Tuesday, March 24, 2009


“As to the question, which came first – the chicken or the egg –
you must consider the possibility that the egg is that part of
the chicken that is trying to remember itself.”

- Anon.

I love the poet, Muriel Rukeyser, because she understood that “the world is made of stories, not atoms”. You don’t have to be a poet to understand this, but it helps. Have a look around. Stories are a force of nature. We didn’t evolve from apes; we sprang into life, full-blooded, urgent, desirous, embodied by story.

Story is our essence, the source and outcome of every dream, vision, birth, death, discovery or miracle. Our humanity and inhumanity is rooted in it, tangled in the mystery of “how come?” and the suspense of “what now?”

When James Joyce was asked where he came up with the stories that inhabited his books, he gestured round the pub: “from that couple over there, and those men by the door, and the woman washing up behind the bar…”

Story is Nature’s way of becoming conscious of itself. As storytellers, we work with it in order to become conscious of ourselves. One writes the script to find out why one is writing it, and in the process discovers that the story is writing us as much as we are writing it.

The drama of screenwriting can be a decidedly terrifying experience, especially when the characters want to take us places we never thought of going. Left to our own devices, we prefer not to give ourselves a fright, which is why we seek out ready-made recipes, in the hope that somebody else’s pre-digested formula will stay the pain of us actually having to go on a journey of discovery.

If it’s a template you’re after, don’t bother with my workshops; like drama, they present more questions than answers. If they challenge your most enduring prejudices - which so many participants tell me they do - then they will pay for themselves several times over, and succeed in ways that you could never imagine. More than anything, they offer a unique vision that will assist you in exploring your personal hinterland and the as-yet unseen, unheard, stories that are hiding there, a unique point of view for the inner journey and outer odyssey. Proof that others have passed this way before. Take them as part of a map to that vast wilderness of the soul, the secret/sacred world of dramatic storytelling against which one’s ego is merely the semblance of a bed and breakfast.

Though their bias is cinematic storytelling for the big and small screen – both fictional and factional – the scope and ultimate application of what they offer transcends any particular form.

"Although my time was brief with you, you're still the most influential mentor on my writing."
- Jared Beekhuyzen


The Art of the Story is the shaping of the story. It involves FORM.

Form presupposes an understanding of the nature of the dramatic experience as expressed through the interactions of characters, only some of which exist inside the script. It also presupposes a storyteller/artist that has developed a facility for allowing the characters to become whatever it is that is in them to become based upon their problems, goals and objectives.

FORMULA, on the other hand, is the blind replication, with minor variation, of existing stories and “story recipes”. Because formulistic stories repeat familiar narrative patterns they often come across as stale, simplistic or predictable, unless special care is taken to confound the audience's expectations in some fresh and unusual way. One could – and many do – make a career out of “copying” earlier models without ever understanding the deeper significance and power of the dramatic experience.

Story structure – its grammar – whether it be found in fables, myths or epics is essentially the same; but possessing a facility for grasping and applying one’s understanding of the grammar will not necessarily guarantee a story that is fresh and credible.

It is the DREAM that surrounds the shape that is important. And the DREAM demands CHARACTERS. What do the characters “dream” about? What do they want? Why do they want it? Who or what is stopping them from getting it and why? And, most importantly, what are they going to DO about it?

Formula is what we resort to whenever we ignore the dream. It is, indeed, ignorance of the dream; whereas Form invites us to ENTER the dream in such a way that we can pass it on to others without it losing its intrinsic emotional power.