The Transformational Impact of Story Telling with Shawn Coyne | Voices with Vervaeke | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "The Transformational Impact of Story Telling with Shawn Coyne | Voices with Vervaeke".
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Introduction Of John Vervaeke And Guy Sengstock
Dr. John Vervaeke and Guy Sengstock delve into the transformative nature of dialogue in cultivating wisdom and collective intelligence - https://circlinginstitute.com/circling-dialogos/ (00:00)
Way before the internet linked computers together to release the power of distributed computation, we had dialogue that linked minds together to produce the power of distributed cognition. This collective intelligence we have is our most powerful adaptation for being on a planet. You and I are speaking English, neither one of us invented English. Neither one of us are maintaining all of this technology. Neither one of us are individually running all the science then, right? And all the philosophy that's making all of this possible, all the psychology. What happens in these practices, the circling, the philosophical fellowship, the Dia Logos, people get a sense of the presence of this collective intelligence. The ancient had a word for it, logos. That's what's called Dia Logos, dialogue, the way of the logos, and how that could guide them into a process of deep existential meaning, transformation, and a guide for the cultivation of wisdom that all human beings ultimately need. I know that for me, and so I look back on my life, and I think about what flashes to me are these people in my life in which I would have profound conversations with. I was in high school, and I had this friend, Steve Minard, and he was this guy that was going to college, and just the domains that he opened up. Not only did I not think about, but there was nothing to not think about until we spoke, and he started to open these domains. And I remember distinctively, there's like in the air, there was like, you know, like little doorknobs that were opening, and I had no idea there was a door there. Every time we really face another human being, it is possible that those kinds of doors are there to be opened, right? Yes. And in some sense, the dialogos, right, encircling, and in the philosophical fellowship, these things are ways of our practices that one, acknowledge that potential, I think, and are different ways of practicing opening those doors, you know, and realizing a world that you then, the realization are things that you actually then live inside of. We used to do this, you know, in religious gatherings, and they provided the cultural community a fellowship whereby we did this. So that guided people in their individual cultivation for wisdom. But for many people, this is no longer viable. Both people who have left organized religion, and even people who are still within organized religion, find that there's something, something of the spirit is lacking. And we need this kind of actual dialogue because we are suffering from idle talk and bullshit, and it's overwhelming us. And what we're offering here is a mind sword that can cut through all of that and get people back together and back in touch with themselves and the world. We're going to be running a joint course together, where we're going to be linking practices on circling, philosophical fellowship, and then theologos. Yeah. So I'm very excited about this. I'm really looking forward to it. We're at a turning point right now in the culture, and I think the best thing we can do in these very uncertain times is to cultivate individual collective, wise, meaningful connections, because that is what is going to see us through. Yeah, absolutely. I'm glad we're doing this, John. Me too. It's June 24th and 26th, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. I think this is a wonderful opportunity. Guy, is there early bird specials for people who register early or? Yeah, I think the early bird special is up until two weeks before the start date. So register, if you know that you're going to do it, register as soon as possible so you can take advantage of the discount. Yes. So in this workshop, what we do is we take you through, we start you with some mindfulness practices, and then we take you into some basic circling practices. And then there are some practices that are designed to improve your listening ability, and then your questioning ability, and then you're resonating with philosophical subjects. And don't worry about that word, because what a lot of people said when we were there, even in person is they never thought about philosophy, but we got them doing philosophy as the active, engaged love of wisdom. And then we take you into a culminating practice, dialectic into dialogue. And there's a lot out there. You can take a look at it. I've been talking about it. Guy's been talking about it. We've been recording stuff. And if you go to the website, Corinna has set up an amazing portal to give you some ideas about things like everything you need, every question. That's a little bit better. But almost any question you can think of has been well addressed. You can talk to other people who have taken it. We have people who often take the workshop multiple times. This is an extremely powerful workshop. Yeah. Guy, what would you like to say about it? Well, I think it's a couple of things. I think it, in essence, right? I'm a little afraid to say this because it's quite a claim, but with humility, hopefully, I say, in essence, what we're really engaging in is internalizing in a lot of ways, not Socrates, as you talk about. And this is where, this is an example, I think, of what you have referred to as an ecology of practices coming together. It literally is. The whole course is totally practice. We're not going to be giving lectures. You're not going to need to do, you don't need to have all this previous knowledge or anything like that. The whole thing is we'll give some instructions, set some context for the exercise, and you're going to go into the exercise with a group of people, and you'll go deep in it. Then you come back out. We answer questions. You talk about your experience. We set up another exercise, right? It builds on the one before that, and you go really, really deep into that experience with a group of people, and you come back out. As you say, culminating in the thing that brings it all together, which is basically Socratic dialogue. So again, the details are it's June 24th and 25th, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. The links for everything will be below. You can register right through the Circling Institute website. Also, a new edition that's just coming online for this course is we have, when you register, the first thing that you get is a series of videos where we actually walk through and give context for the different exercises that we're going to be doing to help prepare yourself that you can listen to beforehand. Yes, excellent. Yeah. All right. So I hope to see all of you there.
