The Forgotten Symbolism of Story Structure
This project involves an examination of the various structures for telling Hollywood stories and suggests they’re all severely inadequate.
The project focuses on the movement of symbols rather than the appearance of symbols. We enter a particular story time that relates to a time many have a memory of. The month of January in the new year when the Inauguration of the new president took place. This focus on symbols has Hollywood in its grips and few in the city are able to think outside this particular box and consider symbolism.
While most screenwriters and screenwriting gurus can agree on a number of essential symbols or elements of modern screen stories, they find little agreement on screenplay structure or the symbolism (movement) of these symbols they place at points in stories.
One of the strongest brand segmentation methods for creating a lucrative screenwriting consulting business is to create and own your own structural screenwriting theory. The closest method of arriving at one’s own screenwriting theory, branding their own ideas of screenwriting for others to buy into through substantial incomes. Theories of structure (or really symbolism or the symbol of movement in modern stories really relates to the brands of the various screenwriting gurus who make a living arguing their structure is the best.
Screenwriting structure theory in Hollywood has exploded in the past few years with hundreds of gurus selling their courses through Udemy or their own YouTube channels. Books are now a minor part of the growing screenwriting consulting business. Certainly there is more to be made as a consultant than an actual screenwriter.
The major screenwriting gurus today have “branded” their theories via a particular number pattern of certain events in a sequence. The screenwriting guru tells us that there should be three acts (Field), eight (USC Method), 15 steps (Snyder), 16 steps (Campbell/Vogler), 21 steps (Edson) or 22 Steps (Truby). The grand old man of screenplay consulting Robert McKee stays relatively out of the sequence battle and talks more about principles. (We have a book in progress titled Hollywood Safari: Navigating Screenwriting Books & Theories that discusses the various “schools” of screenwriting today. See our website)
One finds out things like this because they are (admittedly) a hoarder in this particular area of popular culture. A screenwriting theory/book/course hoarder. The more I read about how to write screenplays, the more I get confused. Yet this doesn’t stop my continual exploration of screenwriting theory books, the leading ones attempting to hold a particular number of events in the sequence of events across the events in a screenplay.
Through my various employers through the work years, I gained a number of things. Over all of this was always a growing interest in symbolism. An old law and truth rediscovered by Carl Jung and applied by Erich Neumann in the 20th century.
It was not about things but about the number of things. This was the magicians’ trick
It was a discovery about a new sequence of symbols that make up a cycle or movement between opposites.
ACT I – Set Up
“Our world is full of symbols today. In a brief sense, symbols are A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different concepts and experiences. All communication (and data processing) is achieved through the use of symbols. Symbols take the form of words, sounds, gestures, ideas or visual images and are used to convey other ideas and beliefs. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for “STOP”. On a map, a blue line might represent a river. Numerals are symbols for numbers. Alphabetic letters may be symbols for sounds. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose may symbolize love and compassion. The variable ‘x’, in a mathematical equation, may symbolize the position of a particle in space.”
The ancient science and belief in symbolism has much wisdom to tell us today. Yet sadly (but not surprisingly) symbolism is relegated to the forgotten dustbins of academic institutions and contemporary culture with hardly any research into the old truths from the ancient world it might tell us in the modern world.
It’s absence in modern thinking is not surprising as the world is more attracted to the visible symbols today rather than the invisible symbolism that moves these symbols.
An investigation and argument that a book written over 75 years ago in Eric Neumann’s’ The Origins and History of Consciousness provides the key symbols and symbolism for story structure today. It is very different than any sequence method “owned” by particular Hollywood screenwriting gurus.
The re-discovery of Neumann’s amazing book and the events it brings into the life of the author is the story related below. In all aspects of the story, we attempt to utilize the methods suggested by Jung and Neumann in the progression of symbols through a particular story. This creates a very different pattern than that suggested by Joseph Campbell, the grand old man of the Hollywood crowd that attaches them to mythology.
Yet no one ever cared much about the appearance of symbolism in their films. They were content to simply thing about symbols and sell the symbols as product endorsements in their films. They had hardly any understanding about the movement of symbols in a dramatic context. This was what everything was really all about I felt.
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Beginning of a story that relates this new story structure to us.
The current scene amongst screenwriters in Santa Monica, California at a Starbucks close to the ocean.
Everyone talks about the idea of story. Not just their stories as they always do otherwise. But the whole town is in a big self-reflective mood wondering if they are telling the right type of stories in lieu of the recent election. There is confusion on the type of stories demanded under the new era of politics in America.
Everyone in town questioning the type of story the nation might want under this radical, surprise new leader of the nation who was never supposed to become President. The articles on a new Hollywood period of soul searching and reflection in Hollywood regarding the types of stories the nation will want under the era of this new period of changed politics in the nation.
The screenwriter is under contract with an old studio in town to develop a project directed at the group who supported the current president. One of the oldest studios in town that does things very differently than the other studios in town.
For years, he has been writing about film. He was born and grew up in Los Angeles.
Now, he goes to a weekend to listen to the theories of Joseph Campbell and the main proponent of them in a writing structure. He has paid a lot of money for the weekend.
He went back to his office in his home after the big Joseph Campbell Screenplay Structure weekend at the hotel out in Burbank. He had a little place out on 21st in Santa Monica.
For some reason the Campbell talks at the seminars over the weekend followed him home and wouldn’t let him go. In his office he has a type of revelation that the problem was story structure and not types of stories like everyone else in Hollywood was thinking. He decides to get off his bookshelf a book he has feared reading for years, since he got it fifteen years ago. He had only looked at the major chapter headings in the book. But these alone told him this was all he needed to know. It was Erich Neumann’s The Origins and History of Consciousness. He needed to read it now. This he was sure of.
One of the things that was becoming increasingly clear to him was that there needed a common structure to stories today or they would continue to fragment into all the various sequence ideas and the exploding story consulting business in the nation these days. Especially with the new President. Lots of people in Hollywood are wandering what to do about this story question. It is the “question” on everyone’s mind in the city that particular January of the Inauguration.
These ideas of story swirl above Hollywood yet they also swirl above DC and New York. It is in the air during that January of the Inauguration when we join the mind of a first person narrator that relates this story to the reader. Story and his/her search told via 1st person screenwriter in today’s Hollywood. He tells the story of his/her search for this structure through his previous books on symbols and symbolism.
This is the first story he tells applying Erich Neumann’s theories and ideas to cinema. This is the main goal of this project.
The screenwriter becomes a target of others in Hollywood who attempt to sabotage his career. He opens an office in Hollywood to teach his method of screenwriting based on Neumann’s ideas. They propose a radically different story structure than current story structure templates. His life is threatened. A chase scene in the Hollywood Hills one night, zipping around the famous Mulholland Drive. The consequences of introducing a radical idea into Hollywood. It was similar to introducing a radical idea into Washington DC.
Yet the screenwriter always has an advantage as he sees big picture things in the world and knows that particular symbols rules over things in the world based on cycles one had no control over. The rest of Hollywood is out of touch with these cycles. They only hear the sound of their own cycles. They are incapable of hearing much farther.
And all the time, there is a grand symbol like a weather phenomenon that moves through/over/around culture under the powers of symbolism. These old powers that no one sees because the Neumann theories are run out of Hollywood.
The screenwriter gets into a battle between screenwriters.
Who will claim “brand ownership” over the new great story idea to come out of Hollywood in many years.
Story structure taking shape around the research of Jung and his grandest student Neumann. Moving away from the Campbell structure that has dominated for so many years.
ACT II – Confrontation
ACT III – Resolution