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The Science of Storytelling

I bought this book hoping I’d learn a bit more about the structure of stories and how to better analyse them. I loved it.

The main mindset shift the book offered was to view the story from the perspective of the character, as the plot itself just being there to support the character development, rather than the other way around.

There was a bit too much on the neuroscience of cognition for my liking (mainly because I’ve read the same points being made tens of times before), but if you’re interested in starting to explore how our brains make sense of time, our surroundings and ourselves, this would be a great book to try. It’s not as alienating as a lot of the scientific literature.

My notes are mostly those around storytelling.

Actionable takeaways

  1. Our brains are wired to be interested, intrigued and satisfied by change or even the threat of change. This is why we find openings such as “The Dursleys of Privet Drive were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” so interesting.

  2. The peak of curiosity is where people think they have some idea but they’re not sure if they do

  3. Density of a character is built by exploring the world from their perspective. What does the character think others are thinking about him?

  4. Humans prod the cause of things even if there are none

  5. A scene must always start with the hero having a problem, and ending with him finding out there is another solution

  6. A story is made more interesting by following a series of “because-s” rather than “and then-s”. For example, the character did this because of what just happened, rather than simply after what just happened.

  7. Complex books have highly ambiguous cause and effect, which really provoke the readers who have highly receptive to openness personalities and keep those stories with them for weeks or months, using them as a source of meditation

  8. People who have been bullied at school, will focus on the negative scenes in movies, look at random objects and feel that some are chasing others → our childhood experiences will determine how we view the world

  9. The words: “do, need, want” appear much more in novels which make it to the bestsellers list than those which don’t

  10. What are your beliefs protecting you from? Exploring what our core beliefs are can highlight a lot of who we are as people, they are our character flaws. Our core beliefs, no matter how damaging, are responsible for most of what surrounds us, so we feel attached them and find it hard to let go.

Some quotes:

If tribal thinking is the original sin, stories are prayer
Gaps in the story are where the reader inserts themselves
Who we are is how we’re broken
Being free to be evil, even if only in our minds, can be such a relief
All individuals are scientists, erecting and testing their hypotheses about the world, and adjusting them, in light of their experience
Stop looking for happiness tomorrow, happiness is being engaged in the process
Humans thrive not when we achieve what we’re after, but when we’re in pursuit of it



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