Unlocking The Power of Story Within You
By James Bonnet
What is the source of our creativity? How can we communicate with that source and use it to unlock the natural storyteller that resides in us all?
Carl Jung called the source of our creativity the collective unconscious. Joseph Campbell, in his book 'Hero With a Thousand Faces,' called it the world naval. Religions call it God or the Holy Spirit. George Lucas called the positive aspect the Force. In my book, 'Stealing Fire from the Gods,' I call it the creative unconscious, the hidden truth, or the self. Here I will call it the inner creative self. You can call it anything you like. What it actually is, or what you choose to call it, doesn't matter -- it is the source of all of the higher intelligence and hidden wisdom we possess. It plays a major role in storymaking; and when we're creating stories, it helps to be aware of it. If you learn how to ask your self the right questions and use the right techniques, it can be an ultimate creative partner and will consistently and persistently supply you with the answers and help that you need.
The key to all of this is your feelings. Feelings are at the threshold between the conscious and the unconscious worlds, and while playing with your creative ideas, the positive and negative intuitive feelings you are experiencing are important messages from your inner creative self. If you learn how to read these feelings, then playing with your creative ideas becomes a direct means of contact. Getting in touch with your feelings is getting in touch with your self. Getting in touch with your self through your feelings is the heart and soul of the creative process. And it is the key to unlocking the power of story within you.
Three important resources participate in this collaboration: your knowledge, your imagination, and your technique.
Your knowledge is the special understanding you possess of your art. It's what you know about story. It's what you need to know to become a master storymaker. The special knowledge I teach in my book is the Golden Paradigm, which is my story model.
Without this or some other sophisticated story model as a point of reference, it's difficult to get effective cooperation and support from your inner creative self. Without this unconscious cooperation and support you can't get that vital inner wisdom programmed into your stories and they won't have any real power or meaning. The better your story model, the more of this vital information you can access. The more information you can access, the better your story.
The second resource, the imagination is the 'image' making function. It is the staging area, the place where creative activity takes place. And it is the process that transforms the raw energy of the unconscious into visual images and metaphors.
The third resource, technique, is the conscious function, the method of working that helps you achieve the desired result. The imagination brings the raw material to the surface and the conscious technique helps to fashion that raw material into a powerful metaphor that makes a psychological connection.
There are six creative techniques that can help facilitate the collaboration between you and your inner creative self -- probing the fascination, comparing and selecting, modeling, conjuring, testing and problem solving.
~~ Probing the Fascination
By fascination I mean any idea or visual image that has strong feelings attached to it. It could be anything that gets your juices going and inspires you to create a story. By probing the fascination, I mean working with that fascination creatively. You experience it, explore it, romance it. You plug it into your imagination in ways that create other images and ideas, the same as you do when you elaborate or give details and structure to a fantasy or daydream. You translate feelings into visual images and use your imagination to bring more raw, unconscious, story-relevant material to the surface.
The important thing is to engage your feelings because that puts you in touch with your inner creative self and the energy behind those images. And when you're in touch with your feelings you're in touch with your self. You use the fascination as a point of contact with your self and you translate feelings into metaphors.
~~ Comparing and Selecting
When you probe a fascination, you will generate much more raw material than you need. The idea here is to keep the ideas that have the strongest positive feelings attached to them and put aside the rest. Get rid of everything you can and continue to work with the few most powerful ideas. The artistic tools operating here are the tendency to remember what makes a strong impression and to forget what leaves you cold. Using that as a guide, just keep the ideas that haunt you, the ones you can't forget. In other words, respect the ideas that have power. The stronger the feelings associated with an idea, the more hidden truth it contains.
In the third technique, modeling, you examine the emotionally charged images you've selected and begin identifying and associating them with the archetypes of the story model. You listen to the feelings associated with these images and realize that this is the holdfast, this is the state of misfortune, this is the hero, these are the people who lure the hero into the adventure, this is the marvelous element, this event is part of the crisis, and so on.
The model helps to facilitate communication with your inner creative self, and when you use the model as a reference, you create metaphors that make a psychological connection and a syntax that reveals the hidden truth. All of which will be confirmed by your feelings and add power to your story.
In the fourth creative technique, conjuring, you take the emerging metaphors and evolve them into more and more powerful examples of the archetypes. When you conjure, you are playing with the developing characters, powers and events and trying them in a hundred different combinations, like Edison inventing his light bulb. He tried one hundred and twenty-seven different filaments before he found the right one, tungsten.
Here again, you are...
- listening to your feelings and trying to discover the most pleasing patterns and potent combinations;
- rearranging things trying to evolve them into more and more powerful metaphors. The artistic tools at work here are analysis and recombination, exaggeration and miniaturization, idealization and vilification;
- taking things apart and trying this character and scene here and that character and incident there;
- changing the relationships, altering the relative sizes and strengths and making the positive things better and the negative things worse; and
- keeping in constant touch with your feelings and wait for the inner creative self to send you insights and signals.
Every creative playing or conjuring is a question to your self. You are in effect asking your self: Is it like this? The feeling response you get is your answer. And you keep playing with the creative ideas until they come out just right, until they really work.
When you start working with words on paper or a computer screen instead of just images in your head, you continue with this same evolutionary process -- revising, editing, rearranging, rewriting. These are all forms of conjuring. It's what the creative process is all about.
~~ Testing and Problem Solving
The fifth and sixth creative techniques are testing and problem solving. After you've worked up the whole model, then you test the model by walking through it to see how it feels.
To do this, you...
- walk through the selection of scenes you've sketched, just to get a sense of how it feels;
- take it a beat at a time, being as sensitive as you can to your own response. If something doesn't feel right, then you work on that problem;
- take it apart and try something else;
- change the characters, shift scenes around, etc.; and
- replace some of the first ideas and walk through it again.
The most important thing here is to face all the problems and negative feelings directly. If something is wrong, take it apart and try something else. Storymaking is mostly confronting and solving problems. The more problems and negative feelings you confront and resolve, the better your work is going to be. Any problems left unsolved at the end of the day you can sleep on. More often than not, the problems will be resolved when you wake up in the morning.
Throughout this process you are working with your feelings. Your feelings are helping you make all of the necessary decisions. Everything you do creatively, every change, every thought, every new selection has a feeling connotation. It will either feel good or bad and you will make your decisions accordingly.
Trial and error, as always, is the key. Just keep working and let your feelings guide you through the process. Until you get to the end, everything is only a temporary reference point to help lead you to other more powerful ideas. You just keep exploring and conjuring, and listening to your feelings, waiting for something really powerful to emerge. Then you start probing these new, more fascinating ideas until even more powerful fascinations come forth. Eventually you'll strike gold.
The acid test is always 'what works.' If you create a character, an action, or a marvelous element that contains hidden truth, you will get a confirmation, a feeling that it 'works.' The more conjuring you do, the more writing and rewriting you do, the more confirmations you will experience. The more confirmations you experience, the more hidden truth you will incorporate into your story and the more power it will have. This is how you tease the truth to the surface, and this is how you unlock the power of story within you.
Meet the Author: James Bonnet
James Bonnet is an internationally known writer and story consultant. Elected twice to the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, he has written or acted in more than forty television shows and features. He created the role of James Roosevelt in the Tony Award winning hit Broadway show, Sunrise at Campobello, and received his first professional writing job at 23. Recently he was honored with a Writer’s Guild of America award for his writing contribution to the hit television series, Barney Miller. His book has been taught in university courses around the world and is having a major impact on writers in all media.