The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dark Nights

On Day Thirty-Four of the 101 Program, I talk about the moment in our lives when it seems that all is lost. These "Dark Nights of the Soul" define us. It is when we hit absolute bottom that we discover who and what we are as beings.

These moment pop up in fiction so often because stories are about either change or revelation of a character, and nothing forces us to modify our behaviors like despair, hitting the wall, running out of options. And nothing forces us to shed our masks like stress so extreme that we are no longer thinking of what other people think about us. At such moments, our real nature is revealed.

There are reasons why filmmakers and writers follow the well-worn "Hero's Journey" pattern--it works. It is virtually impossible to tell a story, or to write something that will even be RECOGNIZED as a story, without including the elements. There are indeed experimental films and stories that attempt to minimalize or deconstruct this pattern--but in general they appeal to highly educated readers or filmgoers, who recognize the game that is being played, and in essence provide the pattern themselves.

It is valuable to remember times when you felt all was lost, but came out the other side to something positive. Think back over your life: when did you hit the wall, and what got you through it, and what was on the other side?

I actually go through this moment EVERY SINGLE TIME I write a book. A point is reached where it feels as if the whole thing is falling apart, the idea sucked, and the only reason I have a career is Affirmative Action. And what I usually do is what I did for twenty years--I call up my first wife, Toni, and ask her if I go through this pattern repeatedly. Bless her heart, she patiently says: "yes, Steve. Every time."

And I soldier on, and eventually emerge from the Valley of the Shadow, back into the light, where I can see the overall pattern I've been following. After all these years, it's a little easier now...but remembering past travail is a critical tool in my box.

What's your story?

1 comment:

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