“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein
What do you feel passionate about? What is your position on justice, authenticity, self-authority, the need for community, or the lost rights of left-handed people? It is through investigation of the things we feel passionate about that we come to discover a deeper truth.
What we feel passionate about is subjective, meaning it is arguable. We don’t feel strongly about facts: I am writing at a desk. My cat is sleeping on the couch. However, we may feel passionate about the importance of getting cats spayed or neutered. And because we live in a world of limited resources, others might say, yes, but our time and money is better spent on education, and now we have conflict, and the birth of a story.
Investigating what we feel passionate about is where the seed of our story lies. Writers often revisit what they feel passionate about throughout their lives, examining these issues from different angles. The plot may change, but the theme often remains the same.
By becoming conscious of what we feel passionate about and exploring its opposing arguments, we begin to see our story more clearly.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and felt like the author or filmmaker was preaching at you, like they were pushing an agenda?
The way to avoid this is to understand that the purpose of story is to reveal a transformation. Story is not about winning an argument, but about revealing a deeper truth. Every married person knows that winning an argument does not lead a peaceful coexistence. If one person wins, everyone loses. It’s the same in story. If all that happens at the end of the story is that your hero gets what he wants, your reader will be disappointed. If Jimmy Stewart left Bedford Falls at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, we would be an audience bewildered.
We care about what the protagonist needs. In story, the hero goes on a journey in order to reframe his relationship to his goal.
In the film And Justice For All, Al Pacino is asked to defend a man whom he loathes, a judge who is accused of rape. Pacino is an upright, perhaps even idealistic lawyer who deeply believes that everyone deserves a fair trial. He also realizes that if he refuses to defend the judge, he could lose his lawyer’s license. When he learns that the judge in fact did commit the crime, he is faced with a dilemma, and the question of justice suddenly takes on urgent meaning. We are no longer standing on the sidelines. We are engaged in the question of how justice will be meted out fairly. It is through this story that we discover there is a price for justice. Pacino is forced to make a decision that inexorably alters his future.
1) Write for five minutes on what you feel passionate about:
2) Distill what you wrote into a single arguable statement, for instance: I feel strongly that everyone deserves a fair trial.
3) List the opposing arguments to this statement and you will begin to connect to the antagonistic forces in your story in a truthful and compelling way.