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The Real Key to Writing Great Screenplays and Novels

By James Bonnet

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The real key to writing great screenplays and novels is an understanding of story. And the key to understanding story is a working knowledge of the creative unconscious self, story metaphors, a sophisticated story model, and the character archetypes.

It would not occur to most people to write a classical symphony without any musical education. But just about everyone thinks he can write a screenplay without any training at all. This may have something to do with the fact that a lot of our thinking is in a visual form. We all have little strips of film streaming through our imaginations. It may also have to do with the fact that we all instinctively know a good story when we encounter one. That seems to be part of our hard wiring and has probably been with our species for tens of thousands of years. But knowing a good story and being able to create one are two very different things.

Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven and Van Gogh could do what they did every time. Why? Because they understood their art forms. That rarely happens in Hollywood or in publishing, if you take into consideration the vast number of story films and novels that are produced. In Hollywood, at any rate, if you study the credits of our top writers and directors, you’ll discover a few outstanding hits and a long list of things you never heard of. And that’s one of my objectives – to help you become a master of the craft by giving you a thorough, step by step working knowledge of all of the principles of the art form. 

The creative unconscious self is the source of our creativity and an ultimate creative partner. It goes by a lot of different names but what you call it doesn’t matter, it is the source of all of the higher intelligence and hidden wisdom we possess. It plays a major role in our lives and it plays a major role in storymaking. And because the creative unconscious governs the positive and negative feelings that influence our creative decisions, it participates in the creation of all great stories. A working knowledge of, and a partnership with, your creative unconscious will do wonders for your creativity, your career, and your life – and it will help you make your stories truly great.

The story metaphors are the secret language of great stories. The higher intelligence and hidden wisdom stored in the creative unconscious is in an energy form which is transformed in the imagination into the visual images, characters and structures of story. These metaphors are made of real things that have been taken apart and artistically rearranged in our imaginations to represent these hidden truths. A working knowledge of what these metaphors are and how they are created in the imagination will help you make your stories magical and unique.

Here’s what Shakespeare has to say about this process:

                             “The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

                             Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

                             And, as imagination bodies forth

                             The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen

                             Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

                             A local habitation and a name.” 

                                                          Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Golden Paradigm is our sophisticated story model and our model of the creative unconscious self. It was created by the hidden story structures all great stories have in common, and holds the key to cracking the story code, unlocking the secrets of story, and the recovery of our lost and forgotten inner selves. And why is this important to writers and filmmakers? These hidden structures have enormous power, and if you support the things you really want to write with these structures, you can create stories that make a powerful psychological connection and have universal appeal.

The character archetypes are the major players and heroes of story. The male and female heroes and antiheroes are the metaphors that personify the archetypes of the conscious self and all of the other characters in the story are metaphors representing the different archetypes of the creative unconscious self. They become the forces of assistance and resistance – the allies, enemies, and other important characters that confront and surround the hero and the antihero and act as antagonists, mentors or guides. When you master this dimension you will discover another source of real power and be able to create characters that are truly charismatic.

In future articles we will explore these four subjects in great detail. 

So if you are a serious writer or filmmaker and you want to master the craft of story, and I mean really master it, and do what you want to do in your novels or films every time, throughout your career – come on this journey with me, and I promise you an extraordinary adventure – a true mystery – an enduring love story – and a great new beginning.

About James Bonnet

James Bonnet is an internationally known writer, teacher and story consultant. He has been a professional writer for more than 40 years. He started out as an actor in the Tony Award winning hit Broadway show, Sunrise at Campobello. He landed his first professional writing job when he was 23, writing for a television series called It’s A Man’s World. He was elected twice to the Board of Directors of the Writer's Guild of America and has written or acted in more than forty television shows and features. The important  new ideas about story in his book Stealing Fire from the Gods: The Complete Guide to Story For Writers And Filmmakers are having a major impact on writers in all media. In his forthcoming book, Cracking the Story Code: The Hidden Structures in Great Stories and What They Mean, he will thoroughly analyze fifty of the world’s greatest stories and the extraordinary secrets they reveal about ourselves and our evolutionary path.  Learn more at

Screenwriting Article by James Bonnet

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