The great myths, legends and fairy tales were created in oral traditions, in a wholly natural and instinctive way by a very special but subtle collaboration between our conscious and creative unconscious selves. This natural storymaking process was so dynamic, well established and innate, there was no need for anyone to consciously understand exactly how or why they were being created. They were useful or pleasant to retell and that’s all that mattered. There was no need to understand the principles and the principles were not known. That only became important after individual authors began to make up stories on their own and write them down.
A knowledge of principles and a good story model become critical when you create a story consciously. The principles guide you toward the real needs of the audience and line you up with the creative unconscious so you’re both shooting for the same thing. The story model acts as a conductor drawing powerful hidden wisdom to the surface. Without a good story model, you can’t get creative unconscious cooperation and support. Without unconscious cooperation and support, you can’t get that vital information programmed into your stories and they won’t have any real power or meaning. Whatever your story model is, that’s your limitation. You can’t rise above it. If you think a story is only: boy meets girl, finding a treasure, or solving a crime — or worse yet, a three act structure, conflict and turning points — that’s all you’re going to get because that’s all you’re going to be shooting for. Every idea will be pressed into that one mold. The better your story model, the better your story because you can access and accommodate more of that vital information.
Without solid principles and a knowledge of what stories really are, you’re like a sailor who sets out to sea without rudder or compass and has almost no chance of reaching his destination. It becomes a strictly hit or miss, random process, which is basically the situation we have today – a lot of mildly entertaining but empty stories being created by a small number of specialized and polarized story models that are based on the few, obvious dimensions that have been discovered. The stories they produce don’t make a psychological connection, they lack hidden wisdom and truth, they have no real power, and they aren’t really that entertaining. The few exceptions become instant, super hits.
In short, there are six billion people in the world who, from early childhood to old age, have a desperate need for real stories which isn’t being met. The old great stories are not being replaced. The intelligence and wisdom needed to guide us through life’s passages isn’t getting through to us. We’re cut off from it. And the world is in desperate trouble.
On the PBS series they did together, Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell if we can get along without myth. And Campbell replied very emphatically: “No, we can’t. All you have to do is read the papers. It’s a mess.”
There is simply no way the current Hollywood system of development, which is built on misconceptions about story and entertainment and what the public really wants and needs, can ever meet this need. Literally thousands of screenplays and story ideas are submitted to Hollywood each year. Two thousand or more are actively developed; four hundred or so are actually produced; and fewer than ten, in my opinion, are worth seeing. The same is true of novels and plays. Something is obviously wrong.
What is wrong is you have an entire industry manufacturing something it doesn’t understand – story. If they did that in Detroit, manufactured cars without a clue to their real purpose, it would be a joke. The motor would be in the back seat and the wheels would be in the trunk. You’d have chaos. You’d have Hollywood.
In any case, if you’re a screenwriter or filmmaker, don’t be intimidated by the numbers I quoted above. The vast majority of the screenplays and stories that are submitted to Hollywood are created by complete novices – mariners who are hopelessly lost at sea without rudder or compass. If you came to this book to get the principles and tools you need to create powerful, successful stories, I am going to put that knowledge into your hands and give you a realistic chance of realizing your storymaking dreams.
I do this, first of all, by teaching you how to emulate the natural creative storymaking process and put all of your conscious and unconscious creative powers into your work. I do that by teaching you the nature and purpose of story. This is the compass that will orient you toward the real needs and desires of the audience. And, finally, by showing you how to use the creative process, the language of metaphor and a sophisticated story model to bring powerful hidden truths to the surface – all without compromising in any way the things you really want to write about.