Creative Writing Workshop on Reading, Character/Plot and the Divine Feminine. Buckle up
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” ~Stephen King
Again and again, I meet writers in my creative writing teaching program who balk at taking the time to read. Or listen, to a book. Or, if they do get in there, they sabotage the learning process by judging the work as “boring, confusing, overwhelming,” and putting the book down.
Sure, a book can bug, bore, and/or worry you, but as a working writer a major part of your growth comes from pushing through challenging reads. Stephen King, like every other writer I’ve studied with, insists you need to read…a lot. He also says that you can learn as much from a bad book as a good one.
Now look, I didn’t read a lot in my younger days. I went through so much trauma as a child that reading triggered me into PTSD flashbacks and anxiety. If that is happening (and the reason you might be judging work and putting it down), be honest and deal with the symptoms. Try EMDR, neurofeedback, or creative based right brain therapies. Then, when you can handle it, listen to a book while doing something else. If you can go a step further, sit down, read and underline passages that catch your attention as you go.
Bottom line: Read. And one of those books I recommend heartily, is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Tale of Two Cities is a tough read. It’s about the French Revolution which takes place during our own American Revolution. The reader gets a human experience of the collapse of a monarchy via the intimate lives (and longings) of memorable and quirky characters like Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton (hero), Doctor Manette, Lucie Manette, Monsieur Defarge, Madame Defarge, Jarvis Lorry, Jerry Cruncher, Miss Pross, Mr. Stryver, John Basard, Roger Cly, Gabelle. Go to Spark Notes to read more about each: Click here.
In our creative writing teaching, we started our three week discussion about this book. First came plot but before we could figure out the plot, we had to narrow down who the hero might be.
Watch here, to see where we went in this conversation to include an analysis of the role of Divine Feminine in the hero’s journey.
It’s helpful if you have read A Tale of Two Cities but if you haven’t, perhaps read this description of the book to prepare.
On Archetypes and the Feminine Defined:
We talked a lot about the feminine “archetype” in this class. I wanted to add a couple more things here, in this post that might be helpful, to include definitions.
Archetype: Jungian archetypes are universal patterns and images that are part of the collective unconscious, as proposed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung believedarchetypes were archaic forms of innate human knowledge passed down from our ancestors. Archetypes have universal meanings across cultures and may show up in dreams, literature, art, or religion. Jungian archetypes include the persona, the shadow, the anima/animus, the self, and the hero. The persona is the mask we wear in social situations, while the shadow represents our repressed or hidden aspects. By understanding these archetypes, we could gain insight into the human psyche and better understand ourselves and others. ~ Brave AI
Feminine value: At one pole (in storytelling), is the power of darkness, centered on the ego, limited consciousness, and an inability to see whole, making for confusion, division, and ultimately death. At the other end is the power of the feminine centered on selfless feeling and the ability to see whole, making for connection, the healing of division and life. At the deepest level, it is around this opposition that the whole of the eternal conflict by stories revolves: and it is this which, in a sense, makes the light heroine the ultimate touchstone of storytelling, for it is she who above all and most directly embodies the feminine value. It is she who most often and most obviously had to be brought forth from the shadows for the complete happy ending to be achieved. And this applies not just to those stories with a strong hero but as much to an active heroine. IE: Jane Eyre, The Merchant of Venice, High Noon. Pg. 257 ~ From The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker
When thinking about your own story, you are telling specific stories about specific people. You are also (if you are connected to the idea of theme, which is how your story connects to the human experience) writing about all of us. Your story matters to the reader because she can see herself, and her experience, in the lives of your characters. This is why the study of archetypes like the feminine matter to your writing. Just like it is important to read, to become a better writer, it’s important to understand the underlying energy that informs the lives of characters in your stories. The next post will discuss how Dickens employs consecution (or sequencing) in Tale with examples.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this creative writing teaching and that you will share your thoughts/insights.