Will Storr’s “The Science of Storytelling” might well have been called “The Psychology of Storytelling.” Storr uses his study of modern psychology to craft a remarkable book that attempts to answer the question, “What make this particular story so good?”
Storr says that our brains, trapped in the darkness of our own heads, construct a hallucinated reality based on input from our senses. We don’t see the world as it is. Instead, we see the world as our brains interpret it. That hallucinated world marks each of us as a unique, flawed self—comprised of a set of experiences, ideals, and beliefs about life. We exercise control of the chaotic world around us through this hallucination by applying our beliefs to real life.
Then one day the world around us changes. The beliefs and behaviors that have led us to success suddenly don’t work anymore. And when those beliefs and worldviews clash with a changing world, there is opportunity for a dramatic interior battle.
The stoic butler who believes in decorum and discretion suddenly finds the aristocracy has vanished into history, and left a new sort of master to serve. Who is the butler, now that his way of life has vanished? Storr identifies this drama as an essential component to fascinating storytelling.
Storr illustrates his point with examples taken from many movies and books—such as the movies “The Godfather,” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” The struggle with identity and change is central to great storytelling.
“Finding out who we are, and who we need to become, means accepting the challenge that story offers us. Are we brave enough to change?”
As a leader of a writer’s group, I can assure that it’s easier to identify writing that you like than to write yourself. Storr’s analysis of what makes a story essential will help many writers find their way through their story. This is an accessible, well-written work that will find it’s way to the shelves of many writers.
Don’t let this vastly oversimplifed review of Storr’s book dissuade you from reading it. This is a fascinating, eye-opening book.