The Science of Storytelling: a Book Review

For a restively short and easy to read book, my latest selection from my non-resolution plan, The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr, has taken me longer than usual to get through. Once again I am going to blame life, but also excitingly some tangible progress on my own WiP, for slowing me down. Once again I cannot complain too much as I’ve continued to get out and about and see the world (at least my small corner of it) again.

After a foray into a novel, it is back to non-fiction on this occasion with Storr’s book. I am not typically a fan of how to type books, but the mixture of a writing guide with science thrown in had me intrigued. I’m certainly not disappointed, and have definitely learned a lot from the book, but I have my reservations which I’ll tell you about below.

For my next book, I have not quite decided which of the dwindling pile I will choose. It will almost certainly be another non-fiction book, probably about writing again, but more than that I have not decided. Before I do, let me tell you about The Science of Storytelling, a relatively quick review today!

The Science of Storytelling

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

You discover early on in the book, if you did not know already, that The Science of Storytelling is based on a writing course run by the author. Had I not known this to begin with, I think I would have found the style of the book frustrating. It is clearly written with a teacher-led course in mind.

With this stylistic point in mind, the book focuses on exploring the current understanding of how our brain works, specifically in how we tell stories to each other and what stories our brains are particularly attracted to. With a satisfactory scattering of references and snippets of discussion with experts, the book feels solidly grounded in the science.

What I found difficult, this book is clearly aimed at people wanting to improve their writing, but it felt this was secondary to an exploration of neuroscience and psychology (which don’t get me wrong is very interesting). If this book had been written and published purely as a pop science book, it would have been excellent. As a guide to writing, it is only the appendix at the end which provides something close to practical guidance, and without this I think the book would have failed in it’s secondary purpose.

What I really liked

  1. The science communication is excellent. Yes I’m sure there is an element of cherry picking the data to make a point, but this is not a systematic review, and the book describes the science in a clear and accessible way which I think even the most scientifically naive can follow.
  2. The writing style and pacing feels exactly right (as you might expect from a teacher of writing) and I was able to consume the book in a couple of sittings and still feel like I understood the points being made.

The less good bits

  1. As I have mentioned above, the practical guidance for improving one’s writing feels lacking. I would imagine attending the course Storr runs would fill in some of the gaps missing from the book, and the cynic in me wonders if this is exactly the point of the book, to increase the number of bums on seats at the course.

Summary

The Science of Storytelling is an excellent science book, but if you are looking for a writing guide, this is probably not the book for you.

Who should read this book? People with an general interest in science, the brain, the mind and neuroscience/psychology will undoubtedly find this book interesting. People looking to improve their writing will likely be disappointed.

Have you read The Science of Storytelling or got it on the TBR pile? What did you think of the book, have you applied anything in the book to your own writing? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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