I have been deeply impacted the past couple of weeks by a great little book called Stealing Fire From the Gods. Written by James Bonnet, a Hollywood writer and workshop leader, the book is a guide for how to more intentionally craft novels and screenplays by tapping into the key elements found in the most powerful stories from across the ages.
Bonnet’s central premise is that all human beings are guided by a “Creative Unconscious,” raw energy within the brain that we often cut off or lose touch with in the day-to-day grind. The psychologist Carl Jung had called this the collective unconscious or self. Freud called it the superego, libido or id. In religion, it can be called God, the Holy Spirit, the soul, Buddha Consciousness, and so forth. And in popular culture, for example, George Lucas called it the Force.
Bonnet asserts that this Creative Unconscious seeks to reveal hidden truth to us, guiding us along a path of cycles to help us realize our full potential. The Unconscious uses the visual metaphors (symbols composed of real, everyday things) found in great stories to express its hidden wisdom to our consciousness. These stories represent the unconscious energy translated into forms the conscious mind can assimilate and understand.
Every great story reveals a small part of this “hidden truth,” Bonnet adds, but no one story reveals it all. One can create hundreds of individual stories, each focused on a different aspect of the “whole story.” The whole story must be ever present in the background, such as how World War II haunts the background of the great film Casablanca and its focus on Rick Blaine dropping out of the fight and then choosing to re-enter it.
I agree with Bonnet that great stories stimulate our imaginations by provoking personal fantasies that lead to desires for actions in the real world. These are actions that help us fulfill more of our unrealized potential.
And, Bonnet is on target when he insists that in a great story the wisdom is never obvious; it is hidden for later discovery. If too obvious, the story becomes a morality tale or an allegory, something with a message for the intellect rather than the heart. I am facing this challenge as I write the first draft of my own novel, trying to show more than I tell, to help the reader feel and experience rather than simply be a student.
The acid test for creating a story, Bonnet advises, is always “what works,” what gets your juices going. So pay attention to your feelings as you write. You are being guided by something far deeper and more powerful than you realize, which can make the act of creating a very spiritual experience.