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A summary of Dan's process

Page history last edited by Steve 6 years, 7 months ago

Start with random IDEAS.  Ideas can be anything - Poop is an idea, America, pickles, the number six, a raccoon, anything.


Some ideas will reveal related ideas. Clouds of related ideas that your mind recognizes as related in any way are potential story AREAS.  Look for areas that make you laugh and cry.


Draw a circle to symbolize your area, because your story will take the “reader” through related ideas in a path around a central idea. 


Divide your circle into a top half and bottom half and ask yourself what those halves might be. If the division doesn’t feel charged for you, pick something else. At some point, you will divide your area into two parts that create a personal “charge” for you, like a battery.


The top half of the circle is the ordinary world of the story. The bottom half is the 'special world' of the story.


Divide the divided circle down the middle and pick another charged dichotomy for left and right. Now you have four quadrants to your circle.


Any point at which you stop feeling charged, go back a step or start over.


When you find a story area that yields four charged quadrants, experiment with protagonists. Create more characters as needed.


Starting from the 12 o clock position and going clockwise, number the 4 points where the lines cross the circle: 1, 3, 5 and 7.

Number the quarter-sections themselves 2, 4, 6 and 8.


  1. You
  2. Need
  3. Go
  4. Search
  5. Find
  6. Take
  7. Return



If we are not inside a character, then we are not inside the story.

How do you put the audience into a character? Easy. Show one. 

If there are choices, the audience picks someone to whom they relate. When in doubt, they follow their pity.

I wouldn't fuck around if I were you. The easiest thing to do is fade in on a character that always does what the audience would do if they were in the same situation.




Demonstrate that something is off balance in the character's world.

Show that things aren't perfect. They could be better. This can happen in the subtext.

Protagonists can "refuse the call." This isn't a necessary ingredient, it's just another oft-used trick to keep us buckled into an identity. We're all scared of change.




What's your story about?

What would your "movie poster" be?

What would you advertise to people if you wanted them to come listen to your story? A killer shark? Outer space? The Mafia? True love? Everything in the bottom half of the circle is a "special world" where that movie poster starts being delivered, and everything in the top half is the "ordinary world."

It doesn't matter how small or large the scope of your story is, what matters is the amount of contrast between these worlds. The adventure, regardless of its size or subtlety, has begun.



4. "Search" - THE ROAD OF TRIALS

Our protagonist has been thrown into the water and now it's sink or swim.

We are headed for the deepest level of the unconscious mind, and we cannot reach it encumbered by all that crap we used to think was important.

In Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell actually evokes the image of a digestive tract, breaking the hero down, divesting him of neuroses, stripping him of fear and desire. There's no room for bullshit in the unconscious basement. Asthma inhalers, eyeglasses, credit cards, fratty boyfriends, promotions, toupees and cell phones can't save you here. The purpose here has become refreshingly - and frighteningly - simple.




If you look at the circle, you see I've placed the goddess at the very bottom, right in the center. The Road of Trials' job is to prepare your protagonist for this meeting or revelation. 


Imagine your protagonist began at the top and has tumbled all the way down here. This is where the universe's natural tendency to pull your protagonist downward has done its job, and for X amount of time, we experience weightlessness. Anything goes down here. This is a time for major revelations, and total vulnerability. If you're writing a plot-twisty thriller, twist here and twist hard.


Your hero-in-the-making just found what they were looking for, even if it's not quite what they knew they were looking for.


This is also another threshold, in that everything past this point will take a different direction (namely UPWARD), but note that one is not dragged kicking and screaming through these curtains. One hovers here. One will make a choice, then ascend. You might have noticed that, just as (3), the crossing of the threshold, is the opposite of (7) the return, (5), the meeting with the goddess, is the opposite of (1), the protagonist's zone of comfort. Think of (1) as being the arms of mother, however dysfunctional she might be. (5) is a new form of mother, an unconscious version, and there is often a temptation to stay right here.


This is very, very important. Movement beyond (5) becomes the protagonist's volition




There are major, major consequences to that decision. In fact, in a good action movie, this is where our guy simply gets his ass kicked. That's because this half of the circle has its own road of trials - the road back up. The road down prepares you for the bed of the goddess and the road up prepares you to rejoin the ordinary world.


As you might expect with a circular model like this, there is a lot of symmetry going on, and on the journey back upward, we're going to be doing a lot of referencing to the journey downward. Just as (1) and (5) are very maternal, feminine, vulnerable moments, (2) and (6) are very paternal, masculine, active moments, regardless of the protagonist's gender.


In the first half of the circle, you were reacting to the forces of the universe, adapting, changing, seeking. Now you have BECOME the universe. You have become that which makes things happen. You have become a living God.



7. "Return" - BRINGING IT HOME

The denizens of the deep can't have people sauntering out of the basement any more than the people upstairs wanted you going down there in the first place. The natives of the conscious and unconscious worlds justify their actions however they want, but in the grand scheme, their goal is to keep the two worlds separate, which includes keeping people from seeing one and living to tell about it.




The protagonist, on whatever scale, is now a world-altering ninja. They have been to the strange place, they have adapted to it, they have discovered true power and now they are back where they started, forever changed and forever capable of creating change.


One really neat trick is to remind the audience that the reason the protagonist is capable of such behavior is because of what happened down below. When in doubt, look at the opposite side of the circle. Surprise, surprise, the opposite of (8) is (4), the road of trials, where the hero was getting his shit together. Remember that zippo the bum gave him? It blocked the bullet! It's hack, but it's hack because it's worked a thousand times. Grab it, deconstruct it, create your own version. You didn't seem to have a problem with that formula when the stuttering guy (4) recited a perfect monologue (8) in Shakespeare in Love. It's all the same.



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