Exploring The Role And Understanding Of Stories With Shawn Coyne
Shawn Coyne is introduced; he brings to the table his 30-year expertise in book publishing. (07:09)
Me too. Welcome, everybody, to Another Voices with Raveiki. I'm very excited to be talking with Sean Coyne. And well, you'll see why Sean is doing a lot of work that intersects with my work. He runs the publishing company that's actually putting together both volumes of Awakening from the Meeting Crisis and hopefully also Dialectic into the Logos. And that's just been amazing to be working with him. And so I'm just going to leave it there as introduction because, Sean, I want you to tell everybody who you are and how your work and my work are intersected and how we're working together and some of your reflections about narrative, et cetera. Oh, great. Well, first, John, thank you so much for having me here. It's just so exciting to be able to talk to you in a very formalized way. So my name is Sean Coyne, and I am an editor, a publisher, a writer. I've been in book publishing for over 30 years. I started at the major publishing houses like Dell Publishing and St. Martin's Press and Double Day Publishing, all divisions of Random House and Macmillan. I spent about 10 years there sort of growing up. And then I started my own publishing house back in 2000 called Rugged Land Books, and I ran that for about seven years. And it almost killed me because it was extraordinarily difficult starting something from scratch. And then I was a literary agent for about three years working for the Endeavor Agency. And since that time, I wrote a book called The Story Grid.
Shawn shares the profound teachings of his book, The Story Grid, illuminating the structure and function of narratives. (09:00)
And The Story Grid is really about teaching people the structure, the function, and the organization of narrative, really. And my original idea was to promote it as a methodology, right? Because I had a very utilitarian way of looking at stories because I was an editor, and I had to publish the stories that were profitable, right? So the central question I was asking myself over and over again was, how do stories work? How can I make them better? How can I make them more popular? And so that investigation, I've been looking at for over 30 years. Because when I first got into book publishing, I thought that they had a program, right? I thought that I would walk in and there would be a program that would teach me how to be an editor, how to help writers write stories. And so since that time, I've been developing this methodology. And now it's become more of a formalized theory. Because what I found is knowing how, you can't really know how, unless you look at what the thing is and why the thing is, right? So that's sort of where I'm coming from in terms of my narrative theory. And the reason why I was super attracted to you and your work was when I saw on YouTube, there was this professor talking about the meaning crisis. I was like, oh my gosh, my job is about enabling meaning to be generated in stories. And I was having difficulty explaining the meaning making process. And so I thought to myself, here's somebody else who's looking at it from the other prism and saying, we've got a problem out there, folks. People are losing their grip on the importance of meaning. And so, wow, I was just overwhelmed. So like a lot of your followers, it was an anonymous relationship. So I just watched all 50 episodes. I took notes. I watched them again. And I kept noticing there's no book. And I'm like, oh, somebody else will do it. Somebody else will do it. And then I was like, you know what? I think this is for me. I think there's something here that I need to do. So I just emailed you out of the blue and I said, hey, you don't know me from Adam.
Shawn expresses his fascination with John's work on the meaning crisis, leading to their professional collaboration. (11:30)
I'm a publisher. I'd love to work with you. I would love to put these books into the world because we need something tangible to hold on to, to say this. This is what I think about that. So I sent you an email. We had discussions. I brought you in to meet our publisher, Tim Groll. You're working with Leslie Watts, our editor-in-chief. We brought in, you were working with Madeline. You're still working with Madeline. We brought in Christopher, who is wonderful. And so it's just, oh, it's wonderful. So anyway, I'm sorry. That was a long sort of introduction. That was great. Okay. That was great. But that's who I am and why I'm here. So, well, first of all, it is wonderful working with you. And yeah, and I'm deeply appreciative of the work that Madeline and Leslie, and especially Chris right now, Chris is doing so much with reworking it. And he's about to start doing that full-time in about two weeks. And so that's really, really, I'm deeply, I'm profoundly grateful for that. So as you know, I'm very interested in narrative, and I'm very interested in the relationship between narrative and meaning-making, and creating a temporally extended moral agent. And I'm interested in the relationship between the narrative and the non-narrative, the normative and the nomological. And so I'm really looking forward to this discussion. How would you like to start? I want this to be as dialogical as possible, but I want you to start with, what's sort of the central thesis that you've come upon when your narrative theory? Well, the central thesis is, it goes to first principles. And I was thinking, well, geez, what is it? What is a story? You know, I didn't even want to go to narrative yet, right? Because narrative is like sort of one of those spooky words, you know? Right, right. Okay. And people go like, oh, you know, watch your narrative. So I'm like, well, what's a story? What's it about? What's it for? And so what I came to the conclusion was that stories are about change, right? So you have a beginning and you have an end, and there's a transformation between the beginning of a story and the end. And so we learn an adaptive response or a maladaptive response to change in a well-told story. So I was thinking to myself, wow, that's kind of cool. Yeah, change. So has anybody written anything about change? Oh, yeah, there's this guy Aristotle, right? He dedicated a lot of time to change, right? And then there are these guys like Piaget and Vygotsky and developmental psychology. Wow, there's a lot to tap into there. So there must be something about change that I can learn to help me help people write stories. And then I tried to think of it from another point of view and say, okay, developmentally, it's about change. What if I was a scientist, right? What if I really wanted to reduce it down to some sort of algorithmic idea? Could I do that? And who would I go to, to answer that kind of question? And it stumbled upon me. Oh, my gosh, Claude Shannon, right? What are stories also do? They're about communication, right? So if I can tell you a story, then you and I, that is very, very meaningful to you, you and I can commune. And we can actually share an experience that is something that is not me and not you, but this other thing.
