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A good story should punch you in the gut…and more

Christopher Vogler, author of The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, has been a consultant for Hollywood studios for years. He has helped guide story development for movies such as The Wrestler, Black Swan, The Lion King, The Fight Club, and The Thin Red Line.

I had the honor of learning from Vogler at the Story Masters Workshop last year. One of the things I still remember from his lecture was when he said, “If your story does not make two or more organs of your body squirt fluids, it’s no good.”

Say, what? Squirt fluids? Yes, that’s what he said. And it makes perfect sense once you know what he means.

At one time, Vogler evaluated movie scripts and ideas to see what ones the studios should pick up. While most readers would respond with their intellect and their minds, he would respond by saying what organs of his body were being affected by the story. If it was a good story, he’d notice at least two areas of the body were affected: his gut and throat. He said this idea goes back to Joseph Campbell’s work—all myths bypass the brain and go directly to our organs.

Think about it for a minute. When you read sensual or sexy scenes, where do you feel it? Uh, huh. Right there. When you read something scary where do you feel that? In your solar plexus? Does your pulse quicken? When you’re startled, does adrenaline flood your system? A good story prompts our bodies to have a physiological response.

Next time you write a scene think about what bodily organs it affects. And, if it doesn’t affect anything? Consider rewriting the scene until it does.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. The emotional side of writing, really an overlooked part of writing. I think as a novel you don’t want end to end punch, but certain scenes definitely need that writing which can stir emotions and feelings.

    On a side note, I respect Vogler’s attention to detail and his book is really great. However, overuse of such tools as archetypes only serves to dampen a writer’s creativity, binding it within rules.

    May 8, 2013
    • Yes, I agree, we certainly don’t want to turn every scene into melodrama but we also want to have our readers feel some kind of reaction. The Writers Journey lays out the template for the hero’s journey, the archetypes, etc. so we can understand them. Mr. Vogler does not say this is the only template or that every story must fit this mold. I equate it to any “rule” of writing–once we learn it, it becomes unconscious and/or then we can break it. At Story Masters they dissected “The Hunger Games”–it was great to hear his comments along with those of Don Maass and James Scott Bell–each person had their own way of looking at the story line. Guess that’s another post. 🙂

      May 8, 2013

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