Do you feel like you have a screenplay inside of you but don’t know how to bring it to life? Today’s guest Lisa Cron might be able to help.
Lisa is story coach and the best-selling author of Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence and Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere).
Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and CourtTV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency.
Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and she’s on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in visual narrative in New York City.
Some of the things we cover in this conversation are:
- What your audience’s brain is hardwired to crave in every story they read – and it’s not what you think.
- Why writing a successful screenplay is not about having the innate “talent” that only a lucky few are born with, but something you can learn!
- How to become a more confident screenwriter, and make whatever you’re writing now deeper, richer, more compelling, and able to do what all stories are meant to do: change how the audience sees the world, themselves, and what they do in the world.
Enjoy my conversation with Lisa Cron.
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Alex Ferrari 0:34
I like to welcome the show, Lisa Cron How are you doing?
Lisa Cron 3:29
I'm doing great, which I probably shouldn't say.
Alex Ferrari 3:33
You know what, whenever we have a great moment, in this time period that we're living in now, just just own it, own it. Because it could last for a second. It could last for a day. Just take it when it comes. You have a point?
Lisa Cron 3:45
Yes, I'm doing great at this particular moment.
Alex Ferrari 3:48
Yes, because it could it could go downhill very quickly, Lisa. And I think we thought about a year ago. So I completely agree. I mean, we were talking OFF AIR a little bit of how crazy Our world is right now. And I you know, like I was I was telling you like, I feel like I was driving around and I saw this testing station. And I just and just you look around the world, and I just literally physically just look around your neighborhood just like, what is what is going on? Like, are we in a dystopian, like, you know, spin off of the Hunger Games slash blog Blade Runner, like, I don't know, it's just such a weird place to be in our world today. I truly believe that we are living in an alternative universe. Like
Lisa Cron 4:33
right I mean, I'll tell you I, you know, I've spent more more decades than I want to admit to reading you know, manuscripts, you know, novels or or scripts or memoir, and especially with scripts and with the with the novels, there will always be that sort of, you know, strange dystopian thing going on, and I would kind of think, a bet that somewhere in the world, this is actually happening. It actually is Reality is almost out just opening dystopian novels and scripts. It's very strange.
Alex Ferrari 5:06
It's a very strange world we live in. And we as storytellers have, I think, a bigger responsibility to help heal the world and help the world through this because it is through story that we process, the everything, the experience, that is life without story, we we really don't have a way to, to process it. It really does help dramatically. Would you agree?
Lisa Cron 5:35
Oh, yeah. I mean, the truth is, we think in story, it's hardwired into our brains. I mean, we don't need a story, to translate it, we automatically translate everything that happens to us into story into narrative, you know, everything we evaluate everything that happens to us, based on you know, one thing and one thing only, and that is, how is this going to affect me, given my agenda. And and I don't mean that just in a, you know, transactional way, but just literally in, I need to feel safe. I've got what I need to do what I want to do, what my agenda is going forward? And is this going to get me there? Or is this going to stop me from getting there. And and that doesn't necessarily, again, mean, my agenda is here to make a million dollars and to you know, to be powerful, but just even, you know, my agenda is to try to make a more equitable world. So is this going to help me do that? Or is this going to hurt me to do that, and everything we make sense of we make sense of in our lives, via story, because that's what contextualizes it, that's what gives it meaning nothing has meaning outside of the meaning that we project onto it, besides be our own individual story. And that's why when we're lost in a story, we're in someone else's head, and we're processing information in the same way that they do if that story is successful.
Alex Ferrari 6:52
We are all the heroes in our in our story.
Lisa Cron 6:55
Oh, absolutely. We have to be. I mean, it's like, it's like that old thing of, you know, back back in the old days, when we would actually fly on actual airplanes. And they'd have that, you know, put your oxygen mask on first. You may remember that back in the olden days. Yeah, that doesn't make us bad. It doesn't make us feel like we're the hero. But it's that in order for us to literally survive to see tomorrow, we have to come first. And we're biologically wired to come first in that way. And I think one of the scary things is that we're wired to live in a world we don't live in and so that sometimes some of that gets in our way.
Alex Ferrari 7:36
Right? I've talked a lot about the the reptilian brain and that kind of that thing in the back of your head that is, is there just to protect you. I've said many times on the show that that your brain doesn't care about your dreams, doesn't care about what you want, or want to have love or anything. It cares about one thing and one thing only protecting you.
Lisa Cron 8:00
That's the only thing i would i would say to that is they've kind of debunked the whole reptilian brain notion. It's one thing, it's not that's the old part. And this is the new part. Is that Is it the way that we're wired? Yeah, is your brain when it's in fact, that's the really sad thing for writers, you know, when you when you read something, and I think we've all had this experience as writers, you know, you're writing it, you think it's great. And then you read it the next morning, and you go, Oh, my God, what am I seeing this? You know? And that is that part of and you think that voice? Right? We've all got that voice? And the ironic thing is, that voice is trying to protect us. It's like, yeah, if you put that out there, but the thing is you and you don't want to be laughed at. So be careful. And that voice is often wrong is the point.
Alex Ferrari 8:51
The point is, as well that that it's all about perspective. So your perspective of writing, this piece that you're writing is either to get it sold, get it move your career forward, tell the story that you always wanted to tell, put it out there help other people with your story. There's multiple different perspectives, or yearnings, if you will of the writer and why they're doing what they're doing. But the brain is there for one thing and one thing only, it's to protect you from not only yourself, but from the danger that it doesn't know about. So I always tell people like well, when when you were wondering back in the day, if you went around that corner, and you've never been around that corner, before you turn that corner, your brain is going to go Don't go down that corner because there could be a tiger there and it could eat you. So we're always avoiding the tiger, that the potential tiger, whatever that Tiger might be, could be, you know, maybe make a fool of people rejecting you. And then if you go into rejection that goes into a whole tribal thing in our brain as well. That's why rejection is so difficult. That's why people think that speaking in public is it's they're more fear of speaking in public and they are of death. Because if you speak in public and you're ousted by the audience, which is almost a tribe, then without the tribe, you couldn't survive alone as a human being back in the day, there's so many different layers of things that our brain is built to do for us. But it's built for an old time, like you said, it's not built for the current world,
Lisa Cron 10:22
right? No, because our biggest fear is, you know, as you're saying, turning that corner, our biggest fears, the unknown and the unexpected. And we're wired to, to have, you know, what they call homeostasis, meaning, it's a biological term. And it means once you feel sick, you know, for any for any, like biological creature, once, once they're safe, you know, the temperatures, right, they've got the food they've got, you know, the space, it's not just that they want to maintain balance, but they want to maintain that balance. So anything that threatens it terrifying. And that's, you know, that the sort of colloquial term we have for that is our comfort zone. But the thing that sort of kills me is that we tend to think of these things as if we have a choice is if, you know, our desire to stay in the comfort zone is because we're kind of weak. And if we were stronger, tougher, or whatever, we would be able to go out there into the unknown. And the truth is, it is our biology that keeps us there. So it isn't to say that we can't overcome it, or we can't see it for what it is. But the fact that it's difficult isn't a feeling or a weakness, it's biology, the same thing, just to go a little bit deeper to what you were just saying about belonging to a tribe, which talk about something that we're seeing,
Alex Ferrari 11:34
you think you think there's some tribalism going on right now.
