Sunday, August 25, 2013

Storytelling and the Superconscious Mind

by Bill Johnson
In broad terms, yoga separates the mind into three aspects: the conscious, the subconscious, and the superconscious.

• The conscious mind is concerned with the senses and evaluating relationships.
• The subconscious mind stores memories and issues about the self.
• The superconscious mind, above the other two, offers a dispassionate awareness concerned with understanding.

When I first started developing the concepts of telling a story, I worked through how the mechanics of storytelling and how a story 'moves' or transports an audience. I used the basic principals I came up with to write A Story is a Promise. This book was intended to guide the reader to fulfill readers expectations when they open the cover of the book.

I wrote my second book, Deep Characterization, about what happens when someone creates stories to process personal feelings or issues.

The Spirit of Storytelling addresses how a writer can allow story characters to have internal lives that do not revolve around the author's issues or relationships.

Because the conscious mind is concerned with a person's standing in life, stories exploring or illuminating relationships draw readers in. This is one reason why so many stories revolve around births, deaths, marriages, leaving home; they are a time of change for relationships.

If an author is fully concerned with his/her own issues and relationships, the author is likely to create stories with main characters symbolic of the author’s issues. These story characters act to transport the author, not readers.

The subconscious stores memories. Because the subconscious is a storehouse of information about life, it's easy for some writers to “watch the mental story movie” and write down the details. The downside to this writing process is that long term memories are compacted and the feelings associated with them minimized.

The superconscious mind is above the subconscious. It is about understanding, about expanding conscious awareness, about understanding the daily self as a way to evolve to higher states of understanding. It's not about getting even, it's about becoming aware.

Getting to the superconscious mind means a storyteller is getting to a place where characters are not tethered to the authors needs and issues, whether conscious (based on the relationships from our daily lives) or subconscious (symbolic characters and core issues from our buried mental landscape).

If you are successful writing contemporary or genre fiction using the fuel from your life and relationships, or some subconscious motor, you might not need to concern yourself with a connection to the superconscious mind. But if your storytelling is lifeless and your characters fail to compel, then I encourage you to go deeply into yourself and find a route to a deeper understanding of your character’s inner lives.


A longer version of this essay, which includes techniques to reach that deeper state, is available in my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon Kindle. 
To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, visit my website or check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords.

The full length version of this essay is currently available only on the Amazon Kindle version of the book.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

When Story Worlds Collide, Notes on Elysium

by Bill Johnson

Neill Blomkamp's Elysium is an example of what is called World Building in science fiction stories. The world he creates is a polluted earth over-populated with the poor who live in slums and are managed by robotic police and administrators. In the sky hangs Elysium, a rotating space station where the super wealthy live in comfort. A few heavily guarded factory managers travel between earth and Elysium.

The beginning of the film sets out the conditions on Earth through an introduction to Max and Frey, young orphans. Max promises Frey that someday he will take her to Elysium.

In screenwriting terms, that's a set up for each character, and viewers will expect a payoff for each set up.

But most of the first third of the film is the world building that sets out life on Earth and life on Elysium, with the occasional shuttle of poor people desperately trying to reach Elysium for medical treatment. A security administrator finds herself given a final warning about her job when she deal harshly with the latest illegal attempt to reach Elysium. Because of her methods, she's forced to fire an operative on Earth who recently shot down two of three illegal shuttles.

Those are more set ups for how their situations will be resolved.

Max is hurt and runs into Frey, who is now a nurse with no interest in a poor laborer. She also has a sick daughter who will die unless she gets the advanced medical treatment available only on Elysium.

But so far there's no introduction of a story that will be acted out through Max, there's just the world building and the character introductions and set ups.

What in screenwriting is called an inciting incident doesn't come until later into the film, when Max suffers a lethal dose of radiation and will die in five days unless he can reach Elysium. The plot of the film now has a clear purpose, and a reason for Max to take Frey and her daughter to Elysium, but there's still not a strong sense of a promise for the story. Yes, there's the central idea about the super wealthy moving to a vast gated community (i.e., a space station), but an idea isn't a story.

L.A. Confidential had some wonderful world building for LA in the 50's, and many characters, but it also had a central story about illusion, reality, and identity.

The the climax of Elysium comes, and I understand how it connects to the pieces of the story, I just didn't feel a powerful fulfillment of a story's promise (Max's promise to Frey early in the film to take her to Elysium revolves more around plot than story).

I suspect that because District 9 did so well, the people who put up the money and arranged distribution for Elysium felt they'd get the same payoff, but District 9 had a more central main character on a more clearly defined story journey than Max.

World building is great when done well, and character set ups have a place, but they don't take the place of a well-told story.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, visit my website or check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon Kindle. Or, find me on Google+ and tell me what you think.