by James Bonnet
The scourge being avoided is the essential ingredient of the problem being created by the threat. And, in the real world, we are anxiously trying to avoid these scourges – scourges like death, disease, poverty, injustice, tyranny, ignorance, slavery, inequality, etc. And, in response to these scourges we are forced to pursue their opposites – values like life, health, wealth, justice, democracy, wisdom, freedom, equality, and so on.
These values and scourges played a major role in our evolutionary path and continue to govern our lives. In fact, we are trying to avoid all of these scourges and pursue all of these values more or less simultaneously. And this makes real life appear, on the surface, to be extremely complex and difficult to analyze and understand. For clarity’s sake, a great story isolates these values and scourges so they can be easily comprehended and examined in great detail.
In The Hunger Games, the problem is the hunger games; the scourge being avoided by Katniss is death, and the value being pursued by her is life. In Faithful Place, the problem is the unsolved murder of a young girl; the scourge being rectified is the injustice caused by that murder, and the value being pursued by the detective, Francis Mackey, her fiancé, is justice. In Ordinary People, the problem is the suicidal tendencies being suffered by a young boy; the scourge that will hopefully be avoided is the death that could result from that tendency; the value being pursued by the psychiatrist and the boy’s father is the restoration of the mental health of that young boy. In The Exorcist, the problem is demonic possession; the Devil takes possession of a young girl and that is the scourge; the value being pursued by the girl’s mother and the two priests is her freedom from demonic possession. InA Christmas Carol, the scourge being suffered, and the root of the problem, is poverty; the value being pursued is a Christmas spirit that can transform Ebenezer Scrooge’s greed.
In these examples, and countless other great stories I could name, a single value and scourge have been isolated and are being examined in great detail which, like the subject, the problem, and the threat, add enormous clarity, meaning and power to the story and makes them an important unifying force.
And what are these two important patterns telling us about ourselves? This is where our evolutionary journey began, with the avoidance of scourges like death, disease, ignorance, and poverty (a scarcity of food and other necessities) and the pursuit of values like life, health, wisdom, and wealth. By wealth, in this case, I don’t mean piles of money, I mean the rich bounty of the necessities of life we once possessed as a birthright, as we strolled about the planet, but which now, like the citizen slaves in The Hunger Games, we have to compete in a life and death struggle against each other to obtain.
* * * * * * * *
In the next story course article, I will continue my exploration of the threat; the high concept great idea; the hook; and taking the threat to the quintessential, which can help make the threat infinitely more powerful.