When contemplating a topic for this bi-monthly edition of my blog for March/April, I stumbled across James Scott Bell’s suggestion in “ Plot and Structure”; All writers should periodically take a good look inside themselves. He explains that we should create a “personality filter” through which we might generate our plot ideas. To this point, I would go further to suggest individuals in general could benefit from this idea to look inside themselves to identify his or her true values the way writers look inside for ideas.
A value can be defined as a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life. They are the beliefs and ideas that guide individuals in their thought processes and behaviors, and have the ability to help people understand the difference between right and wrong. Value is meaning or worth, or lack thereof. A value can be positive or negative; demonstrated in the belief that family is important or that people are generally caring and good, versus the belief that individuals are powerless to change their own fates or personal situations or that the world is unfair and everyone else’s viewpoints are wrong.
Dig deep. Explore. Roam around inside your heart and your mind for a while. Pay close attention to what you see and feel there. Is it something you are proud of; then embrace it and share it with others. Spread it amongst us. If, on the other hand, it is something you know you should change, do something about it.
Writers know what they will do when they find something they do or do not like inside, or when they find something they want to understand better or see more clearly. They write about it.
Andy Stanley, a pastor, writer and communicator who has produced tons of sermons, often preaches about this idea; “The value of a life is always measured in terms of how much of it is given away”, meaning the extent to which we give ourselves to others determines who we really are. Just as writers put energy into dissecting what interests us, or what drives us toward sharing a message or lesson, individuals should spend time looking inside themselves for their own values.
“What do you care most about in this world?” How could the author write without having the courage to explore this question, and then, more importantly, to face or share the answer, even if there is no answer. It is the things for which we are most passionate or curious that give life to our greatest stories (think “theme”). Similarly, it is the values human beings hold most dear that guide them through their daily thoughts, words and actions and influence how they ultimately behave and treat others.
In so many ways, writing is connected to life, which is the reason I interweave my writing lessons with life lessons in my blogs. Looking inside ourselves as writers to find our next story is no different from looking inside ourselves as human beings, to figure out and acknowledge what it is we most care about in life.
In L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, it is the protagonist’s quest for a place to feel safe, loved and accepted, and her eventual recognition that it was right there all along, the place from which she started her journey, inside her own heart, that would always be home.
Similarly, in the The Greatest Gift, a short story written in 1939 by Philip Van Doren Stern, on which Frank Capra produced and directed Its a wonderful life, we recognize the value of family, friendship, and love of and from others. After all, “ No man is a failure who has friends”.
Unless we determine what it is that we truly value as a writer; what fascinates us, interests us, infuriates us, confuses us, drives us, we will struggle to develop a plot that connects in a meaningful way with our readers, and similarly, unless we as individuals open the door to our soul, to evaluate who we really are and what we value most or more importantly, what we should value most, we will never become the best we can be.
As Andy Stanley says, with regard to leadership, in his The American in the Mirror sermon, our nation will never be greater than the Americans in the Mirror. It is who we are inside that allows us to succeed as caring and complete human beings, or on the contrary, sets us up for failure.
So, I say; Take a deep breath and dive deep, look inside. Be brave. Do not hide from anything you find there. Rather, confront it, acknowledge it, inspect it and if it is something that needs to be changed, do something about it. Face it and fix it. Put others first if it is something that is getting in your way. Or, if on the other hand, you are one of the rarer individuals who realize what you find is what should have been there all along, embrace it. Nurture it. Grow it, then share it with the rest of us. Spread it between and over and around us. Let it cover us all like a blanket under which we are able to come together as one, feeling united and safe.
One does not need to be a writer to ask these difficult questions of ourselves, or to spend the time exploring within our own minds and hearts in order to find and face what we do, do not or should value, to uncover an idea for a story. There is no better time than now, for individuals in general, to follow James Scott Bell’s suggestion to look inside, when our world has suddenly become unhinged, to take this journey. Perhaps once we have each spent some quality time there, on our journey inside, and we have made our own discoveries, we will recognize our true home, once we return.