Delving into how stories allow us to share experiences and construct a mutual understanding of the world. (15:28)
And we can sort of, it's like sort of like that concept that you talk about in one of your episodes, you were talking about the notion between your uncle and his wife, and how they had this meaningful- Yes, mutual modeling. Yes. A mutual modeling, right? So stories are mutually modeling for us. And when we share stories, right, we share a model of the world and we can share a worldview. And so the stories that we tell ourselves, other people, and how we tell the story of the numinous itself are very important, because they enable us and empower us to do things that we ought to do, right? So they enable us to frame what ought to be. So you were talking about the nomological, the normative, and the narrative, right? So the nomological way I'm looking at stories, sort of the Claude Shannon way, like how does communication actually work? The physics of it, the entropy of it, right? The chaos that comes in and reforms patterns within ourselves and then we output, right? So that's cool. And then you also have cybernetics in there, you have, right. So that's our control mechanism. And then the normative, that's the what ought to be. And that's a tricky part because the normative is about sharing stories, right? So in a lot of ways, what we ought to do is to reach some sort of mutual goal state. So let me make sure I'm tracking this. So you've got a story is setting up a communication channel that actually allows us to commune, not just communicate. So we set up a mutual model that allows us to something like coordinate an adaptive response to change.
Discussing the role of stories in facilitating effective communication and coordination in response to change. (17:43)
Am I putting the pieces together correctly? Yes, you are. Yes, you are. That's really. Yeah. So we have a lot of convergent things that we that you talk about and I talk about. We just use different language. Sure, sure, sure. Yeah. Yeah, I'm not I'm not recommending my language over your language. I just. No, no, I love my question. I want to make sure I'm understanding. What is in order to dry out and again say more about this idea. What's going wrong right now? Oh, I'm so glad you asked that question. Okay. To answer it very quickly, people mistake parts of a story for the whole. Oh, oh, oh, this is very much like DC Schindler's. Yes, it is. A critique of impure reason. Yes, yes. So keep going on that, please. Okay, so. That's a real I just want to savor that. This is a fundamental mistaking. They miss take the part of a story for the whole story. That's absolutely correct.
Shawn sheds light on common misunderstandings and misinterpretations arising from mistaking parts of a story for the whole. (19:13)
Okay, that's really that's really astute. Please unpack that that's juicy. Okay. So it occurs to me that we live in a world of complexity. Right. And complexity is is neither fully ordered nor fully chaotic. Right. So it's both it's this beautiful, unbelievable meshing of order and chaos. So I love the concepts of the normative order, the nomological order and the narrative order. Right. Right. But I do think that we're we're missing two other pieces. Please. Okay, so we've got in my estimation, there are normative chaos, there's normative chaos, right? There's there's no melodical chaos, the things that we may maybe never be able to know. And there's narrative chaos, which is when you're you're in that moment in your life. And you're like, huh, okay, I don't know what to do. I don't have a story for this thing. Right. Right. So what I propose is that there's a binding of the normative order and the normative chaos, the normal logical, nomological order and normal logical chaos and narrative order and narrative chaos so that those six do this beautiful relational intermingling that forms normative complexity, yeah, normal logical complexity and narrative complex. Excellent. This is beautiful. I totally accept that. I'll call it an amplification because that's what it feels like to me. I totally accept that. I think that's I think I think there's a lot of good argument that could go to support that. So so continue then. So you have this you've got this, you know, this multi dimensional dynamic thing you're talking about. And so what how are people doing mistaking the part for the whole? Could you like keep going with that? Okay, so this is great. So we're we're on this nice foundational level now. And this is great. So if you don't mind, I just want to take it like a conceptual step back. Sure. And just, okay. So another question I asked myself was, okay, so why do we have stories? They are adaptive responses to change.
