The Brains of a Hero – A Checklist
May 31, 2014 1:40 pm
I recently read an article called ‘The Brains of Successful vs. Unsuccessful People Actually Look Very Different’ on PolicyMic.com. The successful types are said to have growth mindsets while the unsuccessful suffer from fixed mindsets. As I was contemplating how my own mindset is dangerously close to the fixed mindset, if not smack in the middle of its murky sphere, I also saw a brilliant outline of what a hero’s mindset must, must, MUST be like in order for her and her story to succeed. The diagram above provides an excellent checklist to make sure your hero and her story succeeds!
Here’s the idea: ‘For fixed mindsets, intelligence is static. This leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless or worse, ignore useful negative feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result, they may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential. All this confirms a deterministic view of the world. For growth mindsets, intelligence can be developed. This leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. As a result they reach ever-higher levels of achievement. All this gives them a greater sense of free will.’
Think about all the great heroes you love. Which mindset do they share common characteristics with? Sometimes a growth-oriented hero may be failing at one or more of the traits of the growth mindset. But isn’t that usually the area of weakness where the hero’s inner conflict lies?
You might say, but how about stories about people with fixed mindsets? Don’t their stories deserve to be told? Yes, they do, but only when the hero begins to see she must change and willingly or unwillingly goes through the journey of a growth mindset. A story about a fixed mindset getting a kick in the butt from life to adopt a growth mindset in order to overcome whatever hurdle life threw at her is a very common storyline.
No matter how big or small, every hero should be (or become) a force to be reckoned with. So we can find lessons and inspiration in their stories and do the same.
Read the full article here.
Sweetness of Entanglement
April 30, 2014 1:57 pm
“… the story of time’s arrow begins with the quantum mechanical idea that, deep down, nature is inherently uncertain.”
I read a very interesting article on quantum physics at Wired.com today. I believe it can be applied to the nature of stories and help explain our minds’ tendency and need to create and enjoy them.
Nature is inherently uncertain! What a beautiful statement! It has a ring of truth, acceptance, surrender and freedom. This sounds like a point that urgently asks to be further explored and its connections to the minute details of our lives thoroughly studied.
When I think about this statement in relation to storytelling, I feel more comfortable with the fact that stories too are inherently uncertain, just as their creators and audiences are. For one thing, they reflect an uncertain image of life. Secondly, they generate even more uncertainty as soon as they meet an audience. As many uncertainties as there are audiences.
It also explains why human beings and the characters they create and love are constantly striving for certainty and equilibrium. In fact, isn’t striving for certainty at the heart of all human conflict?
And now we know why! The article suggests that the moment a particle interacts with another (which, as I understand, happens as soon as the particle originates) it can no longer be described by its own ‘pure state.’ Professor Seth Lloyd who realized the relationship between quantum uncertainty and human uncertainty found that “When particles become increasingly entangled with one another, the information that originally described them would shift to describe the system of entangled particles as a whole. It was as though the particles gradually lost their individual autonomy and became pawns of the collective state. Eventually, the correlations contained all the information, and the individual particles contained none. At that point, Lloyd discovered, particles arrived at a state of equilibrium, and their states stopped changing…”
Bear with me as I try to make sense of this with my very basic level of comprehension. Is this how the story goes: We leave our ‘pure state’ of certainty as soon as we begin our lives and immediately turn into uncertain beings. By way of getting inevitably entangled with everyone and everything else in the universe and therefore becoming even more uncertain, we eventually reach a point of saturation with our entangledness. At this point we have sufficiently emptied ourselves out and become one with the collective ‘system’ that we stop changing/striving and finally become equilibriated, balanced, satisfied and happy?
Let’s try to apply it to the mythological structure of stories. A is confused, but doesn’t know it. A meets B. A gets even more confused and now knows it. B gets more confused too. Together A and B become more and more confused together until they have to change so so so much that A and B individually and collectively achieve a state of steadiness in a different and –in the case of stories– better way.
Lloyd says, “The universe as a whole is in a pure state. But individual pieces of it, because they are entangled with the rest of the universe, are in mixtures.” By living the story of our lives and all the little stories we generate and consume within it, we also become mixtures and eventually, hopefully, go back to that ‘pure state’.
