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Key Takeaways from the Science of Stories

science-of-stories

I recently had the chance to watch a video from Stanford’s MediaX program that explored a scientific study on how, why, and which stories impact us. The video itself is rather lengthy and a bit rambly (and uses Comic Sans in its presentation), so I wanted to save you the trouble of viewing the presentation itself and pass along the key takeaways—as well as make some of my own commentary. Let’s get to it!

1: Stories Are Deeply Rooted in Our Species

According to the research gathered and conducted by Kendall Haven and his team, stories are deeply rooted in human neurology and psychology, going back further than 150,000 years. As Haven puts it, “We’re hardwired for stories.” The notion here is that the transmission of knowledge, wisdom, identity, and beliefs was substantially aided by the structure of a story. As an increasingly social group, early homo sapiens were able to make use of story for both social and survival functions.

2: “Storification” Is Pre-Conscious Behavior

When we take in information, it isn’t our conscious mind that transforms that information into a narrative structure. Rather, when knowledge is communicated, the brain transforms it into a story before it ever hits the conscious mind. This “storification” process happens to almost all knowledge that is transmitted to us, and it happens through what Haven describes as a “neural story net.” That neural story net is a sub-region of the brain that helps us make sense of incoming data, and re-structuring fact into narrative seems to be one of its primary functions.

3: Storification Distorts Factual Information

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Procrasination, Stimulants, and the Creative Process

Neuroscience of Writing

 

 

 

Why do we, as writers, procrastinate so damn much? Why do so many of us depend on caffeine, cigarettes, and other stimulants? And why are alcohol and other mind-altering drugs so often used as creative crutches? These questions don’t have definitive answers, but a look at the neurological element can give us some insights into some of these less-than-ideal patterns.

Let’s take each of these items in turn.

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Creative Writing Lessons from My Years of Freelancing

C.S. Lakin over at Live Write Thrive was generous enough to share an article of mine with her audience. In that article, I discuss major creative writing lessons I learned during my time as a freelancer. Those lessons range from the value of ritualization to the science of willpower and well beyond.

You can check out the full article here: 5 Freelancing Tips That Will Help You Write That Novel

Desire and Limitation: An Interview with Jim Krusoe

As some of you may know, I am attending the low-residency MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. There, I’ve had many opportunities to work with well-established writers. When reviewing published work by the faculty, I was especially impressed with what I read of The Sleep Garden by Jim Krusoe. It was thus a pleasant surprise when I learned he would be conducting my second residency’s workshop.

That workshop was wonderfully educational for me. The advice I received on physical descriptions and pacing were especially valuable. Today, I hope to bring some of that same value to you by interviewing Jim Krusoe about his work and his perspective on the craft. Thank you, Jim, for agreeing to this interview. Now, let’s begin.


Rob Young / Blair

Rob: For those unacquainted with your work, how would you describe yourself? What style and thematic qualities would you say define your body of work?

Jim Krusoe

Jim Krusoe: I call my fiction meta-realism, which means nothing to anybody but me. But what I mean is the world of my fiction is a real world that also includes the unlikely, delusions, and dreams. My intent is to explore and challenge conventional boundaries: between life and death, dream and waking, past and present, artifice and natural, desire and limitation, good and bad, comic and tragic.

Rob: I’ll start by touching on a few items you mentioned at the December workshop. You mentioned that, for a recent novel, you entirely changed the point of view after your initial draft. Can you tell me more about that and how you feel POV impacts the story?

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Write-Brained: The Source of Writer’s Block

Neuroscience of Writing

 

 

 

Some contend that writer’s block isn’t “real.” Often, I’m sure these people intend to say that writer’s block is self-imposed or all in your head. Both of these things are true, but that doesn’t mean that writer’s block is in any way less actual or problematic. In this entry, we’ll explore where writer’s block happens in the brain so we can develop strategies for combating it.

In previous entries, we explored two key ideas that are relevant here. First, that creative writing takes place in one’s neo-mammalian brain. And second, that the creative element of the process is distinct from the analytical process. To begin our discussion of where writer’s block comes from, allow me to introduce a third key idea: It is possible to get “locked out” of our neo-mammalian brain and our lateral thinking process.

To start our discussion, I will discuss how each of these “lock outs” can happen.

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Poetry Madlibs: April Isn’t the Cruelest Month

Image Courtesy of Patrick Emerson

The following exercise comes to you courtesy of Rob Carney, an astounding poet and a professor at Utah Valley University. When Carney’s class was recommended to me, it came with one of the strangest testimonials I’ve heard. To paraphrase, my friend told me that when they took the course, they didn’t feel like they were learning at all. Rather — thanks to the exercises and assignments given in class — they were simply playing with language throughout the semester. It was only after the semester concluded that they realized how much this form of play had improved their effectiveness with the craft.

So, without further introduction, I bring you an exercise from that course (posted here with permission of the original author).


APRIL MAD LIBS

(Have enough fun that you can’t wait to share the resulting draft.)

1. Begin with “April isn’t the cruelest month. That would be [pick one of the other 11],

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