When we taught in the screenwriting course at the UW, Jack and I discovered core story as a technique for separating the plot from subplots, and subplots from each other. To put these separations into a picture, we used a linear diagram – Aristotle’s Incline, his implied three acts – with the main line as the plot and arcing lines down below the plot showing the start and end points of the major subplots. With Aristotle’s Incline, you can chart the action that rises to a climax near the end of act three.
What Aristotle’s Incline can’t show is the mythic force that drives most stories. To fix that, we bent the straight line into a curve, left a gap on the left hand side, like a Pac-Man icon from TV advertising, and made a circle that did not close itself. From Joseph Campbell and others, we came up with a five step journey, starting at the Cage, moving to Escape, the doorway to the Quest, moving through the Quest until it is time to confront the Dragon, which matches the climax on Aristotle’s upward slanting line. After confronting the Dragon, the Quester heads for home.
You’re probably thinking Ouroboros, the snake that eats its tail. We did too. But we weren’t done with the cycle-symbolism. In a moment of insight, Jack drew those three balls at the center – World Destroyed, Ritual Change, World Renewed – and we discovered that we had stumbled onto the resurrection myth Sir J.G. Frazer laid out in The Golden Bough (Dying God and God Reborn), and a fat basket of fertility rites, the ritual killing of kings, scapegoat sacrifice, and quests for meaning in a perverse universe.
The language in the three boxes reaches out to myth-built stories that chug right along from century to century, changing costumes with the times. The sick king sets up the core story of King Replacement. The knight on the Grail Quest is all those who hunt, whether in story-telling or in life. Define the Grail, you define the Quest.
Story-telling comes when you ask a question about causality: Does the knight’s journey through the landscape – Cage, Escape, Quest, Dragon, Home – does this journey cause the grinding of the gears in the Mythic Dynamo? Or does the slow grinding of the Mythic Dynamo propel the knight on his quest?
To answer either question, you have to tell a story and if you use the Mythic Dynamo, your story will have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
© 2002 by Jack Remick and Robert Ray
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