Along the way, it sure feels good to know that uncertainty and certainty are natural and common in all of humanity, nature and the universe. Perhaps this is the reason why we tell stories and why we love stories. To entertain our uncertainties, to try to make sense of the inherent qualities in all of us, to move toward certainty…
Not surprisingly I am not certain about any of this. Have a read of the full article and send me your thoughts. Here’s the link: http://www.wired.com/2014/04/quantum-theory-flow-time/
Screenwriters’ Central Dilemma, Universal Pursuit of Happiness and the Source of Salieri’s Tragedy
March 20, 2014 10:23 am
‘To be a screenwriter is to deal with an ongoing tug of war between breathtaking megalomania and insecurity so deep it takes years of therapy just to be able to say “I’m a writer” out loud.’ – Blake Snyder
In Blake Snyder’s ‘Save the Cat’, you get a strong sense of what a writing life is or should be like. But the screenwriter’s dilemma he mentions above truly reveals what it feels like to be a writer, regardless of whether you are an established or a beginning one. In fact, it makes you wonder, without this very conflict would one be compelled to write in the first place.
Stephen Cope in ‘The Great Work of Your Life’ names the problem of doubt as the central affliction to realizing one’s dharma, aka true calling, sacred duty, vocation. Unless you live and work aligned with your dharma, there is only self-destruction. Only when you find, name, celebrate and nourish your path, your Gift, your dharma, Cope says, you will be truly happy and fulfilled in your life.
And guess what, ‘[Dharma] is only born out of our wrestling matches with doubt, with conflict, and with despair.’ As it turns out, all the torment involved in writing or simply having a desire to write is for a reason. And that reason is at the heart of humanity’s eternal pursuit of happiness. This makes it all a bit more bearable, doesn’t it?
As I wrestle with the particulars of my own dharma, I realized a few weeks ago why I consider Milos Forman’s ‘Amadeus’ one of my favourite movies of all time. Because, to me, ‘Amadeus’ is about dharma and how life can be a long soul destroying suffering if you are not living your dharma.
You may remember Salieri’s meaningful outcry, paralyzed by doubt: ‘All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing… and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn’t want me to praise him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?’ The ingenious screenplay by Peter Shaffer gives us the answer: because music was never meant to be Salieri’s dharma. It’s only his confusion that’s causing him all this agony.
Salieri’s true passion and dharma is hidden in the story. Do you remember those few short moments in the movie where Salieri talks about desserts? The most touching and dramatic thing about ‘Amadeus’ is Salieri’s passion for dessert! He is not only a man with a sweet tooth, he knows dessert and in a sense lives for it! These are the only moments in the movie where Salieri lights up and shines with joy and delight. Salieri’s character, as written by Shaffer, is a poignant portrait of dharma, or I should say, dharma-gone-wrong.
There is so much doubt and despair in store especially for people following artistic vocations. But, if writing is in ‘the subtle interior blueprint of your soul,’ then, Cope quotes Krishna’s lesson to Arjuna from the ancient story on dharma – Bhagavad Gita: ‘It is better to fail at your own dharma than to succeed at the dharma of someone else.’
I wish for all of us courage and perseverance in ‘looking more and more deeply into our doubts’ as a way to get to the certitude we need to take a leap of faith into our personal and unique dharma.
Frances Ha’s Shining Moment
February 6, 2014 2:04 pm
Noah Baumbach’s ‘Frances Ha’ is a wonderful modern tale about an artist trying to make it in the real world. Even more brilliant than Greta Gerwig’s heart-warming perfomance are the revealing choices the writers (Baumbach and Gerwig) made to create the character Frances.
Ever since watching the movie, there is a question that keeps popping up in my head: Why does Frances not tell Sophie she’s in Paris? You must have seen the movie. Frances often speaks untruthfully to impress people or to feel temporarily better about herself. When she is in Paris and receives a much-desired call from Sophie, she has a golden opportunity to feel important, busy, adventuresome, enviable… especially in the eyes of Sophie, who is about to break their bond by moving away with her boyfriend. It’s the one time Frances really is doing something ‘cool’, but passes on the chance to use it to her advantage.
These are the moments in movies that make characters ‘real’ characters. I can’t be sure why the writers decided to have Frances leave out that information. But the more I elaborate on it in my mind, the more I think it’s the best decision in the movie.