Lisa Cron 11:38
But the reason is, is that they feel that, you know, when our brains had, you know, last big gross for about 100,000 years ago, and, you know, scientists thought for a long time that that was at the time, and the reason for it was that we, you know, got critical thinking, you know, we can analyze things at a political thought rational thought came in at that point. And what they realized now is that the real reason for that big change is because at that time, we had kind of, you know, obviously a very, very, very minor, you know, basic degree, learned to navigate successfully in the physical world. And now, if we were going to do you know, basically what we've since done, which is, you know, take over the world, we need to learn to work together well with others. And that's where the need to belong to a group became, it's hardwired, you know, people go, I'm a lone wolf, I always want to go, dude, there are no lone wolves, even in the wolf community. In the wolf community is a wolf that's been ostracized from the back and is left to die, wolf traveling pack, there's no such thing as a lone wolf. But at that time, and here's the really interesting thing to go to your point. At that time, because we already had the neural pathways for physical pain, they feel that because to be ostracized from your, you know, your pack your tribe, which at that time was obviously much smaller thinking of Dunbar's number, probably not any bigger than 150. To be ostracized, meant death. So it's isolation. Instead of your brain, like creating other neural pathways for that pain, it just traveled the same pathways as regular pain, travel, meaning physical pain, so that that's why when you come up to someone, and which I think a lot of us are having this experience now, and the facts wrong, and you think I'll just correct them, I'll just tell them what the correct facts are. And then they'll understand that we'll be on the same page, and you, you try to correct them. And often you get a screed back. And you think, Oh my god, what's wrong with you? You're such an idiot. And the truth is, because when you merely question their beliefs, it comes across as fighting words, you've questioned their identity, and you've questioned their place within their tribe. And for them to even consider what you're saying risks that kind of social ostrich never say this word. Austria is a Austria to the asterisks. Essentially, I
Alex Ferrari 13:55
can solve either, but yeah, I get you.
Lisa Cron 13:57
For some reason. But but so. So that comes across as fighting words. So it's really interesting, how deeply hardwired it is, and I think it can, understanding that can help give us empathy for other people, and let us know, okay, they're not they don't believe those ridiculous things they believe. Because they're stubborn or stupid, or, you know, or or just haven't done the work. It's because everything in their life has taught them that those things are true. That's what their tribe believes. So to even consider something else, it takes a massive amount of
Alex Ferrari 14:29
courage. No, absolutely. If you're in, you know, if you're in a family that is super religious, and you come out to be gay, in a community that doesn't like you know, doesn't approve of that, that becomes an issue. And you have to become so strong to break free from that tribe. And just stand on your own two feet. And that could be as simple as, hey, I'm going to go be a writer and you're your parents or a lawyer and a doctor like, no, you're not you're you're going to last Cool. You're like no. And it's like that's, that's another example of it. And to go back to what we were talking about earlier, as far as the unknown, a lot of times people think well around the corner, there's that tiger, that Tiger could be positive or negative, it doesn't have to be danger, it could be something it's not accustomed to. So if you and I've had this experience myself, when you if you have, and this is a great character, by the way, this is a free character trait that you can use for your characters guys listening, when you when you have a character, who meets someone who's obviously, like, if you have a girl who meets the good guy, then that good guy who treats her well and treats her nice, and he's a good looking dude, everything. If she's never been treated, right, or for like, if he has never been treated, right, in a relationship, it will be completely scary to be with someone like that. Either way opposite or or, you know, for someone who takes care of you or abuses you. That's and a lot of times they self sabotage a relationship because things are too good here. I don't like this, this is completely unknown territory. I'm going to sabotage it and it does it. They do it on a subconscious level. It's not like they sit there and go, Oh, I'm going to sabotage this relationship. They just start doing things to know, they know that they'll sabotage Would you agree?
Lisa Cron 16:18
Oh, yeah, I mean, I mean, 100%. That's what people don't realize is that all change is hard and good changes as hard as bad change. And we don't necessarily assume that. And when we stick with our comfort zone, what that really means is the familiar. And you're right, I mean, there are a lot of people who would rather be with someone who is very difficult to be with, because they know how to do that. It's reliably it's
Alex Ferrari 16:40
it's, it's the known, it's the it's like they say the devil, you know,
Lisa Cron 16:44
that's why we stick stick with the devil, you know, but I would say that in a story, if somebody is going to do that, that's a what, you know, any kind of a trait is a what? And what you want to get to in order to earn that trait and give it meaning is the why. In other words, what happened in that person's life probably early on, that caused them to miss read, when you know when someone is is nice to them. For instance, can I give you a quick for instance, sure, of course, sample I use a lot because what I call this, the misbelief, that characters come into a story with a misbelief something that they believe about human nature that they learned when they were very young, that's kept them from getting what they want, probably from an early age, up until the moment we're gonna shove them onto the screen. And now they're going to have to go after what they want, but overcome this misbelief in order to get it. So let's imagine that because I use that example a lot it the example of an i would say i would i would sum up what you said is that somebody's misbelief might be the nicer someone is to me, and the more they want to get to know me, the more they really only want to use and abuse and manipulate me. That's why they're doing it. And so something like that might come in, I'll give you a very quick example. Like imagine that protagonist, let's say is going to be a 29 year old woman. But when she's nine years old, she comes from a very dysfunctional family. I don't know what a functional family is, if there are any,
Alex Ferrari 18:08
but there might be there's a couple I mean, we're all listen, I'm trying to create a functional family. But obviously, in my perspective, I'm the hero, dad. So you know, my daughters will probably tell me something differently in 20 years, I don't know.
Lisa Cron 18:21
There's always something it's always like, I never said that.
Alex Ferrari 18:27
I didn't mean that horse
Lisa Cron 18:29
Exactly. mentioned this girl, she's nine, she's you know, she comes from as a single mom, she has a feral sister. And she's nine years old. And she feels like no one ever pays any attention to her like she's just lost. And so it's school, all the girls have decided to get together and form this club around this little Japanese anime character. And to get into the club, which they're about to form, you have to have a doll of this character. And she thinks, okay, great. I can save up my money, I can save up my allowance, I can get it. These, these girls are my people, I will be able to do it. So she saves her money. And she finally has enough the day before they're about to do it. The next day, she opens her bank. And malls come out with nothing. It's gone. And she's be wrapped. It's like, it's all is lost. There's no way out at all. She's sobbing. And about an hour later, her older sister comes in and says, You know, I know we don't talk but but seeing you so sad. I've asked around I know what's going on. I know about that club at school and you saved all your money. And you know, it's somehow it's gone and it broke my I broke my heart. I couldn't stand to see you sobbing like that. So I took my money. And I went out and got a bigger version of the doll. Now at this point, you know, our protagonist is thinking, like, I don't need those girls anymore. This is great. She saw me. I didn't have to even ask she got to know me. She knew what I wanted. She went and got it for me without asking. And I mean, truly isn't that what we on one level all want more than anything is somebody to anticipate what we need and give it to us? Before we even have to ask. I mean that's just
Alex Ferrari 19:59
yeah Very Genie like,
Lisa Cron 20:01
Yes, exactly. So, so but at that point, the sister goes, but you know, I used all my money to buy it. And I'm going out with Ralph tonight. And if I don't pay, he's gonna dump me and mom hasn't given me my allowance since I crashed the car. And no, that's not my fault. And she's got that $100 bill in her purse. And if you could just distract her. You're so cute. All I want you to do that. I know that the money's for food, but I'm not hungry for you. I'll just take it in. And in that moment, that character has an aha moment, which is, wait. She's thinking, you didn't do that to be kind to me. You probably in fact, stole my money. And you're just doing because you want me to help you steal? You're trying to use me now in that moment. That belief is true. That is probably what she was doing. And in fact, our protagonist could look back to other things earlier and go, Oh, yeah, I know that I'll make. And so that belief, the nicer she is, to me, the more she seems to want to get to know me, the more she's only going to use and abuse me. That was adaptive in that moment, it probably helped her survive in that family. The reason these kind of misbeliefs tend to come in when we're young, is because when we're older, if someone came up and you know, similar thing where you meet someone and they're finishing, you're finishing each other's sentences soon, and you feel like, Oh, this person knows me, we've got such simpatico. And then they go, you know what money you've got? I'm starting this Ponzi scheme, oh, would you like to invest. And at that moment, you go, Oh, my God, this person is a jerk. I know a lot of other nice people, I'm just going to get this person out of my life. When you're nine, it's not my sister's a jerk. It's Oh, this is how people are. I have to be careful. And so that misbelief would have grown escalated and complicated up to the point in exactly to us, it's amazing that you use that example, because it just matches exactly, you know, this the story that I just happen to have on the tip of my tongue, because I use it all the time. But that would explain and so that's why when you're thinking of, you know, what your character might do your protagonist, what kind of, you know, quirk or belief or desire misbelief they've got, it really pays to go back and, and not just get the what, but the why. Because the Y is what your story is, is going to be about your y is about. That's what stories are about. My son actually is a producer, we're talking about a movie that they were that they were giving notes on to the writer about a year or so ago, making movies. And, you know, he said, Yeah, she said, because the the story present is what makes the unconscious conscious. And that's the whole point. By the time the story starts, this misbelief has become the lens through which the character is evaluating everything that's happening, just like we all do does is make me safer, doesn't it? And so what happens in the story, forces that character to reevaluate that brings it back to the surface, not that they're thinking it, you know, like a bumper sticker, but because it's been incorporated into how they're making the decisions that they're making. And that's what we're watching.
