Review: Story Genius by Lisa Cron for Struggling Writers

struggling writers

Brain Help for Struggling Writers

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)

What could be more appealing?

Truthfully, I’ve spent five years working on my novel with several years break, so I felt I was a prime candidate to read this book.  Reading through the book caused me to make significant changes in my drafts, and it is progressing. I would love to be a student in her class. Probably, she has met others who write as I do.

struggling writers

Has Lisa Read My Novel?

According to Lisa, I write by the seat of my pants, and she does not support that method of writing.

“And when you pants, there is no past. (uh oh) Without the past to provide context, that rose is just a plain old pretty flower, and who cares about that?”

So after reading Wired for Story, I went back and rearranged and rewrote my novel. What do you think? Is Lisa proud of me?

Turns Out My Brain’s Not Working

“The very fact that you can move things around is a telltale sign that the novel has no internal logic.” (Uh oh! ouch, ouch, ouch!)

So the plotters have it right. Right?

Next, I spent hours (days if you add up all the hours) plotting the book from beginning to end.

Wrong again.

“Plotters have it backward: the events in the plot must be created to force the protagonist to make a specific really hard internal change. And that means you need to know, specifically, what that internal change will be before you begin creating a plot.” Time to quit?

What About Polishing Your Style?

Not yet, there’s polishing it up. Get out your Grammarly and other editing programs. Take out all the times you used passive tense and “just” and “really.”

Maybe the award-winning novels go to those who can write beautiful prose and moving descriptions. I’d like to be able to do that, wouldn’t you? So I practiced writing narrative descriptions.

“Rather than inviting us in, the beautiful language is more like a waterproof sealant, locking us on the surface where all we can do is admire the words, rather than absorb the story that they’re meant to tell.”

Crud, I’m in real trouble here. How about you?

Who Reviews Books Anyway?

I do and my rating for this book is five stars. Even if I write no better after reading it, I enjoyed reading Story Genius.  However, I’m hoping that the book turns me into a story writing genius.

Lisa Cron tells us that we all recognize a good story. We are wired to do so. So, realistically anyone is qualified to discuss books. Do you review books? Feel free to share a recent or favorite review in the comment section.

Story Genius analyzes how to move from an expert reader to superb writer, which is not intuitive. If you’ve tried to write, you can attest to that fact.

Not surprisingly, some reviewers didn’t love the book as much as I have. Some of them even think she is insulting to her readers who just don’t get it when she hammers down her points. Unfortunately, I am one of those dunce students who needs all the extra help I can get.

Do you ever wonder if reviewers have ever tried to write or edit a book? I checked. Some of them have. So have I, but I’ve concluded that I’m not as critical of a reviewer as maybe I should be.  So if you want a review that reflects a biting critical analysis, check out these reviews on Goodreads.

What Other Reviewers Say About Story Genius by Lisa Cron

“I feel very mixed about this book. I teach creative writing, and I’ve tried to make a study of “what works” in popular stories. Liza Cron both hits and misses in this book.” Rebecca Rener, a writer, and editor.

“This book contains virtually no “brain science.” In fact, most of the citations and references in the back of the book cite direct quotes by other authors [often about writing], to the best of my count, I can only find five cited mentions of ‘brain science’.” Amy, who does not disclose herself.

“I was expecting more depth and substance involving interesting facts and tips on writing plot, pacing, character development, etc. in relation to science. ” Kelly Danahy a recent college grad who likes to write and read.

Some Favorite Quotes from Story Genius

“…most self-published books sell fewer than 150 copies.” Yikes! Hope you have done better than that if you have self-published. I haven’t tried it yet.

“Story is about how the things that happen in the plot affect the protagonist, and how he or she changes internally as a result.” (Underlined it a million times!)

“Anything that doesn’t impact the protagonist’s internal struggle, regardless of how beautifully written or “objectively” dramatic it is, will stop the story cold, breaking the spell that captivated readers, and unceremoniously catapulting them back into their own lives.”

Even Lisa Cron had a critical word to say about the author of one of my favorite writing books. “Whether we’re talking about your blueprint or the entire first draft of your novel, she (Anne Lamott) couldn’t be more wrong—someone is going to see it, and that someone is the most important person of all: you.”

