Part 2 – “X” marks the starting point, or identifying procedures
Part 3 – Genius loci & fabulae, or finding the spirit in the story
We all consume stories as an organic part of growing up. It is food for the mind, equally important as food for the body. So we should be equally carefully picked and checked for quality like actual food.
Dear reader, dear writer, do you remember what kind of stories you were fed?
What is the blueprint of your world? What do you believe about morals? What is right? What unwritten rules are valid in the world you live in or makeup? How do you cope with the allies/villains of your world? How do you expect them to behave? Remember the goodnight stories your parents, grandparents, or siblings told you? What kind of stories did you imagine, when you were scared at night, when the darkness seemed to move, to breathe?
I’m convinced that stories are our first language to perceive and understand the world around us. We extrapolate meaning and rules from them. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I know that I used the blueprints of stories, fairytales, history, and family anecdotes to find my place and way in this world. My family knows this hunger and made me the story keeper. Well, I made myself the keeper and collector of the family tales, tree, trauma, beliefs and traditions.
Stories we make up during playtime might be our first tools to find mental and emotional relief. Learning the skill of self-regulation, soothing and invisible friends are our allies against fear, shame, anger, and disgust. Then there are the stories that are designed to scare us and keep us scared. Just look at the global situation, or switch on the news, or maybe don’t. We all should be conscious of the information we consume and make part of our inner world.
We tell our essential tales: for comfort, for soldiering on, for knowing ourselves, those we end up believing, and those we keep building our lives, our worlds upon. Sometimes it’s the tales of old fairytales that inspire young minds. Sometimes it’s the everyday life that sends us into repeating patterns.
You only need to put on reality TV, or a wedding show, to see women chose outfits for their princess fairytale, about to marry frogs, dragons, knights in shiny or rusty armors, or princes, or their fathers in different bodies, or their illusions… If you don’t want to stray that far, look into the internal relationships and power structures in your very own family -chosen or by blood, it doesn’t matter. Do you keep bumping into the same kind of characters and problems? In your family, do you give what you received?
If your world contains only pain, shame, sadness, betrayal, and hurt- you have no chance of passing anything else on to your loved ones. Not until you are conscious about it and stop yourself from replaying compulsively. This is no judgment. In no way am I to throw a stone in your direction. Ever. No, this is experience speaking. So think about your intrinsic tales very hard.
Stories are like memes. They have a natural tendency to multiply, spread, mutate or get stylized and become immortal. Storytelling is a part of our ancestral heritage, our human identity. The fires around human villages and camps surely heard stories and myths we shared as soon as language was available. It is part of our individuality (personal experiences, life stories, memories, intrinsic beliefs), but, most importantly, it is community identity (history of the people, their home region, and their religion) and a species characteristics. Do you know any other species obsessed with lineage, memories, stories, identity, and the propagation thereof? Yeah, me neither. But they are more than the string of events of a hero journey or a redemption/character arc, more than just victory over the powers of darkness or the monsters. Instead, they convey a feeling of badassery, of bravery, hope, and love, or the opposite of it.
Spirit in the Story
Why did I emphasize the meaning and the nature of stories?
For one, dear writer, you are an apprentice (or even master) in being a human and explaining it in a simplified way without losing the essence. Hopefully, that is. Dear reader, you take off on a journey to exciting places, hoping to find distraction and sometimes inspiration, validation, encouragement, and maybe more.
I, as a writer, find it hard to grasp the profound unspoken truth behind my stories. I can feel it in the mud of the paragraphs somewhere, but I’m mostly unable to pour it into words. It’s there, like a gem, or a gold nugget, silently waiting for me to get a grip. I try to coax out its spirit and essence to let it shine through every story scene. In the process of story crafting, I search for the stubborn bits of the story, for its seemingly own emerging will, for the spirit in the story. My process has this major flaw, I’m not able to build in the essence, the point the story makes into the the plot, the characters, the scenes, the chapters. I fumble it most times, not being able to end my stories, but I try to sneak up on it as a child would. This flaw is also the surprise, the moment of epiphany, when events fall into their places and it all makes sense, as if I planned it out this way. Happy accidents.
Then I stumbled upon the concept of Genius Loci. It translates as the spirit of place and often means that indefinable thing about a place that makes it unique.
However, it has another, more traditional, meaning: the God or Goddess of the place. Unfortunately, it is this meaning that we are starting to lose sight of in our modern world. This exact same notion I feel valid in crafting narratives, memories, intrinsic and extrinsic worlds. Luckily, I found Tereza Stehlikova’s excerpt from her PhD work, which is an inspiration.
In the Czech Surrealist tradition, “morphologie mentale” is applied to the meshing of subjective experience with an external topography, so that particular external landmarks (such as houses, staircases, or trees) are integrated into one’s psyche, and affect its formation in the same way that certain vital experiences can.by Tereza Stehlikova
This hit home hard. I remember my grandma’s garden, the little dark room where it was always cool, and the overpowering color was beautiful turquoise, deep emerald and ocean green. I felt at ease there, so much that these colors manage to soothe every upset that I experience. It smelled of beeswax, petrichor, mothballs, wool, tweed and leather. For a long time, this was my comfort place.
I often dream of that room and about my task of getting the mail in that hot stairwell that smelled of onion and cabbage. The sounds and smells of the river nearby, the sound of the wind in the weeping willows, the dust that remained in the wounds of my scraped knees. Everything about that world that doesn’t exist anymore, everything screams homesickness. The feeling of home that I will never be able to enter again, the protective and welcoming spirit of that time and place is deeply engraved into my mind. It hides the spirit of a story I still can’t tell. Not yet.
“…human consciousness is not so much determined by various childhood deprivations and traumas, but rather by the landscape in which a person has lived and the objects that they might have touched. Many years ago, the Surrealists even tried, with the help of questionnaires, to prove that the way a landscape is formed, the number of corners a house has and how crookedly a tree grows outside the window, have as much effect on the psyche as the upbringing. The Surrealists called this imprint of the external (a collection of measurable quantity, dimensions, tone and colour) onto the spiritual microcosm of a person mental morphology.”Václav Cílek, ‘On Morphology of the Non-Human’, Artesian, 2 (2009), p.41
The process of meeting the ghost of the place is described by Cilek’s “pilgrim’s 12 rules“, a subjective, sensible, and individual approach. The delicateness and the care he shows in his observations speak to my mind and soul. I suspect these guidelines can be used to get to know the ghost of the story too.
It shines through
People -real and imaginary- are like places. Did you hear about the perceived distance, coldness, and hardness of people living in the northern and mountainous areas? What about the hot-headedness and the ardent passion of the inhabitants of the southern regions? Did you ever wonder how gentle desert-dwellers are? What about the nomad cultures or the maritime ones? How does the landscape we were born into or live in influence our temperaments?
We all carry our “mental landscapes” in our heads, hearts, and manners. We populate our intrinsic world with jokes, daydreams, lies, poems, paintings, drawings and songs. Eventually, they grow into stories, music videos, short films, novels, books, and movies. This is the place where our unique voices incubate and develop.
The spirit of the story shines through every character and character interaction to weave a delicate web of meaning, plot, and intention.
Its presence is as prominent as the spirit of the place is shining through us, creators. Although it should be considered background noise, it will influence the tone and atmosphere of the tale substantially.
So, dear reader, dear writer where do you find the spirit in the story?