Alex Ferrari 23:03
I did an episode A while ago called why we're why screenwriters are programmed to fail. And it was an entire episode, basically discussing similar concepts of what we're talking about now. And I use an example of why why the rich get rich, it's a rich and the poor, stay poor and stay poor. And it's because of, and I've studied this, to my knowledge, I'd love to hear your your thoughts on it. When when how many rich people have you met in your life? You're going peace guys aren't absolute, it's got some idiot? How has he failed up? How is? How is it? How is this possible? How does he keep making money when he has no foreseeable skill? And he's, he's a moron in so many other places, but yet he keeps able to make money. And it's not because daddy or mommy is helping him. It's just because he's kind of programmed to know what to do. And then why is this person who was born into a poor scenario, who's really smart, but yet has blocks where they can't generate more revenue or more money in their life. And I'm using money as an example here. Then, then their parents did. And is because that we as as children, we absorb it like you were just saying, it's not just my sister did that. It's all people did that, right. So when you're a child and you're born into a millionaire family or something or billionaire family, everyone just does what they start absorbing everything that they see their parents do on a subconscious level. So when they get to the, to the age of to generate revenue, they just already kind of know what to do because they've been doing it. It's the same thing for a family who was born into a family of acrobats, or a circus or circus folk or filmmakers. I mean, look how many Bryce Bryce Dallas Howard is becoming a director now. I wonder how that happened. Yeah. I mean, she's Ron Howard's kid. I mean, she was on sets all the time when they were growing up. So they kind of absorbed these things. Do you? Do you feel that, um, and again, going back to character, that's a really interesting kind of way to look at a character as well, because depends on what their what their upbringing is. And based on that upbringing, they have certain blocks that they just can't get through, until they consciously break through. So, you know, like, I've heard poor people mentality, which I've found, fortunately, I'm a card carrying member many times of thinking, like, you got to do this, you got to do that. And, and you got to do this. And that where someone who was, who was raised in a different environment, has completely different beliefs about money, where I might have had beliefs about money, because that's the way my grandpa worked hard all his life. And his his definition of success is getting a job and working hard, as opposed to someone raising another scenario is like, no, it's about money working hard for you, and you're not working that hard. It's, you know, it's different. So I just let them hear what you think about that.
Lisa Cron 26:08
Yeah, I mean, I mean, I the only thing I would say about that particular analogy, and it's close to, you know, creating characters as well, is that, you know, so often, I mean, I guess, you know, part of it, it's like so on all of our minds right now, is that there's also, I mean, if you're, if you're born into a wealthy white family, particular person at the moment, you know, you have when it's not just what your parents, you know, the way that they saw things, but it's also that you're that you're white. Oh, there's privilege. Absolutely. There's provision. Yeah. So So for a lot of people who are poor, it doesn't, it doesn't matter. I mean, I think the best example of that is the fourth season of the wire, I think, more or less a job. Yeah, it was, it was so good. But it did an amazing job of really showing if you're born into poverty, and you're born into, you know, systemic racism, which is what we're talking about a lot. Now, no matter what you do, it is just impossible. Just there are no other options. And I think that, that that's what can make a much more interesting story than somebody just, you know, suddenly finding, you know, rags to riches because they've got the gumption or whatever to do it. But more what happens to people who would have had had that would have no matter what they do the opportunity either slammed in their face or turns for something that you know, is of no fault of their own. But yeah, I completely agree. I mean, I think that's what all stories are about. All stories are about an internal change the big mistake that the big mistake that writers may and screenwriters it kind of in particular? I can tell you when I was reading screenplays, and I spent decades reading screenplays, I guess, it was almost like every screenplay I read, I would think, Okay, wait a minute. No, this is the person who's never seen a movie.
Alex Ferrari 27:57
No, no, it's this person was
Lisa Cron 27:59
other people. But if this one because it looks easy, you know, like 120 pages and all that whitespace How hard could it be?
Alex Ferrari 28:06
Super and I've seen movies so I mean, I should be able to write one that's kind of like I listen to Mozart, I should should be able to write a song
Lisa Cron 28:15
You know, it's so hard but it's not about any story. It's not about the plot. It's not about the things that happen it's about how the things that happen affect someone and affect an internal change that is what stories are about that's what routes us what routes us isn't big giant things blowing up one way or another it's what those things blowing up what how and what that's going to affect someone and not just affect them in general like we have your building blows up in your insight that you're in trouble that's what there's there's that right there is that but it's it's why things matter. It's like to give you a very quick example it's like the movie diehard which which I have
Alex Ferrari 28:56
I did an entire episode Christmas explaining why it's the greatest Christmas we'll move on so we were on the same page there it's it's arguably one of my top five it's on my top five action films of all time.
Lisa Cron 29:09
I agree. I could not agree with you more. But but but but what my heart is about it's not about you know is Bruce Willis going to kill the pseudo bad guys that are terrorists. It's about is Bruce Willis. And it's not even about people go well, it's about is Bruce Willis going to save his wife and it's not about that either. It's about is Bruce Willis gonna be able to win his wife back, she's left him. Is he going to be able to win her now? Of course. I mean, obviously, he's got it. He wants to save her as well because he doesn't want to win her back in a body bag. That would be a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was but that's what and that's why we care. That's what's pulling us all the way through. It's not just you know, is he going to kill Hans Gruber? Which I mean Alan Rickman a moment of silence for his passing
Alex Ferrari 29:51
recipes, my friend Oh what such so he's such a great actor but that character a lot for people listening like you have to understand I heard in the theater when I was a teenager. And can you imagine walking into like, Oh, isn't that that guy from moonlighting? Let me go, let me go watch this. There's something blowing up. Let me go watch and you walk out going, what did I just see? Perfect movie. It's so perfect. But the thing that's amazing for people that don't understand it created a genre of film, it's Die Hard on a boat, Die Hard on train, Die Hard in an arena. That hard everywhere because it was, but the difference between all of those movies and diehard is exactly what you're saying. Is this. It's not about what's on the surface. Yes, that's all cool. And yes, that he's very vulnerable. He's wearing no shoes. You know, he's the every man there's like, there's so many things that make McLane such a wonderful character. But you're right, it's about is there our thinking to get back together? And it's, it's subtle, it's not, it's not heavy handed.
Lisa Cron 30:54
It's subtle. I mean, in the same way that in the same way that the Hunger Games trilogy is about our Katniss and Peeta going to get together? I mean, in the beginning, is she gonna realize he likes her? And is she gonna have to kill him? And that's what really is pulling us through all three books, which I think are fabulous. I think even the movies were good. I, I, I devoured those. But yeah, it's a human story. That's what we care about. We don't care about the other. And we'll help that you just have what what most what most screenplays and most, you know, novel with manuscripts are, is honestly nothing but a bunch of things that happen. That's, that's Damn.