For one thing, Frances is a good-hearted person, who naively assumes everyone feels the same way as her. If Frances was in Sophie’s situation in that scene, she would have been hurt to hear Sophie enjoying herself in Paris when they could be together. So she lovingly protects Sophie from feeling bad. Secondly, Frances knows the whole Paris idea was stupid and at that moment hates herself for being there in the first place. Her characteristic insecurity about her crazy impulsive behavior stops her. And lastly, by not sharing such a major information as being in Paris, she is consistent in the randomness of her approach to self-portrayal.
The moment Frances makes the decision to keep her whereabouts to herself isn’t marked in the film. It’s not even a decision, it’s just what organically happens in that one little dialogue over the phone. But it is one of those key moments that invites the audience to really feel the character’s perspective in life, visit her emotional world and be a guest in her psyche.
This hidden moment in the screenplay is, I believe, one of the reasons why a lot of people, regardless of their age, gender, life experiences and personalities are able to empathize with such a particular character as Frances. Simply because she is ‘real’, and therefore embodies all of humanity in all her ‘uniqueness’. It is certainly why I liked her, understood her and felt myself in her shoes.
I congratulate the writers on this detail, among many others that give Frances her charm. I would have loved to be in the room when they discussed how Frances-in-Paris would cope with Sophie’s invitation to come to her party in New York. It must have been a victorious discovery into the character’s soul and the writers must have smiled with satisfaction, thinking ‘of course she wouldn’t tell Sophie she’s in Paris, because…’
The Magic of the War Within
December 19, 2013 2:00 am
“We know that the wildest and most moving dramas are played not in the theatre but in the hearts of ordinary men and women who pass by without exciting attention, and who betray to the world nothing of the conflicts that rage within them except possibly by a nervous breakdown…
…What is so difficult for the layman to grasp is the fact that in most cases the patients themselves have no suspicion whatever of the internecine war raging in their unconscious. If we remember that there are many people who understand nothing at all about themselves, we shall be less surprised at the realization that there are also people who are utterly unaware of their actual conflicts.” – C. G. Jung
One of the most intriguing problems I have come across in reading screenplays is when the writer reveals the conflict of his story at the very end. Most of the screenplay would be filled with what we think to be conflicts in our daily lives, but none that has the power to shake our beings to our core. We come to a crossroads in our work or love life, we are torn between what would seem to an outsider two equally mundane choices… Frankly, who cares! Life is tough, we all face difficult choices every day. There is a reason why we call most of day-to-day life ‘ordinary’. Interestingly though, I don’t believe any of the protagonists of these ‘ordinary’ lives are themselves ordinary. So, there must be something else in there somewhere.
Reading other people’s stories sometimes makes me think: the writer of this ‘ordinary’ construct of imagination, meaning the true protagonist of his story, is buried under layers and layers of dull events and his heart is waiting impatiently to rear its head through the tiniest crack between the lines. Sometimes this glimpse of light is manifested in one sentence in a piece of dialogue, sometimes it is the author’s description of a look the character gives at a significant moment in the story, sometimes it is merely the wardrobe the writer has chosen for his character…
Often enough, any writer who is genuinely and passionately interested in creating a character and delivering a story through that character –but hasn’t quite mastered the skills to tell the story their heart truly desires to tell– has what you might call a Freudian slip somewhere in the story. Sadly, this may have nothing to do with the story told, but gives me the hope that the writer has something non-ordinary to tell!
When I catch a glimpse of these little cracks in a story, I am so inspired to say ‘but this, this is what you are really trying to tell, so why not tell me that story.’ Everyone who is drawn to telling stories has a deep down knowledge of how to tell them. But only if it is the story, they will succeed.
Why do these cracks or slips often appear toward the end of screenplays, typically in the very final scene? Perhaps the ‘true’ story has such an impact in the writer’s heart that it is easy to assume this force-of-nature-moment-in-disguise will only find its worth in the all-important finale. Or, may be that if the writer begins his ‘true’ story where he has finished his ‘ordinary’ story, he may be uncovering the roots of his Freudian slip. And who wants that?
I personally want that –in theory– for my own stories, but the practice keeps me at bay. It is certainly scary waters for most of us to dive into and takes a lot more than one may think to not drown in it. I do believe in this hidden gem in everyone who sits down to write and feel very strongly that only the writers who dig down deep enough will move across the threshold from being ‘ordinary’ writers to ‘true’ storytellers.
In creating ‘Magic of Story’ my aim is to help uncover these hidden gems and bring out the real stories, real characters, real moments with insight and inspiration. Here’s to the ‘internecine war raging in our unconscious’! May it shine through and light our way.