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Brain's Response to Story

Brain is hardwired to respond to story. Nature's way of seducing into paying attention to information.



For a story to captivate a reader, it must continually meet the brain's hardwired expectations.


Art is fire plus Algebra

Jorge Luis borges.


1. How to hook the reader
Cognitive Secret: we think in story, which allows us to envision the future

Story Secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.


How to lower the activation cost of information

The problem of how to make all this wisdom understandable, persuasive, enforceable, how to make it stick, was solved. Storytelling is the solution. it is something out brains do, naturally and implicitly, and provides the entire fabric of human societies and cultures.


Brain's response to story

Story is the language of experience

Brain constantly seeks meaning out of the dizzying input, so it forms it into a cause and effect chain, creating logical interrelations, mapping connections for future reference.



What happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result.

grab us only when they allow us to experience how it would feel to navigate the plot.


Two key Concepts

1. Neuroscientists believe we devote so much energy to stories is because without them, we’d die. Stories allow us to simulate intense experiences without having to live through them.

Pinker: Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them.

2. The specific hardwired expectations for every story we’ve read are evolutionary: A story’s ability to provide information on how we might safely navigate this world.


Story focuses always on

what does your protagonist have to confront in order to solve the problem in front of them? Reader needs to know this problem asap



nothing focuses mind like surprise. Something needs to be happening, and there must be some consequence we must anticipate. A breadcrumb trail. What draws us into a story is the firing of dopamine neutrons, signalling that intriguing info is on its way.


Biological imperative

We are always on the hunt for meaning. Having our curiosity piqued is visceral. Leads to the anticipation for knowledge we are hungry for, caused by a rush of dopamine. Because being curious is good for survival, nature rewards it.


Things readers need to know

1. whose story is it?

2. what’s happening hear?
Whenever possible, tell the whole story of the novel in the first sentence. Cues to the problem the pro will spend the story struggling. The yardstick—did this help his goal, move him further away from his goal.

3. what’s at stake?
What is at stake, in conflict for the pro’s specific quest.


Richard Restak: Context

Richard Restak: Things are always evaluated in a specific context in the mind. It is context that bestows meaning.
By giving a yardstick, it allows us to decode the meaning of everything that befalls the pro.

What analogical model fits for observation


Every single thing in the story—subplots, weather, setting tone must

have a clear impact on whether or not the pro will achieve his goal. What will it cost him in the process, and how it will change him in the end.


Myth: Beautiful Writing Trumps All

Reality: Storytelling trumps writing every time


Chap 1 Checkpoint

Do we know whose story it is?
Is there a sense as all is not what it seems?— especially important if the pro isn’t introduced immediately.
Can the reader catch a glimpse of the big picture yardstick—Give the reader the perspective to convey the point of each scene, enabling them to add things up.


2. How to zero in on your point

Cognitive Secret: When the brain focuses on something, it filters out all unnecessary information

Story Secret: To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must be there on a need to know basis.


The so what factor

Defining element of the story is the evaluation, the so what factor. What your story is about. Allows reader to reference everything according to that principle.


First job when writing

is to zero in on the point you are making


A story question is designed

, from beginning to end, to answer a single overarching question


If you can't summarize your book in a few sentences

, rewrite the book until you can


Hints that story is going off rails:

We know what a pros goal is, but have no clue as to the inner issue it forces him to deal with
Know pro and goal and issue, but suddenly gets what he wants, changes mind, or dies, abruptly changing character
Aware of pro goal, but what happens doesn’t affect him or help him achieve it. Or the things that happen don’t seem believable which makes it impossible to anticipate what happens next.



Synthesis of three elements; pro issue, theme, plot
Those three things allow us to interpret events as they unfold and anticipate where they are heading.


Pro Issue

Story isn’t about whether pro achieves goal but about what the pro overcomes internally to do it. This is what drives story forward. once achieving the last obstacle, the pro realizes from this new perspective that success is very different than what he thought it was.



What story says about larger human nature. Defines rules of the world, how it will treat pro. What does the story tell us about what it means to be human in this world? What does it say about how humans react to circumstances beyond their control?



the events that relentlessly force the pro to deal with her internal issue as he pursues his goal. not stopping until he does.
All contents are inextricably tied to the single standard and reference point.


“Minds exist to predict what happens next.”



Myth: Plot is what the story is about

Reality: A story is about how the plot affects the pro
Plot is not story. Plot facilitates story by forcing the pro to confront and deal with the issue that keeps him from achieving his goal.


Story Question

What is it I want my readers to walk away thinking about? What point does my story make? How do I want to change the way my readers see the world?


Evelyn Waugh:

All literature implies moral standards and criticisms, the less explicit the better