The Heart of a Story
“Your protagonist will lose faith in his belief system.” ~ PJ Reece
I have just read PJ Reece’s short ebook, Story Structure to Die For.
The book is a quick look at the centre of the hero’s journey. A hero faces a crisis and restores a new order in the face of chaos.
Reece shines his light on the psychological moment when the hero’s belief systems fall apart and the hero must change to move forward.
Looking at story from the perspective of psychological change in the hero reveals why writers must torture their characters and why there is a moment when all seems lost close to the climax of most compelling stories.
Writers must, in fact, torture their characters to drive them into the place where all seems lost. It is only by living in the darkness left when belief systems collapse that a person opens to the possibility of growing into something new.
Change depends on breaking down old habits, old structures, old ways of looking at the world. Without the dissolution of the old, there is not room for the new. But, human beings are notoriously hard to change. We will create elaborate schemes of self-deception to avoid revising our deep understandings of the world and our place in it.
For a story to appear pyschologically true, the protagonist must be pushed so hard that the collapse of limiting self-understandings in inevitable. If the protagonist is able to put things back together in some semblance of order, he or she is heroic; otherwise he or she is tragic. In either case, the story is the drive to the point of no return and what happens once the protagonist gets there.Reece’s book is currently available free. At that price, it was worth my time. Reece has an annoying way of presenting this as some grand mystery revealed, which it isn’t. But, his analysis of the film “Moonstruck” provides a clear explanation of the point he is making and he discusses the psychological theory in an accessible way.