Some time ago I began casting about for a book idea big enough to encompass the many lessons learned in my twenty-five years of travel, human observation, and professional storytelling. It had to have something to offer those whose interests had nothing to do with fiction. And it had to combine my hard won skills as dramatist with a much bigger yearning to understand life itself.
At the same time, there nagged at me a strange and growing awareness of story patterns that were slipping the border between my fictional characters and my friends in real life. Battles that were wagged in one of these realms, often seemed to echo loudly in the other. Now why, I wondered, would that be?
What was it that kept my friends charging down paths that the dramatist in me could see more clearly than they could? Could ‘real life’ and ‘fable’ really mirror each other so often? And what mechanism of the psyche explains this?
How come so many real world messiah stories seem to play out to perfection, not just in one life, but in many? From Christ to Gandhi, from Martin Luther King to a Pakistani school girl who takes a bullet in the head so that girls in her country can be educated? Again and again, the same pattern emerges, right down to its plot twists and key reversals.
What human need casts us all into the role of ‘ugly duckling’ before we can come of age? What do we learn by this? Why is it so important? Or our experience of forbidden love? Or heartbreak? Or the decent into greed and ambition – the devil’s bargain – that seems to either define or break us. And what, finally, can be learned from seeing these stories play out again – in my life and in yours?
Little more than a year after beginning this inquiry (although in truth it started years before) I have placed my answers into this book. And they are surprising. There is so much more to this coincidence of between real life and ancient story than I ever imagined. In this search for clarity, I have had to traverse the works of the great thinkers and bravest souls of mankind’s thousand generations. I have read stories so old and so common no one can say from whence they came. I have followed with delight and awe, the discoveries of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell; the eastern mystics, saints, messiahs, and branded heretics who blazed these trails long ago.
With humility I can assure you that the answers to life’s most profound questions have already been answered. Not once, but many times. They await only a diligent student to ask them and see the response unfold – not in some arbitrary way, but in the ‘facts’ and events of your own life, seen with fresh eyes.
This has worked for me. It has worked for anyone inquisitive enough to truly ask the meaning of the play she is enacting. The only true mystery of life is how and why we have done such a good job at hiding how it works. For everything else, I have done my best to lay out the answers I’ve found in this book, playfully entitled – Quick, Where’s My Cape? – for reasons that will soon become obvious.
OFFER: Purchase this book on any format: Amazon, Kindle or iBooks and if you remain unconvinced of its value and application to your life, let me know and this author will personally refund your costs in full (with receipt). You won’t get deal that from Simon & Schuster! So take a leap. Buy the book. It should take you about three days to read what it took me twenty-five years to figure out. And you’ll be happy you did!
Next month (April and again in June) I am teaching a class in Story Analysis at UCLA Extension. Teaching has given me a chance to revisit some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in 20+ years of screenwriting, and foremost on that list are the principles of CHARACTER.
Although screenwriters and many development executives tend to focus a great deal on concept and plot, every story is about SOMEONE. Even if that someone is a dog (Marley) or a pig (Babe) or a robot (Chappie) it is a story of someone’s transformation. Because transformation is what great stories are all about.
“I started here. I believed such-and-such. Something unexpected took me away from all that. It forced me to do what I had not done before. It forced me to become who I was not before. I am not the same person now, I am new.”
This basic story, what Joseph Campbell called the mono-myth, is the template that underlies every well-composed drama: The going out, the adventure, and the return as someone new, someone changed.
Whether that person’s transformation is one of character, or of circumstance, or fortune, or understanding – (more…)