The Science of Storytelling | Will Storr

Summary of: The Science of Storytelling
By: Will Storr

Crafting a Compelling Story

Creating a captivating story entails divulging just enough information to arouse curiosity, using dialogue, evocative descriptions, metaphors, and offering a story that exceeds readers’ expectations.

Aspiring writers often struggle with crafting a story that captivates their readers. To achieve this, an author needs to divulge just enough information, utilizing essential details that capture the reader’s imagination. Curiosity is what drives readers to read further – they want to know what happens next and the ultimate outcome.

One way to reveal information about the character is through dialogue. Dialogue works at two levels – driving the plot forward and conveying who the character is. For instance, in the movie Brokeback Mountain, Jack tells Ennis, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Though outwardly, it appears ordinary, the tension in their relationship is clear.

Environment descriptions can also depict the differences between a character’s inner and outer selves. For instance, a punk band poster may signify outward traits, but a forgotten receipt for an embarrassing purchase indicates our character’s inner feelings. Arranging such scenes without overt interpretation allows readers to make deductions, thus creating engagement.

Despite the power of descriptive text, metaphors remain exceptional. They create lasting associations that provide readers with a more vivid experience. In one study, the phrase “he had a rough day” generated more explicit neural activity than “he had a bad day,” linked to feeling textures.

Apart from these, authors should aim to exceed readers’ expectations. Studies show that poetic descriptions enhance perception, influencing readers’ experiences. A story that promises intrigue, captivation, and unexpected endings would have readers hooked till the very end, transforming first-time readers into lifelong fans.

Crafting a compelling story can be a Herculean task, but providing just enough information, using dialogue, evocative descriptions, and metaphors can help bring the story to life and keep readers hooked till the end.

The Power of Status

The animal world is fueled by status, and humans are no different. Our physical and mental well-being depends on the status given to us by others. However, this need often clashes with the pressure to act selflessly, creating drama and conflict. Our status-seeking nature gives us a concrete goal to work toward, and it keeps our story’s plot moving forward. We see ourselves as the underdog, and we root for those with lower status. Change in status can lead to the breaking down of deeply-held beliefs, as seen in King Lear.

The Power of Storytelling

From children’s books to bestsellers, all stories are a form of propaganda. They teach us right and wrong, how to behave, and the consequences of our actions. Religious texts and childhood stories teach us how to gain and secure our individual status. Stories also help us maintain our group status, but they can be insidiously harmful, as seen in The Birth of a Nation, which fueled racism and violence against black Americans. On the other hand, stories can also create empathy by transporting us into the character’s brains, influencing our attitudes and beliefs. Finally, stories allow us to experience changes in control in a safe environment, without having to face the consequences ourselves. The power of storytelling lies in its ability to make us lose ourselves, leading us on a journey of self-discovery, understanding others, and the world we share.


Delve into the mesmerizing world of storytelling through Will Storr’s ‘The Science of Storytelling.’ This summary helps you explore the fascinating relationship between our brains and the stories we tell, illustrating how our brains create a narrative from our experiences and weave them into a hero’s journey. Discover how stories can help us understand others and teach us to navigate our shared world. Learn about the various aspects that create compelling characters and the significance of their flaws, as well as how stories reflect our human desire for status and understanding. Get ready to embrace the transformative power of storytelling.

The Simulated Reality

The reality we experience is just a story our brain tells us. It creates a hero narrative for ourselves, even rewriting our past choices to fit the plot. Our brain also seeks to create a cause and effect sequences in our lives, and our urge to understand others is deeply rooted in survival. Stories satisfy our instinct to understand the minds of others, especially those with flaws.

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