Pre-1980’s research into the brain appeared to show that people fall into two distinct camps – left brainers and right brainers. The left brain was supposed to be the logical, problem solving side and was claimed by people who were good at maths and unemotional, whereas the right side was for all those airy fairy, creative types. I rather liked the idea of being right brain – I was bad at Maths and good at dreaming. Now I had an excuse for failing my Maths “O” level. I wasn’t stupid – I was a creative genius but apparently not.
Smugness always comes before a fall. Recent research shows that to be good at Maths, you need to use both sides of your brain. Then just as us so-called right-brainers consoled ourselves that we were still better at language, this too has been blown out of the water, with the identification of a large language centre in the left brain that interprets actions and the world around us
Twenty years ago, I did a study with a class of Creative Writing students on their preferred learning styles – did they learn best from seeing, hearing or doing. The younger students had very distinct preferences for a certain style, but the older the student the more likely they were to use all of the styles, not showing a preference for any particular one. The conclusion I drew was that the older you are, the more used you become to accessing all areas of the brain, probably through a process of trial and error. Humans will usually find the easiest way to do anything. There was one older student though, who was a visual learner only. He was the best writer in the group and his novel was very visual but he found it difficult to edit. He couldn’t see the structure of his work.
So how can we as writers access all the areas of our brains? It depends how you write. Do you have an outline or do you, like Francoise Sagan with “Bonjour Tristesse”, pour it all out verbatim on the page as you go? If you have an innate sense of structure and drama, then possibly you don’t need an outline. For anything other than a short story, I do. If nothing else, it stops me repeating myself!
It also helps me to have a clearer idea of the whole story, so as I write I can ‘see’ it in my head and know what bit is where and why it’s there. It’s helpful to know about structure – a bit more than beginning, middle and end – where one ends and the next section begins and what event marks that ending/beginning – three act structure and not only for scripts – you can use it for any story.
And most important of all character biographies – and we’re not talking about what they like to eat or what size shoes they wear, unless it’s crucial to the plot. It’s the psychology of your characters – what drives them, what are their fears, what are their nightmares?
Here’s a short exercise to get you analysing – write a one page synopsis of something you’ve read or watched in the last couple of days or something you’re working on yourself. Three paragraphs, okay you can have long ones, one each for beginning, middle and end. To do it, you have to identify the key points that tell the story – and only the key points and identify when each section ends and the next one begins and what action causes it. Happy whole-braining!