Stories as adaptive responses to change are explored, revealing their potential as simulations of reality. (21:44)
I think that's beautiful. Okay, cool. And the second one was about. Oh, Claude Chen, right? So Claude Chen is like we can reduce it to sort of a numerical representation, if you will. And we're dealing with issues trade offs between efficiency and redundancy. Absolutely. Right, right. All that. Yes. Okay. Okay. So so this third one is well, what what what is it again? It's a simulation stories simulate. Yes. Reality, right? Right, right, right. So there's simulations of reality, which means a really well told story must simulate the real world in such a way that it's more real than real. Okay, that sounds cool. That's so a bunch of stuffs resonating for me there. I mean, when you when you move to simulation, rather than representation, the way I usually track that is you're trying to engage, although you're using propositions, you're trying to engage non propositional knowing the procedural, the perspectival, the participatory. So I get that. And you're nodding quite vigorously. So that sounds like we're tracking. And then now you're doing this thing, which I really like, you know, you know, the more real or the really real. And I take it that that's not an invocation of realness that is identical to verisimilitude, because I take it that, for example, Tolkien is a great story, but it puts us in access. You know, the recovery theory, it helps us to recover the depths of reality. And in that sense, it's, it's, it's really real, because it takes us out of our comfortable superficiality and exposes us to the depths. Is that tracking with what you mean by the way the really real works? Or is it something like that or convergent with that? It absolutely is. It's a portal. It's a portal into the imagine. Of course. Yes, yes, yes. When it's done properly. Right, right. Well, okay, let me get back to the why, why the problem. What's the problem? The problem is that people mistake parts of the whole of story for the whole. Right, right.
Shawn highlights the pitfalls in storytelling, where people often mistake parts of the story for the whole. (24:00)
Okay, so what are the parts of a story, right? So the parts of a story are you've got ordered systems and chaotic systems that interact to produce complexity. Right. And so stories that only take one of those and emphasize one of those are in inaccurate to reality. Oh, I see. So not in this specific content, but in sort of the formal grammar of the story itself. Right. The right. It's not what you're talking about, but it's how and the how can we be radically disconnected from the dynamic complexity of reality. Is that what you're saying?
The role of ideological possession in creating overly ordered stories, leading to misconceptions, is discussed. (24:44)
Yes, if you have an ideological possession, or you're writing a story, you axiomatically embed only part and you present it as the whole. And so this is why you can have overly ordered stories that people say, oh, yes, that's true. All of those people over there are evil. Right, right, right, right, right, right. Because the possession of the storyteller emphasizes order as being axiomatic, the axiomatic goal state. So you get to sort of you get these ideologically formulaic stories that are now very, very pervasive. And people are picking up on this and they're just liking what they call the message and stuff like that, where this has has taken priority. Yes. So I agree very powerfully with this, that people are neglecting the process and overly fixating on the product. They want a certain set of beliefs to be taken and they forget that most of transformation is by having a communing of process. Right. Now, what a good story should do should complexify your cognizant.
John argues that a good story should enhance cognition to help people grasp the complexity of the world. (26:06)
This is your arrow to should complexify your cognition. So you reliably track the complexity of the world because that will actually contribute to a good life or at least has a higher probability and is more powerful to contribute to good life than just adopting certain belief sets. Is that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I'm a big fan of of Lisa. Geraro. Yeah. How could you not write dynamics in action? One of the great books in cognitive. Oh, I in fact, I use governor constraints and generator constraints to describe genre. Of course, of course. Right. So that's also. Governor. Yeah, that's also picking up on the Shannon. Right. Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's great. Okay, so I keep interrupting because I'm just just barking with you. Okay, so this idea that you know, you can I suppose the opposite could be the case. You could throw in so much chaos and you could get some sort of data ask absurd thing. That is also we're finding that also. Well, I would I would track it to here. I'll just throw a very broad course hypothesis out here and think about why not. Okay, so I had this idea that that our stories we make them come true. Oh, so if you think about sort of your you're in my generation.
Shawn explores how stories can shape reality, with examples from popular culture. (27:30)
So when I was a kid, you'd watch Star Trek, right? Of course. And then you look at all the technology that emerged post Star Trek, and it all looks like the Star Trek technology. Yes. So the cell phone, the you know, the the and what what's bothering me today is so we generate the fantasies of our stories as a collective cultural grammar. Yeah. So if you take the pulse to take the pulse of a culture, I suggest it's a good idea to look at the most popular store that are being told, and people are parting with their dollars to see that. Excellent. Excellent. And so the tenor of the last 10 to 15 years of the the most popular entertainment is very dystopian.