Alex Ferrari 31:35
Yeah, it's very, it's very superficial. Without questions, so like a movie like lethal weapon, which is also on my top five of all time. You know? Do we care? Why'd Why do you care about Murdock and Riggs? It's like, well, his rigs gonna be his he can not kill himself. End of this thing. Like you're you're holding on to, to that and then and then combination of those two together? It's just such a magical thing. What is your What is your What is your take on the the reason why Lethal Weapon if you watch it and chain blacks, a lot of shame black scripts have this have this this kind of underlining emotional tug.
Lisa Cron 32:15
I mean, I can't I saw it. I saw it when it came out so long ago, that I couldn't talk to it other than to agree with you that, you know, any movie we're pulled into, that we care about, it's because we care about the characters, but not just care about them in the situation that they find themselves in. But what being in that situation is going to mean to them, given what they walked onto the, you know, onto into scene one already wanting? I mean, and that goes to what you just said, Yeah. Is he going to kill himself? Well, that was something if he is or isn't, that was something he already wanted to do before he walked on to the screen. So it always I mean, I mean, what I am always saying to writers is, is that all stories begin in media stress. And I don't mean it, it's funny, the first time I heard that term was as a screenwriting term, and it which means it's a lot, it's Latin, and it means in the middle of the thing, and, and in screenwriting, it tended to be meant, you know, if you're going to start a scene start in the middle, right, you start at that moment, where if you wait one more minute, it'll be too late. If you start too early, people are going to get bored. But that's not what it really means. What it really means is all stories beginning this resonating, literally, the first scene of the movie, or the first page of the novel is the first scene or page of the second half of the story. The backstory is the most crucial and important layer of story. Without it, you have no story. And I think the biggest problem that writers have is that they'll start on page one, and think they have to read forward or and I'm going to say something now that probably especially in the film community, who sounds really, really incendiary, and it isn't literally and figuratively, if it was up to me, I would burn every copy of the hero's journey, or the Vogler book or save the cat or any of those books, because they claim to be about story structure. And that's a misnomer. They're about plot structure. And the story is not about the plot and the line in those books besides the fact that things don't always happen in the order that they do. or God forbid, with the hero's journey, which I particularly detest, you know, we have to have the temptress, it just, I just like what is boiling, I've got to take a deep breath. But it's not about the plot. And the line. The book is when they give you examples, they give you examples of movies and books you are familiar with. And so when you think of those plots, you're already supplying that that emotional internal tug of the struggle that the character is going through. So you go Okay, yeah, this has to happen at the end of Act One. And now here's the actual climax. And now, here's the So writers are writing things from the outside in. And story structure is organic, it's inside out story structure is, is the byproduct of a story well told, not something you can plan as you begin to write the story, and I think that's what tanks, so many scripts in so many manuscripts is that they're looking at, well, knowing the character who's going to be the one who's going to mention what the character needs to do. So we put that in there and knowing something really big to happen here, because that's the mid at climax, and then they'll turn and they'll reach into this external grab bag of, of supposedly dramatic things, and throw something in, as opposed to no story is a complete cause and effect trajectory that began usually with what I call the protagonist origin story, the moment where that misbelief was born. And it's cause and effect from beginning to end if you can do one of those, those card things, you know, where the where you go, you know, write these things on cards and move them around, if you round you don't have a story, it's cause and effect, you can't move them around story is, again 100% cause and effect this happened Wait, therefore that this happened, but that
Alex Ferrari 36:09
anyway, so we were talking a little bit by the way, I it's it I love bringing people on the show that have different perspectives, because I've had every one of those people that you've talked that had them on on the show, and they all have different perspectives on story. And
Lisa Cron 36:24
I think I'm gonna interrupt you there one second, and this is where I do not play well with others. I think they're wrong.
Alex Ferrari 36:29
And that's fine. And that's fine and you're completely and there's points that you've made that make absolutely all the sense of the world and nor will I try to debate you on it because I I don't have a strong that I don't have a strong affiliation either way. But I always love bringing different perspectives of story because you never know what what is gonna click with a certain writer. It's, you know, like I, I believe, you know, like, early on in my in my in my writing career, you know, the hero's journey and and that whole process, and then I had john Truby on. And then john Truby goes, you can throw the hero's journey on a detective story, let me know how that works out for you. And my mind exploded. I was like, what, wait a minute, but all stories are the hero's journey. Like No, no, no, not all of them. And you were like, oh, okay, that's, that's okay. All right, then. And then it just starts changing the way you look at things. So I completely I completely understand your point of view, no question about it. Now what the one thing that we were talking about earlier about the, the the the backstory of the character, isn't it interesting that a character who was in cinema for forever, named James Bond, who basically didn't have a true backstory, he was just kind of like, he was very one dimensional, he never changed. He, he was not a character that changed from beginning to end of every story. He was basically James Bond at the beginning at the end. But when Casino Royale showed up, and they gave him backstory, and they gave him all these other things that drove him to be who he is. It became honestly the best Bond film ever made, in my opinion, would you agree?
Lisa Cron 38:12
Yeah. 100% I mean, 100 I think the reason though, yes. 100%. I think without backstory, it's very easy for something to become a bunch of things that happened. I think, things like James Bond, the world was changing, then cinema movie was were changing at that point. And so we were seeing things that were new anyway, so people could get away with other stuff and not go as deep as as they can now not be willing to do it. And I think that with mysteries because people will say the same thing about well, what about Sherlock Holmes? Or, you know, other detectives? What about perot? Or what about? You know, Philip Marlowe? And I think that the answer there is that mysteries themselves are always about not just who done it, but in order to know who you got to know why. And we come to story. I mean, I think I think we come to story for exactly the reasons that in the beginning of Citizen Kane, you know, where you've got the the newsreel director going, Nothing's more interesting than finding out what makes people tick. It's like, yeah, that's what we come for. So if we're going to get a detective isn't going to change. That person is looking at evaluating what's going on based on trying to figure out what made you know the murderer or whatever whoever the person is, do what they do, and then the cleverness of trying to figure out okay, here's a really hard thing. How could you possibly make that happen? And if you notice, and I can't give you an example of this, because we're just I'm just talking off the top of my head, but it's something I say to writers all the time is that it's never just some logistic, cleverness. There must be blood and I'm not talking about the movie must be blood, in other words, whatever is happening, whatever the person believes, whatever Doing, it isn't just a factual thing, it's something that is going to in some very human way, hurt or help someone else, in terms of getting something that they really, really want or are afraid of, it always comes back to that meaning always comes back to how it's going to affect someone emotionally. And I don't mean that in a pejorative sense at all, I think as a, as I was saying to you, before we started, I mean, emotion is such a deeply misunderstood biological system. I think we purposely misunderstand that not just in our culture, but around the world. Because every decision we ever make, is driven by emotion. And that's positive. If we didn't feel emotion, we couldn't make a single rational decision. emotion. It's not just emotion, it's obviously emotion. And, and reason we've been taught that they're their opposite. There's our binary, right? Either emotion or reason. And the truth is, they work together. And the truth is the driver is emotion, not reason. No matter no matter how we always think I'm a master of my own ship, it makes you feel so safe, it makes you feel so secure. But whatever decision you make, you don't make, because it's the rational argument, you make that decision because of how the rational argument makes you feel. It always comes back to feeling and so in a story if there isn't that, in other words, if we're not in the character's skin as they're feeling something, we jump ship. Yeah, no,
Alex Ferrari 41:32
no, I've seen movies as well that I call it kind of intellectual writing versus emotional writing, where you could just see that the writer is trying to be cool. And trying to be it trying to be clever. And look how, look how much promise I have over the craft that I can do this, this and this, but you feel nothing.
Lisa Cron 41:53
And it's annoying to Yes, yes. So what did the writer you think you think you're so full of yourself? It's like hot, you're annoying. Go away? Yeah. Yeah. Right.
