The Doc Fix


Regularly updated articles on story structure and analysis; tips, thoughts and useful bits and pieces.

The Power of Imagination

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I recently saw Jane Campion's new film, The Power of the Dog. To be honest I was disappointed. Not so much with the performances, but with the very slow pace and heavy handed symbolism. But, that said, there's a fascinating piece in The Guardian about the coach who helped the director and actors to discover the meaning and approach to the work - through dreams:

Both Campion and Cumberbatch engaged in dream work. Techniques include repeating details of a dream back and forth with a partner ("I'm in my childhood bedroom" "You're in your childhood bedroom") until it comes to life. "The dream begins to open itself, just by being heard back and forth like that," says Gillingham, who credits her former teacher Marion Woodman for additional practices such as: "observing gestures or habits within the body and then inquiring around what the body might be doing". The common thread seems to be to shift away from the conscious mind, the better to focus on what rises up in its stead.

I found that fascinating because accessing your intuition is an essential part of the creative process.

Whenever I'm working on a new project, I relish that element - sleeping on a complex concept and seeing how my dreams have resolved it or suggested a path. Going on a long walk through my local park to see what my imagination throws up.

I love the process because I've a place to put all those ideas that my unconscious provides.

I'll have a structure to my stories, or there'll be one I'm working on. There are steps I take to make that structure solid, to design meaning into the story - to rationally (and quickly) develop a thematic argument, to build to a climax that resolves all the questions raised. And so on.

Which is what we teach.

But how I express those ideas is down to my imagination. The joy comes from knowing there is a place for my instinct - the colours, sounds, or moments it throws up.

What you need is a solid foundation - that structure that prevents your story from becoming a list. You don't collect facts. Instead, you arrange a meaningful narrative and then express it through your imagination.

Very quickly you'll discover it works both ways - your imagination stimulates a structure (what does this mean? I can express it clearly). And your structure gives you the uncomplicated freedom to allow your imagination to do its thing.

What this does is allow you to be free to use your imagination - but not be confused by what it throws up.