with others so I would feel less isolated and alone. But how can we “seduce” others to care about our stories? We need to write stories that guide them in their own lives, that teach them how to “survive” too.
Cron says: “Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”
“Nature’s way of seducing us.” What does this mean? You know that high you get from reading a great book that makes you want to turn the pages, keeps you up at night, makes you jittery all day to get back to the story? Lisa Cron links this to dopamine released by the brain as an evolutionary development to engage us with the story so we will learn something we need in order to survive.
Not just any story can make the brain respond this way. What’s key here is a “tale well told.” But what does that really mean? What elements of story must be present in order to fully engage the reader so they receive the dopamine rush that keeps them reading?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the twelve questions I use to outline my novels, and applying the ideas from WIRED FOR STORY to them to see if these questions serve an evolutionary (survival) purpose.
Stay tuned. And meanwhile, check out WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron.