Saturday, September 29, 2012

Books, Glorious Writing Books

I confess. I’m one of those people who reads books about writing. A lot of them. I suppose it’s the teacher in me – we tend to be perpetual students, always looking for something new to learn, to reinforce, to pass on.

Since buying Kindle and Nook e-readers, I’ve also downloaded a number of new books, many of them free and available only in e-book format (one of the boons of e-writing programs like Kindle and Smashwords, available to us all).

One new book stands out in caliber and focus — The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make UsHuman by Jonathan Gottschall. Presented in entertaining categories that read like a thriller, the premises are firmly based in brain science. The author dishes out facts in palatable bites about why humans not only have a taste for story, but why almost everyone cooks up fantasies as real as their very lives. In fact, we spend more of our mental functions involved with imagination than with any actual physical tasks at hand.

Here are a few morsels from the book:
 Tens of thousands of years ago, when the human mind was young and our numbers were few, we were telling one another stories. And now, tens of thousands of years later, when our species teems across the globe, most of us still hew strongly to myths about the origins of things, and we still thrill to an astonishing multitude of fictions on pages, on stages, and on screens — murder stories, sex stories, war stories, conspiracy stories, true stories and false. We are, as a species, addicted to story.
 Our responses to fiction are now being studied at a neuronal level. When we see something scary or sexy or dangerous in a film, our brains light up as though that thing were happening to us, not just to a cinematic figment.
 Every night of our sleeping lives, we wander through an alternate dimension of reality… While the body lies dormant, the restless brain improvises original drama in the theaters of our minds.
The storytelling mind is a crucial evolutionary adaptation. It allows us to experience our lives as coherent, orderly, and meaningful. It is what makes life more than a blooming, buzzing confusion.
We have religion because, by nature, we abhor explanatory vacuums. In sacred fiction, we find the master confabulations of the storytelling mind.
Don’t let moralists tell you that fiction degrades society’s moral fabric. On the contrary, even the pulpiest fare usually pulls us together around common values.
Story — sacred and profane — is perhaps the main cohering force in human life.
Does the book sound intriguing to you yet? Here’s more from noted neuro-scientist, Dr. David Eagleman, in his review of the book for the New York Times.

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. She writes, edits, critiques manuscripts, blogs, and is Special Projects Coordinator for Little Pickle Press. In her spare time, she knits. Much of her incessant musing involves air guitar.


  1. That sounds like my kind of book. I will have to check it out.

  2. SOLD! It sounds like my kind of book as well. Thanks so much for turning me on to it, Dani!

  3. What wonderful insights these snippets provide for us storytellers. Knowing how the brain works gives us a powerful tool with which to grip our readers.

    Thank you, Dani, for sharing. I want this book!

  4. Thanks for the introduction to this wonderful book. I love the quotes you shared especially, "Don’t let moralists tell you that fiction degrades society’s moral fabric. On the contrary, even the pulpiest fare usually pulls us together around common values."

    So true.

  5. It's true that when I'm really into a book I'm reading or writing there's not much difference between fiction and reality in my mind.
    Morgan Mandel

  6. Hey, dropping in late. I highly encourage you to get a copy of this book - it was as interesting as some of Joseph Campbell's writing, but much more readable. The author is a very good writer.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook