Story Genius by Lisa Cron

  Sarah Cy    Apr 04, 2018
Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Level: All levels.

Lisa Cron’s Story Genius digs beneath the surface of stories, revealing the backbone of story-craft to aspiring writers. Cron begins by laying the philosophical foundation for story, explaining why stories are so compelling to all human beings, and the critical element within every story that drives the plot and hooks the reader: the internal struggle, which Cron dubs “the third rail.” Cron describes the structure and development of a novel from the perspective of this third rail, explaining how every scene, event, and character in the novel must build upon and develop the internal struggle in order to truly impact readers.

Lisa Cron’s book gets off to a moderately slow start as she devotes the first two chapters expounding on the neuroscience and history of storytelling and exploring why most people do not know what a real story is. However, this material lays an important foundation for the writer, revealing the inner workings of not only stories themselves, but of the human mind. Cron stresses that writers must understand how readers perceive stories in order to craft excellent stories.

Cron jumps into the practical teaching material starting with Chapter Three, using a student’s work in progress to illustrate every aspect of story formation, from the ground up. This method of teaching story development is particularly effective, as readers get to see the student’s ideas and questions, Lisa Cron’s answers, and their impact on the story being written before their eyes.

While Cron’s concept of the third rail is not entirely new, it is repackaged in an easily understandable and well-explained manner, with clear samples and real-life examples. After every few sections, Cron includes a “What To Do” section, in which readers are encouraged to apply the concepts they have learned to their own works in progress. By following Cron’s blueprint, writers are assured of ending up with a workable blueprint, and even a significant chunk of their novel—fleshed out and completed—by the time they finish reading Story Genius.

 Designed for writers of all kinds of fiction, from YA to adult, romance to thriller, Lisa Cron’s Story Genius and “third rail” concept is perfect for beginning writers who are not entirely sure where to start, as well as more seasoned writers who need a reminder about what truly makes a story compelling and worth reading.


  • Provides sequential “what to do” sections to guide writers through the story writing process.
  • A work-in-progress written by one of Cron’s students illustrates each idea from story conception to final scene, making abstract ideas more concrete and easy to grasp.
  • Discusses the absolute critical necessity for backstory, and how to do it correctly (eg, readers need to know the main character’s worldview, their greatest fears and desires, NOT their eye color and favorite candy flavor, contrary to some “get to know your character” personality tests and surveys that are popular among some beginning writers).
  • Includes story cards—a novel blueprint method that incorporates the “third rail” concept and helps writers to keep their end goal in mind while planning and writing their novels.
  • Debunks several widely-held myths regarding writing (eg, “shitty first drafts,” “pantsing,” and external story structure models such as the Hero’s Journey, etc)

Should You Buy?


  • The concept of the story-driving third rail is worth exploring and understanding.
  • Cron provides helpful story card models to help writers blueprint their novels.
  • Cron’s method of leading readers through story development by using a former student’s actual novel-in-progress is helpful and makes abstract concepts easier to grasp.


  • The first two chapters are somewhat lengthy, and Cron does not get to the practical aspects of story development until Chapter Three.
  • Cron focuses mostly on novel-length stories. Some of her techniques may not be applicable for those who write short stories.
  • Some concepts are repeated a few too many times. The book could be more concise.

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