Moving Into the Greater Good of Your Story

In any story, your primary goal as the writer is to make your audience feel you in your story. You can make your story more universal by looking at the goal and the stakes in story from an external, internal and philosophical viewpoint. In story as in life, as time passes, we evolve from our successes and our losses. We take the time to process our pain and move forward. When you experience and write your story through the lens of the ego, the spirit and the philosophical, you add depth and connection for your audience.

When looking at story, I like writers to think that the ego represents the external goal and the spirit represents the internal goal. I tell writers to conceptualize that for the first three quarters of their story, their central character is responding from their ego and for the last quarter of their story, the character is responding from their spirit. What I didn't realize is that I was missing an important part of this equation, the philosophical part. After hearing Michael Arndt speak at The Austin Film Festival in 2010, I learned about the idea of the philosophical and it has added an extra layer to how I experience, analyze and interpret story. When we move into the philosophical part of story, we begin to think of how the achievement of the goal can affect the greater good and the betterment of others. Now, when I teach story, I teach the idea of going from the ego to the spirit to the philosophical part of story. I did a video blog on YouTube that speaks to this. This moves us even more into the universal experience of story.

This is perfectly illustrated in the film Up In The Air. In the beginning, George Clooney's character wants to achieve his goal for selfish reasons. His goal is to not get grounded so that he won't lose his single life in the air, represented symbolically by the empty backpack and thematically by the idea of detachment and non-commitment. Then, as the story progresses, he evolves. At the midpoint, we see him go into the water with the cardboard picture of his sister and her fiancé (representing his biggest fear, commitment.) Then, after his co-worker Natalie tells him that he puts himself in a cocoon of self-banishment, he begins to take action that moves him away from detachment and non-commitment into commitment and attachment. As he begins to move into spirit, he sees that his way of thinking is flawed. When he moves from spirit into the philosophical realm, his motivation for wanting to achieve the goal changes; if he doesn't achieve the goal, then the people who he and his company are firing, will find out via the computer versus in person. Suddenly, he wants to achieve the goal for the greater good versus himself.

Think about this idea of moving into a more philosophical consciousness in your own life. When you are younger, you want to achieve your goal(s) for external reasons often tied to title, credit, money, validation and public recognition. As you get older and go through some falls, you begin to connect with spirit. The universe nudges you sometimes in a kind way, and sometimes not. Things that used to be important to you are not as important anymore, perhaps because you found success and it didn't meet your expectations. You are humbled. You become more conscious of your life and the importance of certain moments. You begin to see achievement in a different way. You befriend the outcome versus attaching to it because it shifts. You see the bigger picture. You start thinking of how the achievement of your goal can benefit the greater good. You recognize the ego when it's there and you learn to utilize it to move you forward as you shift away from it. Start to draw from these experiences in your writing. It is about finding your truth and discovering your character's truth in the process.

I recently read the book Inside the TV Writer's Room by Lawrence Myers. It is excellent. I highly recommend it. Larry interviews top writers in television about being TV writers and the writing process that takes place in the writers room. There is a chapter titled, "How To Make Your Writing Personal; Or, Why You Must Take the 'Me' Out of it." There are some great anecdotes from Michael Chernuchin, Vanessa Taylor, Tim Kring, Chris Brancato, Hart Hanson, Carol Barbee, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Jason Katims, Laurie McCarthy, Kim Newton and Shawn Ryan. Larry writes, "Milch says, 'In our recollection as artists, an uninterrupted sequence of associations is made available to us which, if carried out, may generate a premise for a story. The premise for a story is our reward for digging in our psychological dirt." On the idea of "Taking the Pain Out of the Past," Milch quotes a teacher of his who says that, "This process that we artists undertake is the process by which everything which seems merely fanciful and is imprisoned in the past, in its seeming unrecoverability, is once again brought to life and conjugated into the future tense of story." Larry sums it up best: "So, why is truth important? Ultimately, the creative process must be transformative for both artist and audience; otherwise it is merely an exercise in vanity or craft. Without transformation, the journey itself becomes pointless. Why end up where you started if you haven't grown in the process?"