I attended a transformative writing workshop called Story Masters last week, given by Christopher Vogler, Donald Maass, and James Scott Bell. If you were following my Facebook posts, you would think I was on some kind of intense, mystical retreat for four days.
You would not be wrong.
These master storytellers and teachers make their money from their workshops and books (as well as their writing/agenting/screenwriting/general awesomeness), so I’m not going to detail the things that I learned in the workshop. Instead, I’m going to give away some of the Story Gods’ works and write about the impact these workshop had on me, my story, and my emotional state.
There was tremendous utility in the practical storytelling techniques and tools the Story Masters presented (all of which you’ll find in their various books – some I’m giving away, but you should really add all of their works to your library). But Chris, Don, and JSB (yes, he gets initials; that’s just how I think of him) don’t just complement each other in their presentations – they clearly enjoy working together, playing off each other, and bring an incredibly warm energy to the room that allows you to open up and reach inside for all that story potential just waiting to come out.
It was practically a story revivalist meeting.
(I exaggerate. But only because conveying the energy of the experience is challenging my powers of evocation.)
The moment JSB announced this exercise, I knew I was in trouble. Because the story I was working on was already causing great tides of emotion in me… and that was before I showed up at the workshop. But I wanted to share, just to give you a feel of the mood in that room:
Shields Are Down, Captain!
That was just a tiny sample of the emotional stuff that would wrench a better story out of us.
The thing that surprised me most was how little resistance I had to the entire process. As if my emotional shields were down, and I was taking friendly fire with not so much as a flak jacket. I sensed a lot more resistance in some of my compatriots, especially my writer-friends not so far along in their journeys. It was fascinating, because I saw my earlier-writer-self in their looks of panic and angst and “wait… what? I can’t do that!” moments.
In the past, when breakthroughs pounded on my head, wanting to bang their way in, I’d fought them every step of the way. Whereas now, I was open and excited and sweeping in the new ideas. Still, there was one tiny moment when Resistance came to visit. These are my notes during that exercise:
I’m still bouncing in my seat with the enervation of reaching the other side of the Resistance. “It’s fantastic, isn’t it? Brilliant. Totally blows the whole thing wide open…” Only then do I break through the happy fog to realize my exuberance is just amping up her anxiety. “How do you feel about it?” I ask.
“Well, I can’t see how my character would ever do that, you know? I mean, it goes against everything she believes in. She’s really strong and has a tremendous sense of justice and…”
I stop her. “Of course. She’s a great character! Otherwise, you wouldn’t love her, right?”
“But there has to be some small moment, when she’s really low, where she just has a moment of weakness. Is there some point like that in the novel? Some scene where she’s just at her absolute lowest?”
She nods again. Still frowning.
“What if, in her darkest moment,” I say, “just for that small amount of time, she’s tempted to chuck it all and say to hell with it… that doesn’t make her bad. It simply makes her human. Someone we can understand. Maybe she doesn’t go through with it. Maybe something triggers her, reminds her of her true, deep, core values. And she pulls back, doubles down, and is even more committed to her cause.”
Her eyes are wide and she’s nodding. (Note: I know nothing about her story. I’m totally making all of this up.)
“She’s gone to that dark place because she’s human and vulnerable… and we love her even more when she comes out the other side, even more righteous and sure. Because she can’t be that sure, unless she’s faced her doubts and conquered them. Right?”
Suddenly she looks relieved, and I know that look. I know that feeling. It’s the one you get when you were afraid your story was hopelessly broken, but you battled through the Resistance, took a leap of faith… and found your way to the other side, where your story was even stronger than before.
Just like your protagonist.
Art is Life. Life is Art.
And now you can win the tools to be the architect of your own transformation below…
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