I hear you gave a lecture where you observed that storytelling in the broadest sense is hardwired into the human brain. What do you mean?

Yes, I totally remember that comment.  I was talking about how the way in which we craft our stories for book and screen has changed as our culture has changed, but the inherent grasp of what makes a story good is universal and ages old. 

For instance, film is broadly based on the structure borrowed from live theatre.  But the earliest films in the late 1890’s were only moments long – the novelty of movement kept people glued to their seats.  Watch the first ever projected movie, called Exiting the Factory, by the Lumiere brothers, which is only one minute long.  Follow this YouTube link: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BO0EkMKfgJI).

People were simply captivated by the representation of motion on the screen. They didn’t care that there was no storyline to follow.  But as audiences became accustomed to the idea of film capturing motion, they began to demand more.  Producers soon turned to using playwrights to create scripts to be filmed for movie projection.  And the history of the theatre goes back thousands of years.  Today we generally rely on the 3-act structure for movies.  But theatre still routinely has 5-act plays in circulation and two thousand years ago, the Greeks and Romans staged plays that often had 12 acts.

So Western civilization can pretty accurately point to at least 4,000 years of structured storytelling.  How long does it take for storytelling tropes or structures to become hardwired in a human brain?  Maybe 4,000 years isn’t enough to cinch it.  But the Aborigines of Australia can literally point to rock art that is close to 60,000 years old. They also assert that many of their creation stories are that old – or older. Is that enough time to hardwire storytelling into a human brain? I’m not a brain specialist, so I can’t really say – but I do know that our innate sense of a good story is both a boon and a bane to any aspiring storywriter, no matter if it’s for film or book.

The bad news is your audience is smart.  They know story structure through eons of storytelling narratives – so you can’t fool them.

The good news is – you know it too!  You’ve been immersed in the same storytelling soup for your whole life.  By and large, you can probably trust your instincts about how to tell your story to a satisfying conclusion.

I hope this helps with your writing!