Alex Ferrari 42:01
It's like, look how cool I am. Look. It's like kinda like writing. When you have your I'm sure you've read a screenplay that has 75 cent words in it? Oh, yeah. Oh, oh, yeah.
Lisa Cron 42:09
I worked once with a lawyer who was writing a novel. And he said, he's a trial. My career, the bigger the word, the less emotion it conveys. Yeah, correct. Yep. Last thing, you want to use our $25 words, let alone $75 words, the simplest words are usually the most powerful. If there's meaning behind words, in cells or nothing. It's the meaning they're conveying. And that's what comes from the story. And that almost always comes from from backstory, because backstory is what is what is what creates, again, the lens and the meaning that your protagonist is reading into it. It's just one thing really quickly, I just finished reading a book. It literally called your brain as a time machine by a neuroscience. I think he's, I think he's out of LA. And he says, basically, and of course, all of the research, you can find this all over, but he's here, the sole purpose of your brain is to record past memories in order to predict the future. So in other words, if you have no backstory, how can they? What do they have at stake? Well, that's
Alex Ferrari 43:12
powerful. That's what's so powerful.
Lisa Cron 43:15
Yeah, I mean, and again, when you're writing a character, a character is a person, like you or me, and that's what we do. And that's me, I could go into the whole neuroscience behind it, but
Alex Ferrari 43:25
which we might in a second because I'm a neuroscience nerd, as well, but I'm gonna my name and I neuroscience now is already I just lost my train of thought.
Lisa Cron 43:37
All the time. It's so funny when you do it in the middle of talking. I've done that. Where was I going?
Alex Ferrari 43:43
What was that guy's like? No, there's too many ideas flying into my head right now. That I know we're going to talk about something I want to talk about something really quickly that I know is going to divide our audience, which is great. It's the Marvel movies. You were talking about emotion. And you watch a movie like Avengers endgame. And generally what Marvel has done throughout their 10 years of putting what they've done is unprecedented how they've created so much. And by the way, I think those whole all those movies are emotion delivery systems. I don't know if you like them or not. And you could tell me in a second, I'm going to tell you from my point of view, who is a fan have been a comic book fan for a long time. And when you get to endgame, by the way, spoiler alert, guys, if you haven't seen endgame, it's not my fault. Made it made like $3 billion. I'm sorry, if you haven't seen it, you can't blame me. But at the end, when Iron Man does that ultimate sacrifice, and you see him go, there's so much emotion. And if you want and you watch like when they're like at that moment where they're about to the Thanos is about to destroy them, and like it's only like We have them as Iron Man, Thor and, and Captain America. Then everybody starts coming out of those, you know, magical Doctor Strange circles. I've heard the reaction I was in the theater, but I also watched them online, the people lost their mind. And the reason why they lost their mind was because it was 10 years of emotional, emotional context or connection with all of these characters coming out and you're like, all of them are coming out at once together, it was just such an emotional thing for me watching it, and I've seen it, obviously, it hit a chord with somebody, because if it was just blowing stuff up, then you would have the DC Universe, which is the Justice League and how that was a complete failure. We'll see what the Snyder cut says when it comes out on HBO Max, but it was a complete failure because there was no backstory, there was no emotion at all. What do you I don't know how much you know about our into the comic book films, but I think it's that since they are the most popular form of entertainment right now in the Indian in the industry. It's not a bad conversation to have.
Lisa Cron 46:14
Yeah, no. And, and I to be completely honest, I am not a I'm not a fan. So I've seen I've not seen I've not seen any of them. I mean, maybe one or two. But I mean, just comment. I mean, just even when you're invested in characters, like you said, 10 years of them. And and I mean, you know, their backstory at that point, whether, you know, whether it's ever been been stated on the screen or not, because you watched it. You have that. I mean, it's funny, you know, I said before about the fourth season of the wire, the fifth season of the wire, which was I think only a half a season it was dreadful. Didn't matter. They watched every minute of it because I loved the characters. I wouldn't watch anything. You know, at that point, you're so deeply invested that it's like Yes, just keep going. I mean it you know, just just I just want to watch them getting into character I'll watch anything it doesn't matter because
Alex Ferrari 47:05
you love because you love those characters like that and but that's the that's kind of something very interesting with with them with television now because now we binge so much like when I saw that I binge the wire watch the whole series. And once you go down the road, you're in three four seasons unless they do something super crazy. You're pretty much in Yeah, big you know like I was when I watched The Walking Dead probably about six seasons in maybe. And then the when it turned for me I don't know if you've ever watched a walking dead but when it turned to me is they had this one villain that came in and he was so abusive to my characters that I loved. And they never gave those characters a moment of victory. Like there was the whole season. It was just like someone was beating up on my characters constantly. It was never going back and forth kind of fight it was just kind of like a pummeling. And that's the problem with like, when you have a villain it's so overpowering. It's not fun anymore. I don't want to see my characters my favorite characters get beat up. I stopped watching because they just went too far. They could have still had a very powerful protagonist, but yet give give some victories small victories something Yeah. And by the time that victory came it was too late. I was really lost.
Lisa Cron 48:28
Yeah, I agree. I stopped I've watched I think the first three seasons of it. And I can't remember why I think I just failed because I guess it was just I just got tired of watching people eat people or
Alex Ferrari 48:39
if you don't like the eating it's probably not a good thing
Lisa Cron 48:42
to not being either a horror fan either so it was like I am surprised and it's a testament to the show that I lasted that long because it isn't you know usually what I like but for something to be a horror it's got to be something like get out or something that's just so good that you know I'm completely willing to stay to stay hooked and you know, I mean everybody's got their I guess their preference again. Probably comes back to for me. I tell you this literally, I don't understand. I don't understand why people love watching horror movies. Because I can't imagine getting off watching somebody get hurt I have a hard time with things some things I'm never going to watch again. I did not watch Bosh when all this happened it's like I'm never watching another cop show ever again but Bosh
Alex Ferrari 49:27
is so good.
Lisa Cron 49:29
I yeah. Season went You know, when the majority boy died and it's like okay, I'm I've just I couldn't live it's interesting. I literally you know, we watched one one at one episode after it was like I absolute can't do this. I just can't do this.
Alex Ferrari 49:46
I mean, like the canceled cops for God's sakes. And and I started two years and all I mean and how many cop shows are on television like Blue Bloods and, and, you know, law and order. You can kind of it's more of a But yeah, but law and order and SBU unit like there's everything's a cop show.
Lisa Cron 50:05
So, drama, you know, by definition
Alex Ferrari 50:07
it's automatically built in drama so like Chicago PD and all of those things. How is it? How are they going to come back? Like I'm assuming of it? Look, we're gonna see a cop show again. We're gonna see cops on the movies again. I just don't know. Different hopefully it'll be different. Like you can't release Lethal Weapon today. No. Laser, like, you know, the rogue the rogue cop doing it playing by their own rules. That's pretty much the 80s
Lisa Cron 50:33
Yeah. Oh, well, even with I mean, you know, talking about the way things change moving away from cop movies for me. Try watching old john Hughes movies. You can't there's there's massagin is the racist
Alex Ferrari 50:47
like there's there's definitely some rough there's some rough stuff in the old I haven't watched. I haven't watched the jaunty I mean, other than home alone. But like if you watch him I haven't seen Breakfast Club. I
Lisa Cron 50:58
don't remember there being love isn't so bad. Yeah, I
Alex Ferrari 51:01
was gonna say I don't remember Breakfast Club. I know. Like Pretty in Pink. Yeah.
Lisa Cron 51:07
16 candles. Forget it.
