What's in a Story

What’s in a Story?

A hhh story. Like most of us, I grew up thinking stories were what you read or watched, and thought of them as entertainment, a fun way to pass the time. As the only child of ‘busy’ adults, I devoured them and developed an urge to scribble my own, without realizing – until much later – that my creative muse was giving me a tool to know myself, and with that knowing, decipher the story of everything.

E verywhere you look, corporate story engines are influencing billions of people and raking in trillions of dollars in the process; crowding our devices like an aggressive gaggle of garrulous Carny Hawkers desperate to sell us everything from toothpaste, to ideology, to hookups. My goal here is  to play through all that noise, and help you understand & master the universal ‘What’s’ in every story – because these ‘What’s,’ are at the heart of your own high-powered story engine.

The Machineries of Joy

In series television, Executives require that every show has a robust story engine to ensure that it has the ‘Legs’ to last five or more seasons. Think of your favorites, what do they have in common? They all have powerful story engines (SE) that provide an open ended, overarching objective – like ‘Surviving the Zombie Holocaust’- and couple it with a volitile mix of characters, conflicts and obstacles that are compelling enough to keep you tuning in, turning on, and binging out.

Our individual story engines mirror this process by powering our purpose – whatever we have decided that ‘purpose is’ – and the clearer our ‘tellings,’ the stronger our story ‘legs,’ are, and the more joyful our lives become.

Speaking of joy, my old friend, the late, great, Ray Bradbury penned the short story “The Machineries of Joy” in 1964. It’s a meditation on space flight that speaks of the eternal struggle between fear & joy, and of clinging to the earthly known, or embracing the cosmic unknown “…are we not God’s Machineries of Joy?” Like many of Ray’s most brilliant works, the  story provides a purposeful space for us to continue his story by answering it’s central question for ourselves, and use our personal story engine to burn the emotional and intellectual fuel that ‘Machineries’ provides, to lift us into a cosmos of self discovery.

T he greatest thing about your story engine is that it powers both your personal story – your Bio – and the multi-faceted stories of everything you create and interact with. Story provides a human context that increases the Creative Gravity and psychological value of everything you resonate with, and provides the spiritual, intellectual, emotional & physical ‘Power Links’ that bond you to it.

The Five “I’s” – The Essential Power Train of Every Story Engine

Fierce Perception & imagination fuel your story engine, and your creativity provides the spark to ignite your ideas into action; but what are the ‘What’s’ of ‘What’s in a Story? Here are my Five “I’s,” the What’s that transfer vision into story action:

1. Influence – The wild card element that intuitively taps into the collective conscious, and Power Links the story to a specific concept, idea, person, place, or event that is highly visible in the public eye, like the popularity of ‘Wonder Woman’ in 2017, and it’s connection to the rising power of Women in society. Influence is a mirror to our universal desire to be seen & heard.

2. Inspiration The element of soulful subconscious that connects every story to the synchronicity of human perception, awareness & action. Whenever a character steps into the unknown, sacrifices, or allows their higher purpose speak through them to achieve a collective goal – inspiration is at work.

3. Illumination – The element of psychological truth that reveals the psychic structure and internal logic of each character’s thoughts, ideas & actions. This is the communal ‘I’, where characters act for personal, family or tribal benefit. The theme of the story lives in between the lines of illumination, and walks ‘hand in hand’ with inspiration & influence.

4. Illustration – The element of emotional strength that drives behavior & action. Emotion is the ‘Big Bang’ that sets a story in motion. It’s volitile energy can be a negative push forcing characters to act out of anger or fear; or a positive pull, that draws characters into actions that glorify the indomitable human spirit. Illustration reveals the better & bitter Angels of our nature – it’s how ideas are transformed into action.

5. Interaction – The element of physical space & activity that builds a dynamic frame for the characters to live in. It shows us how characters physically interact with each other, with locations, and with the objects & creatures that shape their journey. Interaction also provides contrast thru physical conflict – and without it’s primal play of Light & Shadow, we would be snow blinded by sameness.

Mix the Five ‘I’s just right, and you have a hit story. And if your first ‘I’ is resonant enough, you get a cultural phenomenon. Are you a hit story, or cultural phenom waiting to be told?

Transformer Man

The most thrilling thing about storytelling is it’s transformative power. As conscious beings, we chase the meaning & themes of our existence, as we work out our place in the world. Everything we resonate with is part of our individual stories, and those resonances connect us to the larger story like a camera that starts in a Close Up of our faces, then rises into space to give us a cosmic perspective of where we exist. 

Everything is story; just look at Levi Ponce’s fantastic Venice, Ca. Mural. It’s populated by a host of my favorite storytellers: Albert EinsteinAlan WattsBaruch SpinozaTerence McKennaCarl JungCarl SaganEmily DickinsonNikola TeslaFriedrich NietzscheRalph Waldo EmersonW.E.B. Du BoisHenry David ThoreauElizabeth Cady StantonRumiAdi Shankara, and Lao Tzu. Math, Science, Medicine, Engineering, Psychology, Sociology, Religion and Philosophy are story genres too – along with every other facet of human exploration – and we created Printing, Media and the Internet to expand it’s reach. No matter who you are, or what you do, your story is important, so know it, show it, and don’t stow it.

P erspective is key to seeing the outlines of a story clearly, and when you use your Fierce Perception to adjust your perspective, the unique world of that story unfolds like a multi-dimensional flower and welcomes you in like an old friend. I was watching “Game of Thrones” recently and was transfixed as Bran told Littlefinger “Chaos is a Ladder,” a perspective altering line of dialogue if ever there was one. Putting all story specifics aside, and with a nod to William Blake, let me offer this: Chaos is simply a story seeking your attention. A ladder of experience that leads to the unfolding flower of your consciousness.

