Six Creative Storymaking Techniques

by James Bonnet

In the previous story course article, The Creative Storymaking Process, I talked about the important role being played by the creative unconscious self and our positive and negative intuitive feelings. I also talked about the first step in the storymaking process  – the fascination that inspires you to create a great story, novel or screenplay. In this article, I will introduce you to six creative techniques that can help you communicate and collaborate effectively with your creative unconscious self.

Meditation and prayer are two ways to communicate with the creative unconscious –  asking your self direct questions is another very important way. If you learn how to ask your self the right questions, the creative unconscious will become an ultimate storymaking partner and mentor supplying you with all of the answers and guidance that you need. Here are six other creative techniques.

The first is Probing the Fascination. Which is to say, you work creatively with the fascination that’s inspiring you. You experience, explore, and romance it. You plug it into your imagination in ways that create other images and ideas, the same as you do when you elaborate or give details and structure to a fantasy or daydream. The important thing is to engage your feelings because that puts you in touch with your creative unconscious and the energy behind those images. When you’re in touch with your feelings you’re in touch with your self. You use the fascination as a point of contact with your self and you translate feelings into intriguing images and ideas.

The second technique is Comparing and Selecting. When you probe a fascination, you will generate much more raw material than you need, and the idea here is to keep the ideas that have the strongest feelings attached to them and put aside the rest. You get rid of everything you can and continue to work with the few most powerful ideas. The stronger the feelings associated with an idea, the more hidden truth it contains. It’s like panning for gold or separating the wheat from the chaff. There’s always a lot of chaff to get rid of. If you were J. K. Rowling working on your story about Harry Potter, you might have a lot of ideas concerning who or what might be the threat, the cause of the problem. You probe the fascination surrounding the image of the boy ith the lightning scar on his forehead (see my previous article) and bring a lot of possibilities to the surface. Then you compare and play with these emerging possibilities in different ways, while you monitor your feelings, and gradually the image of Voldemort, a powerful, dark lord, begins to emerge and you get a sensation that confirms — this is the one.

In the third technique, Modeling, you examine the emotionally charged images you’ve selected and begin identifying and associating them with the elements  of the story model. You listen to the feelings associated with these images and realize this is the subject; this is the larger entity being transformed; this is the problem; this is the threat, the cause of the problem; this is the hero, the one who opposes the threat and solves the problem; this is the marvelous element, the thing without which the problem can’t be solved; this event is part of the crisis, and so on. If you are creating Harry Potter, you would gradually, over time, realize that the subject is magic; the larger entity being transformed is the Wizard World; Voldemort is the threat; the problem is his ambition to control the Wizard World; Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore are the principle forces opposing the threat and trying to solve the problem; the crisis arises with Voldemort’s final assault, and the Elder Wand is the marvelous element, the thing without which Voldemort cannot be defeated and the problem cannot be solved, and so on.

If you’re dealing with a true story you are looking for these same archetypal patterns in the real events. Using the Enron scandal of 2001 as an example, you would probe the fascination of the researched material of that true story, identify the most useful and intriguing facts, and associate them with the patterns of the model. The subject would be fraud – a huge moneymaking scheme by criminally-minded corporate executives; the larger entity being transformed would be the company, Enron; Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Schilling, Andrew Fastow, et al are the threat. They were cooking the books to hide their losses and create great riches for themselves, and that created the problem. The victims were their investors, who lost billions of dollars when the company filed for bankruptcy and ultimately collapsed. The SEC and the Justice Department are the heroes who oppose the threat and have the responsibility of investigating and solving the problem. The marvelous element would be the evidence, the thing without which the problem cannot be solved, and so on.

The model helps to facilitate communication with your creative unconscious self because the golden paradigm was created by the patterns put into great stories with the help of the creative unconscious. And when you use the model as a reference,

you create metaphors that make a psychological connection and reveal the hidden truth. All of which will be confirmed by your feelings.

To make metaphors modern and relevant, just utilize modern, contemporary elements of today’s idiom. Watch Shrek orShakespeare in Love and you will see how easily contemporary attitudes and ideas can be integrated into Medieval or Elizabethan situations. To make metaphors fresh you have to come up with unique combinations or variations we haven’t seen before. Instead of imitating a run of the mill serial killer, you look at your serial killer from a totally new angle like they did in The Silence of the Lamb and do a psychological profile of a brilliant psychopath like Hannibal Lector who enjoys a little human flesh with his Chianti.

Your feelings will tell you when you’ve chosen a metaphor that makes a psychological connection. You know when something is right or not by how you feel about it. The acid test is always “what works,”  what gets your juices going.  What gives you goose bumps. What gives you that positive intuitive, ah-ha! feeling. The more powerful the feelings, the closer you are getting to the truth.

In the fourth creative technique, Conjuring, you take the emerging metaphors and evolve them into more and more powerful examples of the underlying archetypes. When you conjure, you are playing with the developing characters, powers and events and trying them in a hundred different combinations, like Edison inventing his light bulb. He tried one hundred and twenty-seven different filaments before he found the right one, tungsten. Here again you are listening to your feelings and trying to discover the most pleasing patterns and potent combinations. You are rearranging things trying to evolve them into more and more powerful metaphors.

You’re creating Dracula, say – and you need something to help protect the innocent from his assaults. You have the cross, but not everybody carries one – a kitchen maid, for instance. What might she use as a defense? You have her try carrots. Dracula sneers, pushes them aside, and goes for her throat. She tries radishes. This perplexes him a little but then he pushes those aside and lunges for her jugular. Then she tries garlic. And Dracula makes a hideous noise like “Agggh!” and shrinks back. And you get a chill up your spine that says: “That’s it!”

The fifth creative technique is Testing. Which is to say, after you’ve worked out the plot, you test it by walking through it to see how it feels. You walk through the scenes just to get a sense of how they work together. You take it a beat at a time, being as sensitive as you can to your own response. If something doesn’t feel right, then you work on that problem. You take it apart and try something else. You change the characters, shift scenes around, etc.  You replace some of the first ideas and walk through it again. And you keep doing that until the sequence of events feels like it is glowing.

The final creative technique is Problem Solving. And the important idea here is to face all the problems and negative feelings directly – like heading into the wind during a storm at sea. If something is wrong, face it, accept it, then take it apart and try something else. Storymaking is mostly confronting and solving problems. The more problems and negative feelings you confront and resolve, the better your work is going to be. Any problems left unsolved at the end of the day you can sleep on. Let Rumpelstiltskin take over and transform your pile of straw into gold while you sleep. More often than not, the problems will be resolved when you wake up in the morning.

In our next story course article, we will put these creative techniques to work and begin our journey through the entire storymaking process. To start, we will talk about the critical importance of the subject of the story, which can by itself generate enough power to help you create a great story that can live and remain relevant for thousands of years. 

About James Bonnet