Analyzing popular storytelling trends of dystopian and superhero-driven narratives in the past 10-15 years. (28:30)
Yes, it's extraordinarily superhero driven. We and it's always this apocalyptic context. Yeah. Yeah. And so one of the things that we do at Storygrid, the thing, right, so you got to have a kind of a global, you know, goal state. And our goal state is to is to change those stories from being we're about to fall off the cliff to, wow, we've got an opportunity here to create a new complexity of the world. Yes. So the chaotically driven stories are more like postmodernist. Yes. Kind of naval gazing. Everything is meaningless. And we're all just floating in this dust. And these win the big book awards and people go, oh, isn't that deep? And then they call the ones that are overly ordered genre stories that are just kind of silly murder mysteries or whatever. And right in between them, you have stories like The Matrix, right? A complex story that if you explore it, you find three levels of communication. So there are three levels of every story that enable this this binding, this build up, breakdown and binding such that transformation occurs to the viewer. Yes.
The Complexity And Strategy In Storytelling
Shawn emphasizes the need to consider the audience's experience when creating stories, aiming to entertain and provide a cathartic experience. (30:07)
So it's actually and we call the viewer Sam, you know, a single audience member. Right. So we always say what Sam, how Sam experiencing this, right? What does Sam expect here? What what do we need to satisfy Sam so that Sam can be excited by our story? Like we got to entertain them, right? We got to make sure that Sam understands and can follow. How can we intrigue Sam, like make Sam wonder what's going to happen next? And then if we can do those two, how can we make them work together to provide a catharsis for Sam so that Sam actually feels something? So that she laughs, she cries, and she is transformed by the end of the story. Now we know these stories. All of us know them. If I were to ask you, John, tell me your favorite stories. You've got no problem. You can give me a list, right? Because these transformed your life. I don't mean to be personal, but I have watched so many of your videos. I know a story about you that, you know, and I don't mean to be invasive. Yeah, right. Because but you're you've been kind enough to share some of your history. I don't I don't know much of it. But you did. You have intimated that you were raised in a very sort of strict religious background. Right. And then I also remember you had said at some point. Well, what happened, John? You're you're certainly not living in that. And you said, well, I read a book. Yeah, yeah. I read a book called Lord of Light. Yes, yes. And so John back then, little John, he wasn't a PhD. No. Right. And you were living a story and you didn't like the story. You thought there was something wrong with the story, but you couldn't put your finger on. Yes. Right. And then you read this book, this story. And you said, that's a story that makes more sense to me. And that story changed your life. Yes, very much so. Very much so. That's what we need, John. We need stories like Lord of Light. And we need to get people to write those kinds of stories instead of the stories of all of our problems will be solved if X gets in power. Or everything is meaningless and we might as well have some fun before it ends. Right. We need a complex story, not an overly ordered story that's tyrannical, nor a chaotic postmodern mess that says there's no such thing as an order. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And that's what I mean about complexity. Right. I get it. I get it. So these are parts that people are mistaking for the whole because the writers, the creators are ideologically possessed, but they don't even know that they are. Right.
Highlighting the crucial difference between complex stories and those that are ideologically driven or overly simplistic. (33:23)
Right. They believe their own bullshit. Yes. And you talk about de-bullshitting. Yes. Yes. Right. And what I'm saying is that, and I also admire your openness to, hey, I'm not really sure so much about narrative. So let me talk to Paul van der Clay. And Jonathan Pajo and Jordan Peterson, these guys are really into the narrative. I'm open to it. Right. Yes. Yes. Yes. And so what I think they're poking at is we need better stories, folks, and we need them fast. Yes. I agree. And this is really what we're trying to do at Story Grid is to teach people how to create complex stories. It's not so easy. Right. No. Because when people come in, they do have full understanding of story. So they have this idea that it's a magic, that you just sort of things just happen well, and they automatically your pen starts to move because the angels descend upon you. Right. And we don't, I mean, it took me 30 years to debunk that. Of course there's magic. Right. It's called flow state. It's called insight. Yeah. We don't really know where that comes from. Right. But we know there's a way to get there. Yes. Yes. Anyway, I'm talking too much. No, you're not. This has been beautiful, Sean. Yeah. So I mean, I'm hesitant because you're putting your finger on sort of a, like there's a couple issues here. One is I could see people, first of all, people often confuse complicated with complex or convoluted with complex. I see that mistake happening. You've got all this complicated stuff. Right. But it's like, but it wasn't complex. Right. At times, some of Quentin Tarantino feels that way to me. This is complex. This is complicated, but it's not complex. Right. It doesn't have any of the machinery of frame breaking and frame making and complexification. It's just very complicated and sometimes even convoluted. It's like, what? So there's that. And then I'm remembered, reminded of Slingolin's book, Trying Not to Try. Right. You've got like you and this is, you know, and I'm very concerned with this problem in general because of dialectic into Dio Logos. If you're trying to do Dio Logos, you're failing. But that means you can't just wait for it to happen. And so there's things you can do in order to be overtaken by something that you're not doing, but you're only properly participating in. Did both of those make sense to you? Did both of those land is issue?
