I don’t read many ‘How To Write’ books, but The Science Of Storytelling by Will Storr was recommended by a couple of author friends and looked pretty good from the reviews. It is however much better than pretty good: it’s exceptional.
Why? In a word – clarity. Not only is this a fantastically clear, insightful and succinct look at how and why we tell tales, it’s a clear, insightful and succinct look at human beings. In some respects it transcends its subject to become a primer on aspects of the human condition.
The book has a single thesis: that telling stories is about people, about character, about our visible and concealed flaws, about our irrationality around those flaws, and about what authors can do with all this. Split into four sections it covers scenario (including theory of mind) and the importance of change, our flawed characters and why they’re endlessly compelling, asking the dramatic question which not only kick-starts a novel but sustains it, and plot/endings/meaning. A concluding section details the author’s own technique of the Sacred Flaw, which he uses in his writing classes.
At this stage of a review I usually add a few quibbles or point out some things I didn’t like, but in this case I have nothing to add. Compelling, lucid, engaging and fascinating, it is above all true. I recognise the truth of the human condition in this book, and much of it matches my own notions, for instance a point about emotion being about value – here summarised in a single sentence! The book is comparatively short, yet contains terrific insight, which, with skill and grace, the author lays out for his readers.
I was reminded when I read this book of another short work containing wisdom and clear insight, Karen Armstrong’s A Short History Of Myth. Storr’s book is a kind of partner work: where he looks at storytelling and the individual, Armstrong looks at storytelling and cultures. Reading the two together is a real lesson in life.