In Chapter 1 of Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Lisa Cron sets out the premise of her book: that we are all biologically hard-wired for story–that stories are not mere entertainment, but an important evolutionary we use to virtually test new experiences.
In Chapter 2 Cron debunks a few (ok, quite a few) writing myths:
Myth 1: Great Writing Equals Great Story. This is like mistaking the wrapping paper for the present. The story is the thing that is essential, that makes us want to turn the page. Beautiful words and unusual metaphors are gravy. Want proof. Cron points out that the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy sold over 100 million copies. What did everyone in my book club say about it? “It’s terrible, just awful, but I can’t put it down.”
Myth 2: Pantsing (Writing By the Seat of Your Pants) Is the Only Authentic Way to Write. Yes, it’s liberating, fun, easy. It might get your creative juices flowing. But if you want a good story, you have to do some of the hard work of planning.
Myth 3: Just Get a Shitty First Draft On the Page. What you need is a shitty first draft of a story, not thousands of rambling words.
Myth 4: Figure Out Your Plot Points and You’re All Set. The plot is concerned only with the surface events. They are the after-effects. The cause, the whole reason a creative work exists, is because of the internal events. What is going on inside the protagonist’s mind. You need to know your character’s past so you know how the external events of the plot will affect him or her.
Myth 5: You Need an External Story Structure. You can religiously follow Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” but you will still be left with a dull, lifeless manuscript unless you focus on your character’s internal conflict and change.
So, if none of these things will guarantee you a good story, what will? You need to focus on your character’s “inside story,” everything that came before the inciting event. What starts on page one is only the second half.