Originally published by Juliet Bruce, Ph.D
How to Create a Thrilling Life with a Story Imagination
I’m my own best client.
Recently I brought about a miracle in my life — I mean a real “pot of gold” type of miracle, something that never in a million years would I have thought might happen. I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened if I had stuck with conventional notions of reality and failed to mobilize through creative metaphor the big, bold, life force energies that make lightning strike and magic happen.
Once you understand, as I do, that life is an unfolding story and that you are the storyteller who can shape and play with it on the page, then use that page as you would a roadmap, you gain tremendous power in your life.
In this month’s blog, I’m going to share a story process with you to spark your imagination around an issue or situation.
Tools for Creative Practice
First, embrace your life as it is, right now, right here, knowing that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be in your own development.
1. Describe in “real” world terms the situation, crisis, misfortune, wound, or lack. What’s the real world reality facing you? This is a narrative report generated by your rational mind. This step alone will make you more present and attentive to what’s going on around you.
Now, look at your situation from the perspective of story. By that I mean, break it down into the elements of story. These include:
Time, both in terms of when it happens and in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Time gives story its basic structure and makes it a safe container for difficult feelings.
Setting and Mood. Where is this situation taking place? What’s the mood? External environments usually mirror something about the people who live or work there. The overall atmosphere reflects the deeper emotional context.
— Protagonists in stories are the main characters. They’re seeking good things for themselves and their loved ones. You’re the protagonist in your story. What do you want?
–Antagonists created the lack or want to keep the status quo and create obstacles. Bad bosses, mean spouses, people who instill doubt, weakness, lie and betray your trust, and create obstacles to your success. Who’s or what’s standing in your way, and why? Could they be reflecting an inner demon?
–Allies, friends, sponsors, coaches, wise counselors, caring doctors expand you and give you energy. Who are they in your situation?
Whenever you try to change a situation, you set up a conflict, even if the new one will make you much happier. The forces of the old ways rise up to hold you fast. In story, this struggle creates the dynamic of plot. Describe the conflict, the choices you want to make, the actions and outcome that you desire. These and your adversary’s response create the unfolding plot.
This is the Voice in you that reframes, changes, shapes, and tells the story. Your voice is where your power lies. It externalizes internal conflicts and feelings, makes you and others more aware of what’s really going on, and helps you know you’re not alone.
2. Next, rewrite your story as a fairy tale. Writing in the third person as omniscient narrator, turn each story element into a metaphor — a fantastical object, place, or character. Metaphorizing experience translates it into a language of the senses, which captures its essence. It awakens the non-rational, intuitive right brain and guides you to a deeper knowing where you can discover the unconscious dynamics and hidden treasures in a situation.
Metaphors for Time.
“Once upon a time,” is an archetypal wake-up call to the right brain, where new connections will be made. What’s your metaphorical time frame and mythic period?
Metaphors for Setting and Mood.
Archetypal landscapes and structures capture the meaning of experience to the interior world. These include deserts, oceans, islands, prisons, parlors, stairs, bridges, tunnels, towers, crossroads.
Metaphors for Characters.
— Hero: The protagonist as seeker, innocent, orphan, someone who starts out as marginalized. Change happens first at the edges, where the status quo is most vulnerable, not at the center or in the mainstream, where it’s strong.
— Villain: an illness, misfortune, status quo, forces of regression and resistance to change; the priests and reactionary and/or violent political forces. His agents are trolls, demons, snarling dogs.
— Mentors, allies, helpers – wise and old men and women, talking birds, omens, gods and goddesses.
— Demons, monsters, trolls, apocalyptic events set the hero back, but become important teachers.
Metaphors for Plot.
After an arduous journey, struggle to the death, or terrible drought, water flows again. A sleeping princess awakens. An ugly duckling is recognized for the swan she is. Transformational story always has some kind of positive outcome, redemption, or shift of consciousness that gives meaning and hope to the struggle. This doesn’t mean a cure or a perfect solution. It means that the life force has begun to flow in a sterile situation.
3. Improvise. This is the step of serious play. What stands out for you in what you’ve just written? Pick an image, character, or moment in your story that stands out and make that the title or beginning of a 5-or-10-minute freewriting session. Allow whatever wants to emerge through writing, other artistic media, or brainstorming.
4. Translate this fairy tale version of your life back into ordinary reality. Very important! Come back across the metaphorical bridge: What does this look like in the material world for you? With this new and deeper intuitive understanding, what wants to emerge here? What are these circumstances asking of you?
For me, story is a spiritual practice. You tell your story not to hang onto it or identify with it, but to release it by embracing it, and to release yourself from a pattern that no longer serves you or others.
Tell the story of a painful life experience and it loses its emotional charge.
Tell the story of a block and it dissolves.
Tell a new story and you begin to change your life from the inside out.
It’s much easier, of course, to go through this process with a mentor who has done it many times for others and for herself. If this imaginative approach resonates and you want to make deep change happen in your life, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a complimentary half hour telephone appointment to talk with me about your needs.
Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process.
Chris Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Basic Mythic Structure for Writers and Screenwriters.
William Noonan, Emissaries from the Imagination – a workbook from the 2002 Healing Story Alliance conference. See his article at www.healingstory.org.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg & Janet Tallman, Eds. The Power of Words: Social and Personal Transformation Through the Spoken, Written, and Sung Word.