Alex Ferrari 51:09
Oh my god. It's that I remember. Like, even then I was like, Dude, that that seems a little it was just it was it's it's a weird, like, Yeah, but and now they were pulling movies off like they pulled off when they pulled off Gone with the Wind, obviously, for obvious reasons. But there was they made a disclaimer on aliens on aliens because of Okay, what's her name isn't Marquez, what's her name? The the actress who played the Latina Marine, but she was but she's not Latina. She's She also played like, you know, an Irish, Irish peasant in Titanic. So. And they were like, they had to warn about that. I was like, Well, you know, at a certain point, like, I don't know, I don't want to stand on one side or the other or something like that. But it's getting to that place now that we're, we're going back and there has to be some social context. Because the things some things do not eat. I hate to say a Birth of a Nation does not age well.
Lisa Cron 52:10
Age. Well, oh, my God, Jesus Christ. You know? Well,
Alex Ferrari 52:15
it was it didn't age well when it came out. But but there's, I mean, remember, john, remember john wayne, you know, what was this famous line? A good Indian is a dead end. Like that's can't say things like that anymore?
Lisa Cron 52:29
And we never should have been? It is hard, though. I mean, I think that we'll have a reckoning going forward. Because I mean, I yes, it is really, really hard. Because I think part of it, part of it. I mean, think about it for one second. I mean, I mean, first of all, as we can see the world has changed in 200 years, massively. So that if this was if we didn't have film, and or social media or the internet, right, it was just even books, whatever was done or written before, would be pretty much forgotten. But because we have film and social media, is gonna pull up anything anybody said 30 years ago, and suddenly, here it is. It old, everything always stays current. And so it's hard. And I'll tell you, I had my own. When I wrote the first book, I wrote wired for story. And I wanted to give an example of, Okay, here's a story, here's going to show a word I would never use, again, theme, I don't believe in theme at all anymore. But theme and plot and I forget what the third thing was. And I wanted to find an example I could give that that I thought, okay, everybody's gonna know this, I can't pick something that I've read, but no one else has. And so I did research. And I picked it on with a wind. And so I talked about Gone with the Wind just solely about, you know, the plot, what's about etc. And about two or three pages. And I've gotten I got an email yesterday from someone saying, you need to pull that out, you know, you're promoting white supremacy, how can you do that? And it's like, I want to go I, if I could, if I pull the whole chapter, I'd actually because I would rewrite it. But what you don't know, it's, it's hard to say it. I'm stuttering right now. Yeah, I didn't think of that. It didn't occur to what
Alex Ferrari 54:17
it wasn't. But it wasn't something that was, you know, no, surely there was no, it wasn't culturally there. And it's,
Lisa Cron 54:25
but it's so hard, but it was, so it never occurred to me and going back to the
Alex Ferrari 54:30
Yeah, you know, hurt anybody. I mean, it's very,
Lisa Cron 54:34
unless you were black, and then it probably did. That's the point.
Alex Ferrari 54:37
Right? Exactly. And that's the problem that, that everyone's protesting and walking the streets about.
Lisa Cron 54:44
I mean, we're all you know, I'm just reading now how to be an anti racist. It's, there's, I mean, again, the same thing is true of the one that I happen to think is the last although we have been talking about in big ways in the past couple years, but the last acceptable bias Which is misogyny? Um, you know, I think I think that that that's,
Alex Ferrari 55:05
um, I had I had, um, Naomi McDougal Jones who wrote this amazing book. She's a female filmmaker, and writer and she wrote this amazing book, I forgot the name of the book cuz I haven't released the episode yet. But it's about how, how Hollywood is completely screwed over women. Basically, in the end, she talks about the entire history of Hollywood. And she lays out like, every female director, who's been who's won an Oscar or been nominated for an Oscar is either and I couldn't believe this is either married or was married to a powerful man, and or was a father was a sibling, a sibling, or child or a child of a powerful male. So we were just talking about Bryce Dallas Howard. Sophia Coppola. Oh, God, what's her name? Oh, God, Director Point Break. Zero Dark 30?
Lisa Cron 56:07
Oh, oh, I can't I can't get it.
Alex Ferrari 56:09
But she was she's, I can't believe I can't read Kathryn Bigelow. Thank you. Kathryn Bigelow was the ex of James Cameron. You know, and, you know, I heard I heard, you know, would have, she would have never been able to get a movie like Point Break off the ground without James Cameron as a co producer back in the late 80s, early 90s. You know, she was more than talented enough to do it. So it was fascinating to watch. And then she starts going into, which is so fascinating. And you start thinking about it, like, how many characters are on screen, a female characters who don't talk about men who don't talk about sex, who don't show themselves as sexual objects, like and you start dwindling down those things to the point where like, it's a it's like, 3% of females talking to other females about things that are other than men and sex.
Lisa Cron 56:57
The big tell rule? I think it's called. Yeah, I
Alex Ferrari 57:00
think she mentioned that. Yeah.
Lisa Cron 57:02
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'll be honest with you, I think nothing to say here, I suppose. I literally stopped watching most movies, I won't watch a movie. If it's just about men, I just won't. It's like, I don't care that I don't want to see things from the male gaze, I don't want to see I just, I've got I've spent my entire life I'm filled to the brim with it. You know, it's just enough. So,
Alex Ferrari 57:26
you know, I I completely understand. I think that's why it's so important for writers and filmmakers, of different backgrounds of different ethnicities, of different sexes, to come out and tell their stories from their point of view. It's so so so important to have that, because it has been, you know, for lack of a better word has been white dominated white male dominated for the history of Hollywood. And it's not Hollywood that did that. That's just a reflection of society. Right?
Lisa Cron 57:56
Exactly. Yes, no, everything is just a reflection of what there is. That is the whole point, as we were saying before, to take it back to a granular level. Each of us reflects where we came from, and the culture from which we came in. That's our tribe. And we tend to think the problem is, we tend to think, well, that's the way the world is. And that's the way the world's always been without going, No, wait a minute, that's just the way my family is or my world is and then we reflect it back. So it makes total sense. Yeah, it's not Hollywood didn't get together and conspire on that level. That's the way the world was. And they were just presenting it as it was an acting as it was. And there's so many, let's see, one real interesting, just a quick little tidbit, that just goes back to just even technically how it is, wait, I'm gonna Mangle this because the one thing I sort of suck at is getting, like technical details exactly right. But I was listening to a podcast talking about the beginning of radio, like literally when they could first transmit anything in radio, and the pitch that they the bandwidth that they used, was what reflected the male voice. And the female voice, which had a different pitch came across very shrill, and that had a lot to it, it was purposeful, actually, and it had a lot to do with why the male voice once we could hear a male voice or any voice, you know, other than just somebody standing in front of you talking, you know, became the voice of reason and the voice that we that we pay attention to and listen to because we're wired, you know, we're wired to hear a voice and to feel like that voice is talking to us, even if it's talking to everybody. And you know, I mean, it's just it's just fascinating, so many different pieces that went into, you know, that that were put together to create this again, this reality that hopefully now, you know, we're breaking out of a little bit, you know, booked with me too and now with with with black lives matter.
Alex Ferrari 59:52
I mean, it's since you brought up Me too. I mean, I mean, I remember it's something that was a joke as far as like, oh, the casting couch. Right? Yeah, that was that was just a way it was in movies. Yeah, it was it was just a way of doing business that no one ever even thought twice about, like, you know, as I was coming up, you know, I'm a man, but I'm a Latino man. So I have a different perspective. But generally speaking, I heard those stories of the casting couch. I heard about those things. And it's just like, you know, every time I ever do a casting, I was always very, very careful. And always very courteous to everybody who walked in actors just get destroyed on these casting calls. Sometimes. It's horrible. The abuse that they take, not me to abuse, but just verbal abuse as well. But it was just part of the culture was ingrained systemic inside of Hollywood, until finally, the dam broke. Thank God.