“A broken pattern forces you to reconsider something that, up to that moment, you tacitly assumed you could count on. That’s how the brain rolls.”

Contents of Story Genius in Three Parts

1 What a Story Is and What It Isn’t (two chapters)

2 Creating the Inside Story (six chapters)

3 Creating an External Gauntlet to Spur Your Protagonist’s Internal Struggle

About the Author

struggling writers

“Lisa Cron wrote Wired for Story and Story Genius. In addition to writing her literary jobs give her a wealth of well-rounded experience.

Her list of accomplishments in writing includes a TEDx talk, Wired for Story. She has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton and John Muir Publications. Also, the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency employed her as an agent. She worked as a producer on shows for Showtime and Court TV. Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency used her as a story consultant. Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Visual Narrative in New York City. Finally, together with Author Accelerator CEO Jennie Nash, she runs the online Story Genius Workshop.

Lisa speaks at writing workshops, universities, and schools. She helps authors master the innate power of story.

She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lisacron”

Now What?

I hope this review helps you make a choice about what self-help book you read next about writing. Whether it does or doesn’t, I’d love to hear from you.  Like you, I write to make connections with people. Come say hi. 🙂 Post a link to one of your reviews.

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11 responses to “Review: Story Genius by Lisa Cron for Struggling Writers”

  1. Warning: You Can’t Put Down Anne Goodwin’s Sugar and Snails? – Marsha Ingrao – Always Write Avatar

    […] book to solve its mystery. I read it to improve my writing. Lisa Cron who wrote Wired for Story and Story Genius says that you can’t naturally learn just from reading stories. We get too involved in the […]


  2. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty Book Review – Marsha Ingrao – Always Write Avatar

    […] learned from Story Genius and Wired for Story that reading extensively does not teach you how to write. As a result, […]


  3. Ralph Whillier Avatar

    Hello dear Marsha,

    You may have noticed that I Liked three or four of your posts in a couple of seconds. I had read them before and I have just fixed a problem of not being able to Like other bloggers’ posts. It was caused by a Google App in my Chrome extensions. All okay now.

    I hope that the three of you plus Manny are well and happy my friend.

    Love Ralph xx


    1. Marsha Ingrao Avatar

      Been thinking about you. Hope you are doing well. I’ve had my nose buried with writing but not blogging g for the past few months. Got to get caught up on the newest episodes of your exciting life. Lots of 💗, RVBFM 😍😍😍


  4. Claire Fullerton Avatar

    Hi Marsha! I have had the pleasure of finding you through DG Kaye, who shared this blog post. I’ve never read a book on how to write or plot a novel, but I can report that I’ve gone into each of my books knowing the full story. If I know the story ( beginning, middle and end) and have a handle on the book’s tone and intention, then I’ve found that twenty pages or so in, I’ll make an outline that focus on highlights and pivot points on the way to the book’s end. I’ve gone into each novel knowing it’s point , and this helps me keep current with the book’s theme. I’ve found that once I have the characters in play, surprising things can happen. My current manuscript began with the narrator reluctantly returning to her childhood home in the South from California to visit two childhood friends. As I wrote, I kept asking myself, “Now why is the narrator reluctant” and unexpectedly, I started writing her backstory, which led to the entire thrust of the novel changing. An unorthodox way of writing a novel, I know, yet it works for me. I’ll play along with your fun request and post a link to my book review of Johnnie Bernhard’s, A Good Girl.


    1. Marsha Ingrao Avatar

      What an insightful reply! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m am writing a lot of the back story right now, and it is very helpful! The questions do arise, don’t they? I’ll visit your post. 😍


  5. Michelle JAMES Avatar

    A great review, Marsha. I will be checking out STORY GENIUS. I love Debbie’s “plotster.”


    1. Marsha Ingrao Avatar

      I like that, too. I think that describes my writing style, too. I have to get started a little bit before I can outline. 😍


  6. DGKaye Avatar

    Hi Marsh! Great post and review. I am definitely checking out this book. I think I’m somewhere in the middle as many writers are, hence, I call myself a plotser (half plotter, half pantser). Indeed at least an outline is required to help structure our stories. We can always make changes and work around it, but an outline helps with direction. ❤


    1. Marsha Ingrao Avatar

      I think I am a plotter, too! It’s hard to write without some direction. 😍😍😍


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