John engages Shawn in a discussion about the distinction between complicated and complex stories, and the "trying not to try" concept in the creative process. (36:18)
So maybe just ask you, how would you respond to both of those? The complicated versus complex and then the trying not to try thing. Oh, that's fantastic. This is just great, John, because you're asking the perfect questions. I mean, I aspire to get to become good at asking questions. That is how I follow Socrates. So yeah, it's just it's delicious to be here. OK, so so the complicated. OK, so what you're speaking to is also the schism in the narrative world. Right. People who aspire to be writers, they're either looking for one of two things. They're looking for the secret magic sauce that will transform them into Stephen King. Right. So that's a magical process. And then there are also then there's another sector of them that are looking for a formula. Right. So the formula would be what I would say the complicated series of algorithmic generation for a final thing. Right. So that would be a product generation methodology. Right. Right. Right. Right. And you'll remember when I started, I said, that's sort of the way I came into this. And then I've transformed into understanding. There's no such thing as a formula to to generate a perfect product in story. It's a process. Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. So story grids, it started as a methodology and it's now a process. Excellent. Excellent. OK, so that's that's sort of the way to talk about that.
Shawn emphasizes the criticality of embracing process over formula in writing and storytelling. (38:00)
And the other way is, well, what are the tools that enable the process? And how do you do the process? Well, the way I frame this for my friend, Tim, who's also the CEO of Story Grid, he's he's writing his own work. Right. Right. So this is how Story Grid sort of started to take off. Tim was an aspiring writer. He called me and said, well, you teach me how to write a story. And seven years later, I'm still trying to teach him how to write a story. But he's getting better and better and better. Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. And I've always said to him, Tim, it's not a formula. It's a process. And he's like, yes, I understand. So what's the formula? So anyway, so yesterday I was talking to Tim, he's working on a new project and he's doing it from a completely different frame. Right. His old frame was, tell me the organizational structure and all the markers I have to meet to make the perfect product. And I'm like, well, I can give you the organizational structure, but the actuality of you generating is up to you. I can lead you to the door, but you have to walk through and experience the experience. Right. Right. Right. And he didn't understand that. So I came up with a metaphor and the metaphor is sort of like this. It's sort of like you're a prize fighter. Say you're Muhammad Ali and you have to fight George Foreman in 1973 in Zaire.
Using the analogy of Muhammad Ali's fight against George Foreman, Shawn illustrates the inherent complexity and strategy in storytelling. (39:24)
Oh, yeah. Okay. And Muhammad Ali, you know, they took his crown away from him because of his politics. He's in a difficult position. And George Foreman is the strongest fighter ever. He knocks everyone out. So what does Muhammad Ali do? He has to plan a series of strategies for when he fights George Foreman. Right. So what does he do? He thinks and he's like, well, how can I make this work? Well, first I got to work out a lot. I got to get in the best shape of my life. And then I have to figure out what the great, the right strategy is when I have to fight Foreman. So he does that and he figures it out. I can't out hit George Foreman. He's too strong for me. But what I can do is take more punishment that George Foreman can. Right. So if I can get George Foreman to punch himself out on my body, he will open himself up in exhaustion later on. And that will be my. So he made a choice. I will sacrifice the pain to my body to win this fight. And he's like, okay, that's my strategy. Now, what am I going to do? Well, I'm going to get the population to root for me and get him really angry so that he furiously tries to knock me out every fight. And I'm just going to rope it down. And he then it goes into the ring and that's what he does. But after every round, he came back to the corner and I bet he wanted to quit. Yeah. Yeah. He said it was the closest he's felt to death in his life. Exactly. And you know what he did? He said to himself, rope it off. It's not time yet. Take more shots. You can do it. You can do it. And then when the time opened, he knocked out George Foreman. And he suffered the rest of his life because of that strategy. But in that moment, he transcended time and space. And now when I think about difficult things that I have to deal with in my life, I think about rope a dope man. Yeah. Yeah. Muhammad Ali. Imagine, imagine being him. Yeah. And that's a story that's complex because he let the chaos into his body. Yes. The punches because he had an order that he was going to stand up for. He had a worldview. I am the greatest. No one will beat me in that ring. He will beat himself. I will outsmart him. If I can't out punch him, I'll outsmart him. And that was the genius. Yes. And he lived that his entire life anyway. So that's a complex story. And there's a great, you know, when we were kings, there's a great documentary about that time. Right. So that's what I'm talking about when I'm talking about complexity. He didn't just go in there and go, bop, bop, done. Yeah. And those are the stories that ring false. So when you're writing and you're telling a story, you have to have the attitude. I'm going in with a strategy and then I'm going to get punched in the face. I have to flow with the fight. I can't win the fight before I get in the ring. Right. Right. Right. Right. That's where the complexity comes in. That's the magic. You go in with a strategy and it might Tyson said, then you get punched in the face. Then you go back and you ask your editor, I just got punched in the face. All those plans we made aren't working. And then they say, yes, they will. You just have to go out and execute and flow with the changes. And so that's how the magic comes and the complexity emerges from the process of so writing a story is a heroic journey as much as reading work. Ah, right. Right. What did the creative process, what did Tim say when you presented that metaphor to him?