Lisa Cron 1:00:53
Right. Well, that's exactly right. I mean, you need somebody as just blatantly awful as Harvey Weinstein to be the one that's gonna. I mean, I mean, there were so many others. I mean, Les Moonves, I mean, we could go, we I'm sure I'll delete this for now. But But it took the same way as a horrible way to put it, but the same way with George Floyd. You know, it just took this moment as Will Smith or who said, it's not like, it's only there's more, it's not like, there's more racism. It's at the more filming of it. You know, it hasn't got Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
it's not Yeah, it hasn't gotten worse. It's just this. There's more cameras, there's more eyeballs on it is.
Lisa Cron 1:01:28
I think that that's another words, when something breaks in a big way, that way, it's never that's the thing that that did it by itself. It's that that's the last straw. Right? There were 1000s and millions of other straws. That one's just the last one. Because in both cases, they're so incendiary that, you know, you can't you can't look away. And and I guess, you know, the George Floyd coming. In the midst of the pandemic,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:55
it was a perfect storm.
Lisa Cron 1:01:57
Right, right. I mean, it was a perfect storm. We're all enclosed. And I think also there's a there's a point as well, where we're all in quarantine, and and many, many of many Americans specifically have lost their jobs. And they, a lot of times, we think as a country that we're invincible. But the second that this happened, we realized that we weren't. And they're like, oh, wait a minute, and we're also a couple of paychecks away from being on the street. So that combination with those images of George Floyd, I think it was just this perfect storm of stuff going on in the world that just exploded. And I think you're right, because it put the pandemic, put everything on pause, all the like, we talk about all the different, all the different problems that come together to create something seamlessly like, you know, the way Hollywood was, okay, that's not didn't create it, it's a microcosm of it, and it was created, but all these other things with the radio and the way women, you know, just even their voices and the way women are dressed and the way, you know, politicians come in and away religions are all you know, definitely women are always second class citizens. And they were like, all of that came together. But before the pandemic, to deal with any one of them felt like, Yeah, but I got to do this. And there are so many bright you having things continually coming at us, but nobody could ever as a whole function on any of it. Now, everything's like on pause, and it's right there in front of us. And it's we're going Okay, wait a minute. We're seeing the effects of it, and what can we do about it? And I think if anything, possibly good comes out of this. It will come from that.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
Yeah, I agree. I mean, this conversation is definitely taking a turn. And I think it's actually this, this entire episode has been, I had a list of about 20 questions, I've asked two of them. And it's, it's, it's fine. Because I think, you know, we've kind of gone in sections of this interview, we've kind of gone inside the writers brain, and what and what makes characters and what motivates us. So it's a kind of like, it's almost a therapy session, I think. I think this episode is is semi therapy for everyone listening to it to kind of just kind of process their own their own world, but also maybe understand, and hopefully, I'll put a list of books in the show notes of neuro neuroscience books that I've read, that are amazing and really understand why we do what we do. But because writing and storytelling is just a reflection of life, and us trying to process what living is. If you understand more about who you are as a human being, you'll be able to write more engaging characters and be more emotional characters. Would you agree with that?
Lisa Cron 1:04:46
Yeah, I mean, I think that I think that the key thing when you're writing anything, you know, as you were saying before, we want to get a message out and the point of stories isn't just to feel emotion per se, but It's feeling emotion as you're making a particular point. And I think that's what makes storytellers so powerful, whether they're aware of it or not. Because, you know, we're affected by stories every minute of every day, whether we know it or not. And usually we don't stories change us, because stories when you're just talking about this movie, but when you're when you're watching the story, it's like a Vulcan mind meld between you and that protagonist. It's like they're your avatar within the story. And they go through this internal change that we're talking about, in other words, a change in in them seeing what makes people tick, you know, a point you're making about human nature, when they have that big aha moment toward the end, again, that your character characters are protagonists by all characters, but particularly the protagonists will have a small aha moment, every scene because in every scene, they're trying to move that agenda forward. And in every scene, they're going to learn something that's going to change it not just logistically what they have to do, but sort of internally as to why it matters, or why someone's doing what they're doing, perhaps forces them to reevaluate their plan or change it. So they have a small aha moment, a small change in everything. But when they get to that big one at the end, and now suddenly, they look back to the beginning. And they see things differently. Again, like we're saying before, story makes the unconscious conscious. And at the end, you're questioning a misbelief. And at the end, that misbelief comes up, and you realize it for what it is because misbeliefs, we don't think they're misbeliefs, we think they're true, and we were very happy to alert them at a very early age. But at the end of the story, you're realizing Wait a minute, you know, as the end of diehard he realizes how much he means to him, he realizes that you just have to be this macho guy, and you know, wherever you go, there you are, doesn't have to even necessarily stay in New York could have come out to LA with her. And when he realizes that that's what gives him the courage to then go. And, you know, because it's right before that scene where he's talking to Rachel Bill Johnson, I got a bad got a bad feeling, I don't think I'm going to make it you know, he goes, when all this is over, I want you to find my wife. Don't ask me how by then you'll know, tell her, you know, you heard me say I love you 1000 times, you never heard me say I'm sorry. And like, at that moment, we've watched him build to that. And that's what gives him again, the the courage to go forward. And to, you know, to kill all the bad guys, of course, because we're all so excited about that. But it's that change that we come for. And when you're writing, that's where your power is, how do you want to change how your viewer sees the world because you will, whether you want to or not, even if you're writing, you know, and even I don't mean to even bring an action movie, they're gonna come out change, they're gonna commit to seeing the world a little bit differently. And that's what gives you that's, that's why writers are the most powerful people on the planet.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:37
Do you agree with when with villains that have, like, I think all great villains have a particular perspective on on life in the sense that the mustache twisting villain is so one dimensional, and it doesn't, it doesn't work. But when you have a villain who has, he has a point of view, his point of view could be so off Park like, you know, perfect example. And I know you haven't seen the Avengers, but Thanos Thanos is, you know, this monstrous, you know, foe, but just so you know, his perspective is that he wants to when he was younger, there was a lot of famine. And, and he had a lot of issues on his planet, where he didn't have enough. So he came up with the idea of what Well, the only way we're going to survive, this plant is going to survive, is if half of us are killed off. And it's a very scientific way of looking at things just a very pragmatic, like, Look, if this planet can support all of us, so half of us have to go. And because he was ostracized for that, for obvious reasons, he went off, came back did it anyway. And his goal to get the gauntlet of power is to be able to snap his fingers and do it to the entire universe.
Lisa Cron 1:08:59
Alex Ferrari 1:09:01
Yeah, that's his perspective. So it's a horrible perspective. Right. But he's actually trying to do
Lisa Cron 1:09:07
good in some way, even though it's horrible. Exactly, because everybody thinks they're doing something for the good. I mean, and also, also, if you just have a what, and you don't have a why, then the only way you can fight something is just like a zombie. Right? You can just kill it because there's nothing behind the zombie other than it's going to come at you. And either it's killer be killed. villains are not the least bit interesting if they're just snidely whiplash, you know, black and white at the end of the day, if you look even at Darth Vader, you know, I mean, his what he wanted at the end in the, you know, the second movie, I mean, he's standing up to the actual whoever can remember the main bad guy who
Alex Ferrari 1:09:50
rarely saw that would be the Emperor.
