Guest Book Review by John Dodd: The Science of Storytelling

By John Dodd (millionwordman blog, dragonmeet convention, and

Dream asked for a review of a favourite book with actual science in it. I’ve been a writer all my life, and I’d always thought that the process of writing was more of an emotional process, rather than a logical one, and that there couldn’t be any actual science attributed to it, particularly when so much of what we read in fiction drives our emotions.

This was the book that changed my mind on the subject.

The Science of Storytelling presents a compelling case for there being a formula for which all successful stories come to be successful. This formula isn’t based on the number of acts that the book comes in, the setting in which it takes place, the length of the story, whether the story is crime, fantasy, or space opera, or any part of the background to the novel. It doesn’t matter.

What it relies on are the characters that inhabit the story.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard this, but never presented so clearly as it has been here. Written as a dual study of both literature and psychology, this contains a wealth of annotated references to other books, direct links to the social studies and psychology reports, and unlike many other books on storytelling, no mention of the authors own preferences regarding writing.

The book covers four parts of the storytelling process: Creating a World, The Flawed Self, The Dramatic Question, and Plots, Endings, and Meanings. 

Creating a world makes reference to the way in which the world is put together, making it clear that if you’re writing mass market fiction, the world you present is likely to be very different to the world that you would present for literary fiction, but the realism of the world should be relevant to the context of the characters journey.

The Flawed Self presents the characters and what makes them interesting, how the balance of the character is central, neither too flawed nor too perfect, like any real person, is what makes them interesting.

The Dramatic Question is posed as what the characters in the book want. If they are real, then they have real desires, whether unrealistic or not, they have needs and wants, and in the end, not all of those are likely to be fulfilled.  What matters is how the character deals with each part of their journey through the book.

Finally, Plots, Endings, and Meanings presents how and if a story should end, acknowledging that some stories do not end, and that, in itself, is more than acceptable as long as it works for the story.   

While not specifically a book to assist in the figuring out of the plot or the world in which the characters live in, it nonetheless presents a fascinating insight into how and why people read stories, and more importantly how and why people write stories. There is a propensity regarding books on how to write stories to believe that the books must come from a best-selling author. After all, if the person writing the book hasn’t been a best seller, how can they advise you how to be one?

Many of those books will tell you more about the person who wrote the book, less about their process for writing, and even less about how they themselves became a bestseller. In the Science of Storytelling, we have a book that’s purely about the science behind stories, and that’s something that all writers can benefit from.

NB from Girlymicro. If you’d like to submit a guest book review or guest blog drop me a line on the links on the right of the page

All opinions on this blog are my own

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