Q&A with Lisa Cron, Questions 7 and 8:
Q: You have read many stories from your days in publishing and in the entertainment industry. Presumably you saw plenty of examples during this past career both to reinforce what you say TO DO in the book and what you say NOT TO DO. What were some of the most common story mistakes you saw writers make during this career?
A: The No. 1 mistake is a story in which the things that happen don’t affect anyone, or have a consequence. Nothing is at stake, no one wants anything, no one changes. It’s just a collection of random events that don’t add up to anything. You’d be surprised how often this is the case.
The second most common mistake is a story in which we have no idea what the protagonist’s goal is, or what she must overcome internally to achieve it. Thus, we have no yardstick by which to measure the meaning of what happens, or to anticipate what might happen next.
Third most common mistake is that writer didn’t realize that as far as the reader is concerned, everything in a story is there on a need-to-know basis. So they threw in all sorts of things that had absolutely nothing to do with the story they were telling.Q: If you could identify a person or organization who desperately needs to tell a better story, who or what would it be?
A: Sadly, that’s incredibly easy: the Democratic Party. As a lifelong lefty, I used to rail at how the Republicans constantly got the facts wrong — and I had this burning desire to set the record straight. I used to think that if only the other side learned the truth, they’d get it.
Then I realized that knowing the facts doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to convincing anyone of anything. That, in fact, the truth often has nothing to do with how we vote. Is that a good thing? You know what, it doesn’t matter. It’s simply how we’re wired — we’re wired to respond to what makes us feel safe and what validates us, rather than what might objectively be true. I don’t mean that pejoratively; it doesn’t make us weak; it makes us human.
The Republicans know how to tell a solid, compelling, emotionally resonant story (often, the truth be damned), and people respond to that. The Democrats have trouble taking a hard and fast stand on anything, because they can see all the nuances. And there are nuances — when it comes to actually deciding on policy, the nuances matter most. But you don’t get elected by understanding nuances — or God forbid — explaining them. You get elected by making people feel good about themselves. The sooner the Democrats learn that, the better.