Lisa Cron 1:09:53
Right? The Emperor wants him to kill Luke Skywalker, and he's like, No, no, I can convince him not to and the reason he wants to convince him is because he's his son. Sure he can kind of bring him over to the dark side. That's why we care, you know, on that on that level. And also if there isn't some reason why, because we come for what I mean, again, biggest point is, we don't come for what someone does we come for why they do. It doesn't mean what they're doing, like you said is right. But we go, Oh, it's not just that they're an evil person who wants to kill people for the pleasure of killing people. There's, there's a reason behind it. That's really and also, if there's a reason behind it with some villains, it means they're capable of change. They might not be capable of it, but but you could see how you could change them. You could see maybe there is some hope. Because again, with a snidely whiplash, you know, just completely black, you know, I think he's like, completely bad guy. Who's got no, you know,
Alex Ferrari 1:10:48
if you just think about the mustache, yeah,
Lisa Cron 1:10:49
yeah, exactly. There's, there's no way that you can, there's nothing there's, you've got no hope. It's just it just killed him. Or, you know, or that's the end of it. Way more interesting. If there's some more if there's some the other good part about that, is that if you give them some humanity, like what you were saying about Santos, you know, if for instance, we'd seen a moment where he, you know, then maybe we did I don't know you can do? You did, but you know when he's a kid, yep. And he and he wants to and he wholeheartedly believes it's good, and he gets slammed, you can have empathy for him. I mean, you're gonna go oh, my God, that poor kid he didn't mean to. He didn't know it was that and look, now he's being treated so horribly. I feel bad too. And well,
Alex Ferrari 1:11:31
yeah, so it's the whole Loki Thor scenario where Loki was the main villain of the first Avengers. And it's he's he just wants his father's love, because Thor took all that love and he was his favorite. So that's why he wants to bring pain to Thor. But yet he still loves Thor because he's his brother in some weird way. But he's always trying to, to kill him or screw him over. But yet, when when the fit hits the Shan he's there for him like, oh, wait a minute, I'm the only one that is allowed to kill my brother, no one else is allowed to kill me.
Lisa Cron 1:12:02
And here's one other thing that writers really think about, which is things only have meaning in life. And life isn't literature. If they cost something? Yes. And what you just outlined was the cost. I want to kill this guy, but he's my brother. I love him. What am I going to do? You know, I mean, when you think about the Godfather, it's exactly that coming in. You're the original. The first Godfather, there's Michael who's like, I want to leave the family business, you know, and meaning he wants to do something good. He's idealistic. It's not like he wants to, you know, leave the Corleone to start the sopranos. He wants to do something like that. But his loyalty to the family, but what's gone on with the family? What's he going to do? And that's the cost you're looking for, as I call it, I don't like using this word cuz it sounds the word being moral. Like the moral Crux, here's what I want. Here's what it's going to cost me. And that's with every character, this is what I want. This is what it's going to cost me. Can I get it? Can I give this thing up in order to get this other thing that I want and want to watch that struggle all the way through? Otherwise, it's flattened cardboard, they're just going to do what they're gonna do. And you don't need to watch anymore, because there's nothing that can surprise you. snidely whiplash is always going to do what he's going to do. So, you know, what difference does it make? You got nothing to learn there?
Alex Ferrari 1:13:13
And yeah, if he's a bad guy who's just doing bad things, for the sake of being the bad guy, then who cares?
Lisa Cron 1:13:20
Anyway, there is no such thing as that. There's always a reason
Alex Ferrari 1:13:24
that you're absolutely right there. If you're a human being and you're doing bad, it's because something happened to you in, in your past that yeah, that is spawned this in one way, shape or form. You know,
Lisa Cron 1:13:37
even psychopaths, in the sense that they say there are a lot of people who are, I guess, you know, if you did a brain scan or whatever, have whatever have it makes you a psychopath, but not all of them turn into, you know, killers, something needs to happen that triggers that part of it.
Alex Ferrari 1:13:53
Right? They're not born, they're not born. You know, you're not there. psychopaths aren't born. They're made.
Lisa Cron 1:13:59
Right. Well, but but there is, yes. psychopathic behavior. I think on that level, yes. Right. But take a psychopath he is a is a you know, is a brain anomaly.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:09
Correct. But there's something that triggers that could I guess you could kind of it's, it's it's the degree of psychopath. So you could I love this conversation. This is fantastic. So if you only kill one person, or you can kill a million people, that's a different level of psychopath.
Lisa Cron 1:14:27
Very true, very true.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:30
This is horrible. Please forgive me everyone listening, but it was just an example. But this at least we can keep talking for at least another two hours, I'm sure. But I'm gonna I'm now going to ask you questions that I asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read? Oh,
Lisa Cron 1:14:49
tough one. No. I don't know that I could. I'm really bad at answering stuff off the top of my head. I don't think I can could answer because I would have to go back and think, what movies do I love? And then why? And then
Alex Ferrari 1:15:07
three films that just popped into your head.
Lisa Cron 1:15:09
Well, the movies that I love I mean in most of the movies that I love, I think are current off the top of my head. Okay, I love I love the apartment, the, you know, Jackson MacLaine movie, I think that is absolutely positively one of my favorite movies of all time. God and other movies, I'm trying to get movies, I love that I wouldn't really recommend writing the screenplays because they're just weird. movies on one level, um, a screenplay? I can't shoot. It's fine. It's fine. I'll be able to be a part of
Alex Ferrari 1:15:46
the apartment it is. Um, now what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?
Lisa Cron 1:15:55
That's a really hard one. Cuz it's hard. I mean, those sugar coated Lisa? Yeah, it's so hard. I think just just read a lot, write a lot. You know, watch the movies that you like, really dive into I would say do not use the story structure books, like really do not, I think really dive into story. I think any kind of any kind of job you could get. If there's anything you can, at any to know people, because I think that it that, you know, this is a business where to, you know, in a big way, if you can get a job as a reader anywhere, if you can read for anybody, if you can offer to read for someone, I think that really, really helps, because then you'll be able to see what's out there. Um, yeah, I mean, I would think it was that and just, you know, just just just keep writing.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:48
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the in the industry or in life?
Lisa Cron 1:16:59
Lesson? I don't? I don't know, longest to learn? Hmm. I don't know. I mean, I don't know. Because it sounds like I mean, there are two different ways to answer that question. One would be, like some some personal thing that you've gone through so much experience, and you try and get it. And that might be for me, for me, it might be setting up boundaries. I'm really bad at that. It's not like I'm learning to actual set up time boundaries, and value, what I do. And that's a strange thing, when you do something like what I do, because what I do is I work with writers I spend, it's part of the reason why the you know, being locked down is my normal life, because I literally probably spend somewhere between four and seven hours a day, on the phone with writers. That's what I do, and I love it. But, but it could be it could be hard to go, Okay, you've sent me too much. You've sent me too much for what we've contracted for. So So putting up boundaries like that, or keeping the phone calls to an normal speed, which is my fault, not anybody else's. Because right, love to talk. So it's that both setting up boundaries with other people and, and setting them up for myself, which is way harder.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:16
Fair enough. Fair enough. And you also wrote a couple of great books story genius and wired for story, which I highly recommend for people to to pick up, I'll have those links in the show notes. Where else can people find you and if they want to get in contact with you and and work with you?
Lisa Cron 1:18:35
Yeah, you can find you want to work with me personally, my website which is wired for story.com. I also have several classes on Creative live, which is a an education platform. And I actually also have a class on lynda.com, which I think is now LinkedIn learning. But anyway, I'm all over the place.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:55
Lisa, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I really it took the conversation has gone into directions I did not anticipate, which is always a great, great interview when I am able to not see what's coming. I actually like the unknown when I do interviews
Lisa Cron 1:19:12
Corners and no lions ate us
Alex Ferrari 1:19:14
No lions ate us we are all still here. Thank God. So Lisa, thank you so much for being on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. So thank you.
Lisa Cron 1:19:22
My pleasure, take care.
Alex Ferrari 1:19:24
I want to thank Lisa for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. Thank you so much Lisa, for your insight into the ever complicated and deep subject of story. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including links to her courses, and her books, head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/077. And guys, if you haven't already and you are capable of doing so, I have set up a link to help people struggling with food insecurity due to the Coronavirus at indie film hustle.com forward slash help, and whatever you can give, can help a lot of people out there struggling right now because of this COVID-19 pandemic. And the link goes to feed America. So again once more time that link is indie film, hustle comm forward slash help. Thank you guys for listening. I hope you guys are doing very well hanging in there in this crazy upside down world that we're living in right now. And I hope you're writing a lot. So as always, keep on writing, no matter what, be safe, and I'll talk to you soon.
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