A New Approach to Story Writing

John Fraim

The Changing Lights / Kazuo Ishiguro / Stacey Kent – 2013

(Rare to read lyrics for a song written by the world’s greatest novelist. See lyrics below)

A conversation with yourself about where you are in life at the moment and what you want to do. Both the conscious and unconscious thoughts of the author of the conversation. Analysis of symbolism of the situation as well as other aspects such as environment of the author. 

Think I’ve read one too many books on how to write screenplays. It started as an interest and then developed into a type of habit and then an addiction. I don’t know how many books on screenwriting and story-telling I read over the years. Trying to combine all of them with my Jungian and McLuhan influenced ideas on the dynamics of symbols as they moved in a system of symbolism. I ended up writing a manuscript on the various types of screenplays, an attempt to create some cross genre study of screenplays. I called it Hollywood Safari: Navigating Screenwriting Books & Theory. It was named after one of the greatest and most fascinating management consulting books I had ever read called Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through the Wilds of Strategic Management (The Free Press, 2001). We’ll be doing a separate review on this amazing book later.

My manuscript was a survey of various “species” of screenwriting animals out there at the time in the first decade of the new century. At the time it was dominated by perhaps five major gurus or screenwriting teachers, lecturers, authors. But it was a brisk cottage industry it seemed to me and I became as interested in the business of selling how to screenwriting books as what was in them. 

It looked like major schools of screenwriters attempted to distinguish themselves from other brands out there by holding a particular number of steps in screenplay sequence. There was the 3 act Syd Field school, the 8 sequences USC Film School model, the Writer’s Journey view of 15 steps based on Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, the 21 steps of John Truby, the 23 steps of professor Eric Edson.  Or, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and its 15 beats to a story.

* * *

But there were other advisors, consultants hanging around what one might identify as that part of the entertainment industry which helps content creators create their content. Few of them are active in the movie production business. But many of them have been active in this business in the past. Or, have had various other high level positions in the film business. 

This seems to be a requirement to get into the upper ranks of this group of entertainment advisors. Now, they sell their advice and consulting services and story generation services. In much the same way, it seems to me, that lobbyists in DC sell their services to those who are actively in the game.

* * *

There will always be a market for others that tell us how to tell a story. If we fail to believe that we possess all the tools inside of ourselves to tell a story. Without getting any outside help. 

This is one of the key crisis’s of our time: the feeling that we cannot solved our problems from within our own knowledge without getting the help of others. The individual person today has been beaten down more than at any time in history. With this beating the belief in individuality has suffered among thousands and probably millions of the population. 

At work at the creation of any story today, it seems to me, is this individuality of the screenwriter artist. It is up to our future story-tellers to find a close link between their inward psyches and the story that inspired them to create. 

What image for the creation of story.

The fact is, the real hero or heroine of any story is always the author of the story of the story, the person who is creating the story. None of the screenwriting gurus or books recognize this – so basic – fact of storytelling. The storyteller reinvents his or her persona in characters and settings. 

Our great literary artists and filmmakers and photographers and others accomplishes this reinvention through new, separate works, carved from the stream of creativity out there. Nothing is ever truly invented with screenwriters. It comes from some memory inside. Hidden for many years. 

The connection between the inward psyche of a school of new filmmakers and the products them make will revolutionize filmmaking. It will only come when filmmakers look within themselves again for ideas and inspiration rather than looking outside themselves.

Storytelling has always been about the story-teller’s relationship to his or her soul at the time of the story. This relationship always the most powerful in our greatest stories. But absolutely no recognition of this relationship in any of the above gurus of modern screenwriting theory. There’s little money in the business of convincing people they don’t need outside advice. 

* * *

It is all about that magic elixir the gurus have discovered and their sales of this exlixir in various forms to the market attempting to write stories for film or television. 

Who will write the first story based on a true link between the inner psychology of the writer and the outer story being presented by the writer. 

This raises some questions for me. Will true advances in screenwriting theory come from within the ranks of the current academics? Or, from the esteemed group of gurus in the field? Or, screenwriters themselves? Or, more from the world of psychology and psychiatry? Advances in understanding the situation of the current artist from a symbolic perspective. 

This makes all the difference in the world in what a current story would be about. Yet it is one of the last things thought about by today’s young artists. Today’s culture is not one of reflection. More than anything, it continues to push hard and fast into the future. Without looking back. It is a different time than the 1960s and the decade of the inner person. Expressed much in the entire hippy revolution. There could be so much to the inner person.

But all of this desire to explored the inner person, gone today. Even gone is any attempt to perpetuate the memory of those years. The decade which celebrated the inner person. Stories can only get to the next level when we stop listening to everyone / anyone selling us advice on how to create or tell a story. Once we ask, we show that we don’t have the power or will to explore the relationship between the current psychology of the author and the story he is using to express this psychology.

* * *

As a counter to offering advice on how to write a story, I give you the task of writing up some basic piece like the example below. The most important thing in starting up a story is to establish a relationship of trust and truth with one’s inner self. Unless this relationship is present, there will never be a true story by the author. All of our greatest stories are about this relationship first. Before the story is told.

(Coming in a new Midnight Oil blog: Examples of our approach to story writing)

The Tea House / Columbus


The Changing Lights

Music by Stacey Kent

Lyrics by Kazuo Ishiguro

Were we leaving Rio
Or were we in New York?
I remember bossa nova on the breeze
We were in the back seat
Of a cab we couldn’t afford
You were holding my old rucksack on your knees
You leaned towards your window
To see the traffic up ahead
“These commuters here,” you said
“Could be the walking dead”
And we vowed to guard our dreams
From all the storms that lay ahead
From the winds of fear and age and compromise
And we laughed about the hopelessness
Of so many peoples lives
As we slowly moved towards the changing lights

It was near Les Invalides
Or perhaps Trafalgar Square
It was late at night the city was asleep
You were clowning in the back seat
With some friends we’d found somewhere
The kind, back then, we always seemed to meet
“There were those in this great world”, you said
“Just fated to go far”
And among the lucky ones
Were we inside that car

And your friends began to sing
When You Wish Upon a Star
And you clapped along like you didn’t have a care
But once I turned to glance at you
As we drove across the square
And your face looked haunted in the changing lights

Was it last September?
It was autumn more or less
You were waiting to cross some busy boulevard
Talking on your phone
To your family I guess
Your briefcase tucked up high beneath your arm
As I approached you turned around
A question in your eye
As though I might ignore you
And just simply walk on by
But we smiled and talked awhile
About each others lives
And once or twice I caught a wistful note
Then you moved towards the crossing
As the cars slowed to a halt
And we waved and parted beneath the changing lights

2 thoughts on “A New Approach to Story Writing

  1. I love the point about the real hero or heroine of any story being the author because it is so true. It is the thoughts, beliefs, observations, experiences, and imaginations of the author that make the story … the story!

  2. I certainly agree with you and Gary Kinsey, the story should come from within the author, his information, and observations, experience & person interest in what he has absorbed He or she needs to. have a desire to write about what he or she feels would be an interesting story for people to enjoy reading about. The way the world is today, I believe young journalist are not using their creative ability to write an interesting story. Many are taught to push an agenda and most people are not interested when they find that out.

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