S tory is who we are, and action is what we do, they are the ‘Yin and Yang’ of human existence. Story is the creative principle = the cosmic egg; and action is the active principle = the fertile motion, that gives birth to you, me, and even more stories. This magnificent ouroborical helix contains the DNA of thought and experience, and shines with the uniquely personal themes that reflect our beliefs, history, and purpose.
It was a Dark and Stormy Night…
The central character in the Television series I’m developing is at a crossroads. Her technological brilliance is the envy of all her peers, who are desperately trying to push her forward. But she is wavering, because she knows deep down that when she commits, her life will take a profoundly disturbing leap into the personal & technological unknown. And yes, I know those crossroads intimately – that’s why the story is writing itself through me.
“Everything you can imagine is real.”
― Pablo Picasso
But there are times when I stumble, times where my prose or dialogue falls short, and that’s where the real work begins. My mentor used to say “Stories aren’t written, they’re re-written and re-written, and re-written.” Storytelling, like life, is a process of polishing the mirror, and when I stay the course and keep writing, my heroine hands me a gift that teaches me who I am.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
― C.G. Jung
I f you’re not writing now and need a story to tell, pick the most recent work of fiction that’s had a deep emotional impact on you, and ask this question: “What is this story trying to teach me?” Write down everything that comes up, and sit with it. Let your notes roll through your consciousness, and focus on all the hidden places that light up. It can be a little dizzying, but if you stick with it you’ll get your answers. Now write down the major theme/s, and use them to jump start your story engine.
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
― Ralph Ellison
We Work the Black Seam Together
Miners are a tough breed. They’re strong, brave, and willing to step into the dark unknown to mine the raw materials that bring us heat, light, and power – and they’re the perfect metaphor for our willingness to go down into the depths of our psyche, and come back with the raw materials to illuminate our stories. But mining can be a dangerous trade even for storytellers. And the volitile emotions trapped within you, can blow up any carefully constructed idea of who you are, that doesn’t accurately reflect your true self.
“Keep your heart clear and transparent, and you will never be bound.
A single disturbed thought creates ten thousand distractions.”
I’ve mentioned before that I worked with Charles Bronson, and he taught me the value of authenticity. When Charlie was ten his father died, so he got a job in the Pennsylvania coal mines to help support his family. During WWII, he fought in the skies above the South Pacific, and after the war, gravitated to acting. Charlie’s genius wasn’t in what he said, but in who he was. Sure, he was considered a great Action Hero, but it was his personal authenticity that drew us in and made him a global superstar. He was hard working, generous, loving and stoic – a man who knew who he was, and why he was – and a object lesson in how to transcend hardship, by transforming the power of your story into everything you create.
“Mastering the mechanics of Storytelling requires expertise in two creative disciplines: The Art of Contrast, and the Science of Comparison. Use both, and your stories will shine with the power of your authentic genius.”
Without the play of light & shadow, we’re unable to fathom the depth of things. Light illuminates the surface, but shadow defines the complex framework underneath. To explore depth we need Contrast, so here are a few choice tips from an old gaffer:
- Select any idea, concept, person, place or thing that is important to you, and use your imagination to see it from all sides.
- Use your feelings and identify why you resonate with it – this is the light side.
- Now pay attention to the dark side – the shadow areas where your understanding is fuzzy, or incomplete, and ask yourself, what is hidden that I need to understand?
- It may take some time, but the answer will rise out of your subconscious. When it does pay close attention to the beauty, or ugliness, it reveals.
- Suspend judgement, and appreciate the totality of what you are seeing.
- Give thanks for your ‘woke’ view, and include your expanded vision in the story you are writing.
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck
Want to make a billion dollars from your Story? Write you own “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” or “X-Men,” impossible you say, ha! Let’s dive a little deeper and ask what these stories have in common. Forget the obvious stuff any executive would tell you, like main characters in the right demographic, or cool Sci-Fi / Fantasy tropes. Let’s get to the heart of it – what do you hear when you walk out of the theatre? For Star Wars it’s “May the force be with you!” For Harry Potter it’s Magic, “Expecto Patronum!”, and for the X-Men it’s an absolute acceptance of our unique ‘mutant’ individuality – our most essential Superpower.
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats
The Force, Magic, Acceptance; these are metaphors for our innate ability to stand in our power and banish our fear. They show us that we are more than a herd of jabbering mammals trying to scratch out an existence, we are the conscious embodiment of ‘The Force,’ and an individual expression of human consciousness, creativity and will. Weave these core elements into your stories & characters and watch the real magic happen.
“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.”
― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Now that we’ve mastered the Art of Contrast, it’s time to discuss the Science of Comparison. I’m assuming you are all old hands at comparison, but let my inner Einstein share a few more tips to power up your scientific story chops.
- Start with the idea, concept, person, place or thing that is important to you, that we contrasted above, and let your intellect guide you to the most potent examples of similar energies throughout history.
- Throw your net wide, and see what you catch, then separate the liveliest examples and use your contrast skills to pull out the maximum amount of information from them – emotional, physical, intellectual – the idea is to follow the resonances to the heart of the story energy that each example reflects.
- Identify the core themes, or emotional drivers behind the examples and list them.
- Note the similarities, and/ or what’s dissimilar, and ask yourself why these themes and energies are demanding your attention.
- Stay with it as long as it takes, or let it percolate until the answer appears.
- Suspend judgement, sit with the knowledge, and ask why this is important to my personal or fictional story.
- Take the answer, or answers, and start writing.
“Much of the study of history is a matter of comparison, of relating what was happening in one area to what was happening elsewhere, and what had happened in the past. To view a period in isolation is to miss whatever message it has to offer.”
― Louis L’Amour
The times they are a’changing
For the first time in recorded history, humans have almost unlimited access to information. It’s a dizzying era of unimaginable progress that is rewiring our brains, and forcing us to pick through a virtual stew of possibilities to decide what kind future we want. Unfortunately this Tsunami of choice often disrupts our sense of well being, because our industrial age minds haven’t caught up to our information age needs. I encourage you to embrace the disruption, feel it, and discard any story that is factually or emotionally destructive or manipulative. It may sound counter intuitive, but inner & outer conflict are signs that times are changing for the better.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Story is everything, and you carry this ‘everything’ within you. See that winning sports team flowing power in ‘the zone?’ See that musician tapping into your deepest feelings? See those engineers inventing amazing technologies? They have sublimated their egos and entered ‘the now,’ that zone where unlimited possibility and genius flows. So practice, practice, practice, sublimating the ‘I.’ Light up the universe with the energy that spins your bad Atomic self, and let that synchronous energy release the story hidden deep within you.
“Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”
― Charles Dickens
The Wonder of You
The Power of Story is you. You are the story engine, and your emotional, intellectual and spiritual mechanics define how your storytelling works. You bring the universe of your creativity into every story you imagine, write, live and resonate with. The story may solidify your beliefs, or blow them apart. It may inspire you, or depress you, but you are at the heart of every tale. Steven King said you’ve gotta be a reader to be a writer, and he’s absolutely right. We are born reading and writing the story we’re telling, in our lives, and in our fictions, so enjoy the tale wherever it tells you.
“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”
― Ben Okri
Photo Credits – Main: Lacie Slezak ; Coal Miners: John Collier, Jr. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; Charles Bronson: Publicity Photo, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; Fireworks: Riley McCullough ; Bubbles: Alejandro Alvarez