Shawn discusses the concept of storytelling as a heroic journey, where the writer must undergo a transformative process to create a compelling narrative. (43:50)
He said, I don't want to get hurt. That's yeah. Good. Good. Good for Tim. That's honesty. Because that's, that's, that's what you're pushing up against. Okay. So my point is like, you cannot transcend without going down. Yeah. Yeah. You've got to get to the bottom before you can go through the wormhole. Yeah. To the top. Right. Right. And that's what a story does. The great stories, they bring your protagonist to the very bottom to an existential crisis when they have to come up with a Paul Tillich ultimate concern. Right. Right. Right. And they have to stop seeing the world as relevant to them. How are they relevant to the world? Right. That's the magical moment. Yeah. Right. The turning when the, the turn happens and they are now reorganized, reintegrated into some things serving some higher ultimate concern. And the writer has to actually go through that process as well. Yes. Because what they think that they're writing about is usually not what they're really writing about. So it's a, it's a very, you know, it can be a traumatic experience to tell a story and it's a heroic journey because you need to get to your own depths as the creator before you can have any ability to, to tell anybody else. I can't tell anyone else's story unless I've experienced those depths myself. So that means that becoming a good writer, well, I'm going to try this, but I mean, there's a sense in which you have got to have cultivate a certain capacity of virtue. Like you have to have courage and you have to have some discernment. You have to have a bunch of things in order above and beyond learning techniques or reading other people's work, which I acknowledge you have to do. I'm not saying that's irrelevant, of course, but there's, you have to be a person that can properly go through a profound transformation. It sounds like this is what you're arguing in order to write the kind of stories that bring other people to life. That's exactly correct. So you cannot bullshit transformation. I think we have a lot of that going on right now. We have a lot of people who bullshit transformation rather than undergo transformation. And that's because it hurts. Yeah, it hurts. And yeah, it hurts and it requires courage and it requires confronting loss. I mean, I like this metaphor. I think it's a beautiful, the rope dope and Muhammad Ali, like opening it himself up to punishment. You know, and this is very much often what happens in the therapeutic arc too, right? People go through this. So, I mean, this sounds like a simple question. And I hesitate to ask it, but because I know it's not simple, like, what happens when you confront writers with this? Like, I imagine some people just, or at least, you know, potential writers, I mean, I imagine some people just cop out or give up or turn away or run away. Does that happen? Or do you say like, or are people already gone through enough broken, you know, failed story writing that they're open to this? Like what? Sorry, I don't mean, I don't want to be invasive and I don't want you to give away confidentiality at all. I'm not, but I'm trying to, you understand the, the, what I'm trying to ask, right? I, yes, I know exactly what you're asking. And it's, it's, what happens is it's a demarcation line. So I, the way I phrase it is that you have aspiring amateurs confuse status of being a writer as a sort of a propositional thing. And then you have professionals. So the professional has written something that has transformed them. In the writing. In the writing. So you might ask your question, the question, why does Stephen King keep writing a novel every single year? Right. It's a process of self-examination. When you're a professional, you can't help it. You have these, these means within you, these personas that are screaming to get some attention. Right. Oh, wow. So this is a vaginal and Socratic and aspirational. Yeah. Sorry for interrupting. Keep going. Yeah. So, so the, the amateur confuses, it's sort of like the, the having mode in the being mode. Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. So the amateur confuses having the validation of being called a writer as, as being a writer. Whereas the professional is a writer. That's why sometimes you see people, I worked with Steven Pressfield for years, right? And he wrote a book. We worked on it together called the war of art. And it was about this very thing is about the, the difficulties of confronting your shadow resistance. And he, he speaks of the shadow careers that we all take on and we, you know, they don't hurt. They don't hurt us to do, we can sort of do the formulaic movement through the world and they don't hurt, but they don't provide any meaning to us at all. Right. Right. Right. And so what we start to do is start saying, Oh, there's no such thing as meaning. And our culture doesn't help us very much because it's reinforcing the meaninglessness because the only way to combat meaninglessness in, in is through hedonistic, you know, once that are, you know, anyway. Well, that's what's purported. I think the way to respond to the meaninglessness, like you say, through genuine transformation, right? But it's hard, right? It hurts. It hurts. It's it hurts. It's hard. And part of what can happen to see if this lands with you is people can get encountered that hurtness and the hardness. And then they think that what they need to do is come up with the ironclad method that will power them through. Right. Right. And then, you know, and I don't mean this in a disrespectful fashion, but kind of a