Story Genius

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I don’t often review writing craft books, but Lisa Cron has helped me dig my way out of a cycle of dead-end edits. She is a story structure wizard and her book, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, has been priceless for getting me back on track with my story.

A bit of backstory; I graduated from the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program several years ago, and had a solid first draft of a novel. As part of my UCLA experience, I was able to pick one professor to give me a written critique and meeting regarding my manuscript. I picked the incredible, New York Times Bestselling author, Caroline Leavitt for my review. Leavitt had been my instructor for a story structure course and had been very supportive of my writing. She also happens to have given a blurb on the cover of Story Genius. I came across Story Genius separately from working with Leavitt, but I was not surprised to see the connection. Leavitt gave me great advice on how to proceed with my edits, but as I moved forward, I still felt stuck. Last spring, I joined a writer’s critique group, and I have been testing fundamental changes to both my protagonist and the first part of my story, but nothing was working.

Story Genius had been sitting on my bookshelf, so I decided to give it a read. It’s an eye-opener! Cron gives a clear explanation of what attracts humans to stories, including how it triggers us in ways we don’t realize. She details the fundamental elements that stories must have, and how to make sure these key ideas are woven into your story.

Her book has exercises to create story structure prior to outlining or writing your novel. The exercises will develop your characters, which in turn, will inform your plot. I read through Story Genius without doing the exercises, and now, I’m going through the book a second time, following the exercises. Immediately, I feel like I’m on the right path towards correcting the problems with my novel. I had been in a huge slump, but now I feel confident that I know how to solve my character and story structure issues. More than confident, I’m excited about my story. I’m excited to write. The initial thrill is back!

Story Genius is an indispensable craft book, and I only wish that I had known about it prior to starting my novel. I highly recommend it for writers of all levels. I’m sure that it will be read many times, especially as I embark on new projects.

 

The Lies that Bind

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Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of Emily Giffin’s latest novel, The Lies that Bind, in exchange for an honest review.

Twenty-eight-year-old Cecily Gardner is a mid-west transplant trying to create a life as a journalist in New York City. Ready to take the next step with her long-time boyfriend Matthew, she break-ups with him, when he doesn’t want a bigger commitment.

Distraught, she heads to a bar to drink, and consider if she has made a grave mistake. At the bar, she is about to call Matthew and ask him to take her back, when Grant steps into her life. Grant is charming and Cecily feels an instant attract to him. She quickly forgets Matthew and begins a whirlwind romance with Grant, including flying to London with her best friend Scottie, to see Grant, who has taken his twin brother to London for ALS treatment.

A few months into their romance, September 11th happens and Grant, who works for a financial firm in the World Trade Center, is presumed dead. Cecily realizes that she didn’t know very much about Grant, including his last name. While reporting on the terrorist attacks, Cecily encounters a sign with Grant’s picture as a missing person. She calls the number and speaks with Amy, Grant’s wife. Shocked by this discovery, Cecily becomes obsessed with unraveling the mystery of Grant’s life, and in the process, becomes friends with Amy, who doesn’t know about her husband’s infidelity.

I’m a fan of Giffin, and I was very excited to read her latest novel. It has been nearly twenty years since the September 11th terrorist attacks and I remember the day clearly. I was just a few years younger than Cecily, and although I was living in California, I had many friends in NYC. I can’t recall reading another novel that uses 9/11 as a central aspect of the plot. It was strange to realize, with the technology and cultural references, how much time has passed, but to still have this day so etched in my memory. Giffin does a great job writing the uncertainty and fear surrounding that day and its impact. It’s unsettling to read and dredged up memories.

As a contrast, I experienced joy reading the chapters detailing Cecily and Scottie’s trip to London. London and NYC are two of my favorite place. Cecily and Scottie have a wonderful friendship, the kind of support and love that everyone should have in their lives.

The Lies that Bind becomes increasingly more complicated from the lies that are created after Cecily learns of Grant’s infidelity. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but quite a web of deceit is woven, and even though the lies are due to generally good intentions, they quickly spiral out of control. Coming clean becomes increasingly difficult.

I didn’t feel Cecily’s attraction to Grant, especially when he seemed to be giving her mixed messages. It was the same with her relationship with Matthew. Cecily is a doormat for a majority of the story. I believe this is to set her up for making the transition towards realizing her own strength and independence later in the story, but this revelation happens really late. For a majority of The Lies that Bind, Cecily is a weak character, and it made it difficult for me to connect with her. I felt sad for Cecily.

The Lies That Bind has an intriguing premise and it’s a fast read. I don’t think it’s Giffin’s best novel, but if you’re a fan of her writing, you should absolutely add this to your bookshelf.