The Unified Theory of Story 

Our Stories recycle experience through creative expression, and help us to understand ourselves and our world by using imagination to illuminate the long shadows we cast. So, like a scribbler’s Einstein, I have developed an intuitive ‘Unified Story Theory’ (Theory of Everything ‘Story’) that I’d like to share with you:

My ‘Unified Theory of Story’ (UTS) states that “Story is the Creative ‘Glue’ of Conscious Attention that holds the Universe of Human Experience & Action together.”

Story is a ‘Power Frame,’ a flexible skeleton that supports the living flesh of our visionary pursuits. It’s also a mirror that expands human consciousness through self awareness, and inspires accountability. So what’s in a story? Everything we bring to it, my friend!

Story Lights  •  Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights” is simply amazing. It’s a 1931 silent film (with music) and is filled with all the pathos, beauty and poignancy that a master artist at the very top of his storytelling zenith, can create. Charlie’s ‘Little Tramp’ falls in love with a blind flower girl, and sacrifices everything to pay for an operation to restore her sight. This shot is from the final scene when the girl takes pity on the little tramp and presents him with a flower, unaware that he was the man who made her sight possible. I cry every time I see it, heck, I’m choking up as I type this. Watch this movie and Chaplin’s transcendent performance will totally sell you on the awe inspiring, ‘Quiet Power of Human Expression.’ Writers love words, but the best writing – like the best performances – takes place before, between, and after the words. All those quiet spaces are cues for actors, readers, or viewer’s, to bring their creative story engines online and join in the fun.

W hen I’m screenwriting, I use spacing, grammar and action to indicate the quiet places that my characters show me, because writing for the screen is closer to imagist poetry, than descriptive prose. For novels, I can have a little more prosaic word fun, but either way, great scribbling is a story circle that leads from author, to character, to reader/ viewer, and back again. It’s truly ‘The Machineries of Joy’ in action.

Steps to Mastering Your Story Engine (SE):

1. You’re The Story – Since you’re a conscious being, your primary directive is self awareness. The Self is story #1, and mastering your SE means knowing your story inside & out. Writers are told to write what you know, but knowing is not about plot, or the ‘who did what’ of a story. It’s about emotion, empathy and energy. When you explore your story, you have to suspend ALL judgement to see it clearly. Once you do, your ability to express your unique creativity will blossom. Read my pervious Posts on Creativity if you need a few power tools to help you get there.

2. The Story of Everything = Everything is Story – Absolutely every human endeavor exists thanks to the success of it’s story. EVERYTHING. Since we are self-aware, we are able to see the world around us as an extension of a larger consciousness, and are drawn, or repelled, by the largesse of that realization. When you know your story, you have a ‘Power Frame’ that you can call on to reveal & integrate any story element you desire, especially if it fits with the purpose you have chosen.

3. Story Weaving & The Five ‘I’s –  Stories draw us in with their fascinating mix of colors & patterns, and each thread represents one of the Five ‘I’s, so when you’re weaving a story be mindful of the ‘warp and weft’ of your thoughts, and leave room for the quiet spaces. A master story weaver is a creative conduit – gathering material, setting up the loom, and guiding the elements into amazing patterns suggested by the qualities of each thread. Listen carefully to your elements and characters – especially if one of those characters is you – it’s their story, told masterfully through you.

4. Attention is Energy – If your story engine stalls, place your Attention on the Block and focus your Fierce Perception on it. Relax; Breathe; and let the creative impressions flow, allowing the obstacle to dissolve naturally as you get out of your own way. You may have to walk away for a moment to give your attentive powers a break, but that just means your subconscious is taking over, so trust it – it’s flowing energy and attention behind the scenes.

5. Tell it on the Mountain – A Story isn’t complete until you connect it to your audience, so use that magnificent Voice of yours, and go tell it on the mountain. Get those wonderful stories out of your head and into the world, because that is your primary job as a sentient Being. You know your audience, because you know yourself, so be courageous and show up & out. And remember, it’s not about ego, it’s about connection. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: Story is bigger than ego.

6. Mardi Gras, Now! – Now that your story is out there, get together with your friends and celebrate! You are a Machinery of Joy, so have FUN. Even when I write darker material, I am having fun swimming in the brisk flow of my creativity. You can also use it to connect and collaborate, because celebration will flow you towards the perfect companions to join you on your next story adventure. 

Hit the Road, Jack (but always come back for more)!

As it was for Bradbury & Chaplin, so it is for us: Life is the story circle where we live. Now that you’ve internalized the ‘What’s’ in your story, you can consciously let your story engine drive your journey, and what you learn along the way will show you the world in Technicolor 2.0. So get your storyteller’s Voice on and get telling – it’s what you’re built for!

P.S. If you enjoyed this Post, please share it with your friends, and comment, we’d love to hear from you!

Here are a few of my favorite story circles:

Photo Credits • Main:  Clem Onojeghuo  • Soul Lights: Rhett Wesley • Luminaries: Mural by Levi Ponce, design by Peter Moriarty, Conceived by Perry Rod; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International  • Chaplin: via Wikimedia Commons • Engine: Aaron Barnaby

About Scott J Mulvaney

Scott is a Filmmaker, Writer, Web Entrepreneur and Passionate Mystagog of the divine joys of Creativity, Visual Storytelling & Cinematic Language.

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