By Dee Dee Chumley
In her book, Story Genius: How toUse Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Lisa Cron claims, “Stories feel good for the same reason food tastes good and sex feels good: because without them we couldn’t survive.”
What? We need stories in order to survive? Sounds a bit far-fetched to me. But Cron backs up this claim with impressive facts about chemical reactions and brainwaves.
Similarly, in Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller suggests people strongly respond to the elements of story—setting, plot, conflict, climax, resolution—because we experience them. Our hearts and minds embrace those elements because they are an innate part of being human.
Plenty of evidence—scientific, experiential, spiritual—supports that humans are indeed wired for story. Story teaches and reinforces the necessary physical, emotional, and social skills for survival. Story isn’t merely important to human development; it is essential.
With the survival of the human race riding on story, our responsibility as writers is huge. But while humans are wired to connect with stories from birth, Cron contends the ability to write compelling stories isn’t “standard-issue equipment.”
So how do writers develop skills that will do justice to this critical task we’ve assumed? I can’t provide the definitive answer, but I can share experiences that have greatly aided me on my writing journey.
Writing Group - Thirteen years after I joined a writing group, it still serves as an invaluable source of education, inspiration, and encouragement. Writing groups might not be for everyone (although I can’t imagine why), but my writing pursuits would’ve ended years ago had it not been for the support of the incredible Inklings.
Writing Conferences - I initially joined my writing group as a way to socialize and casually share bits of writing. But the very first conference I attended sparked the desire to take my writing to new levels. Conferences offer a wealth of information and instruction as well as excellent opportunities for networking.
Contests - My first contest win gave legitimacy to my claim of being a writer. It also gave me motivation to continue my writing. However, a word of advice: Grow a thick skin. Many contests offer critiques. While it might not always seem like it, this is a good thing. Don’t take unfavorable criticisms personally. Instead, use them to improve.
Reading - Read books you enjoy, read books in the genre(s) in which you write, read books by authors you admire. Read purely for pleasure; read instructional books on writing. Read articles, blogs, anything you can find about writing. You get my gist, right? It might be possible, but I don’t understand how anyone who doesn’t read expects to write. Even more puzzling, why would anyone who doesn’t read want to write?
The ability to produce riveting stories might not be in our DNA, but as writers we can—no, we MUST—acquire that skill through study and practice. Human survival depends on it.
In 2008 Dee Dee Chumley retired from teaching high school English and “re-fired” to pursue her passion for writing. She has won numerous awards for her short stories, essays, and poems, including Best Juvenile Book from the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. for her YA novel Beyond the Farthest Star and finalist in Southern Writers 2017 short story competition. Last November her women’s fiction novel Some Form of Grace was published. She lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband Bill and their handsome but rather spoiled rescue dog Jack.
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