Protestant work ethic, like boxer and animal farm. We just have to work harder. And if I just work harder, and that also can just get you totally boxed in. No pun intended. But that's probably his name, what it is. But anyways, yeah, I imagine you run into that too, where people get that and they think that the solution is to get to find the perfect weapon, right, to find the perfect method. Yeah, let me let me go back to the concept of the order, the chaos and the complexity, right? So you have ordered writers, overly ordered writers, and those are the boxers. And then you have your chaotic writers who want to try everything. Right. I'm open to everything. Yeah. And so their openness to I don't want to be boxed in by genre. I don't want to actually see the story that I'm telling is never been told before. And it's true and not true. Right. Yeah, it's absolutely true. I'm not just I can't their experience. I can't write, but it's not true, because there are patterns of intelligibility, of course, in our stories. And I spent 30 years tracking the patterns of all the genres. Right. Yeah. So that's the the substance of my narrative theory is that it's a dynamical system that has opponent processes. Right. And it turned out like it's not I'm not inventing anything. No, no, no. Yeah. No, I get that. But yeah, no, but I mean, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. I loved what you were saying. There's deep resonance. So maybe one last challenging question, and then we'll move towards a wrap up. How do you think we got into this? I mean, I'm not I'm not asking you to compete with awakening for the meeting crisis or anything like that. But like, like, what is it from like, I'm trying to ask from your point of view within the industry, that's how I'm trying to ask that, not the broad perspective of awakening for the meeting crisis and the cultural bubble. But like from within your perspective, because you've been in the industry for a long time, and you've worked in major things, I know you and I've talked before. So from that perspective, how did we get into this? Did it just get sort of overwhelmed by the meeting crisis crisis from without? Or was there stuff that was happening? Like, yeah, just now opening a question to you. Well, this is the this is the thing, John. Story, in my estimation, is a consilient science. And story has never been recognized and been looked at through a scientific lens. Right, right, right. So there is no there there. There is no compelling narrative theory. Right. There's just chaos. Right. So when I got into the industry, I'll just, you know, circle back to my experience. The way I was taught, taught was, was the mentor mentee relationship. Right. So are you familiar with the concept of chicken sexing? It sounds weird. I promise this will pay off. Okay. Okay. So there's such a thing as chicken sexers. And there was actually a movie about this anyway. And so what they do is they train people because it's very difficult to identify the chickens as male or female. But you can learn it if you're next to a chicken sexer. So let's say I wanted to become one, they show me they go, this is male, this is female, you try it. Yeah. And then they just trial and error. And unbelievably, you can learn how to do it just by learning. Yeah, right. So it's implicit learning.
The Science Behind Storytelling And The Gap In Current Perception
Shawn highlights the current gap in storytelling: the lack of a coherent narrative theory and its perception as an art, not a science. (55:12)
Right. So that's the way the structure of the system was, is that there is no science to storytelling. There is no form. There are no forms, patterns or signals embedded in stories. It's just a matter of, is this good or is this not good? So editors are trained to just chicken sex. And that's the way it's always been. Because anyone who who tries to come up with a formula or a form to describe the structure, function and organization of story, not a formula of the process, they are told you are betraying the humanities, you are bringing your reduction to science to this magical art. You're making art horrible, get out of here. But the reality is, story is both magical and science, right? So your signals, I'm either communicating with you well, I'm signaling information to you that you can understand or I'm not. It's the same thing in the story. How are the signals being heard by Sam? Right, right, right, right, right. So the big problem that how we got into this mess is nobody in my estimation has a coherent narrative theory. And that's what I've been working on for 30 years. Right. And guess what? My narrative theory is convergent with dynamical systems theory, with evolution, with entropy, with, you know, thermodynamics, with for e cogs eye with for e cogs eye. And so it's not like I'm inventing anything. I'm just putting new language on the logos of complexity. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Proposing a novel perspective, Shawn argues that using complexity and cognitive science can enhance our understanding of stories and their functions. (57:11)
That's our problem is that people are not looking at narrative as a scientific investigation, that we can use complexity and cognitive science as lenses to facilitate a deeper understanding of what a story is. Yeah, what's its function? And why do we have these terrible stories that end up, you know, bathing the world in blood? Yeah, can we fix those? Yes, we can. Can we fix the ones that say everything is meaningless, and all we have to do is be happy, you know, in our own small world, right? I love when you tell people, just tell me one thing that you want to leave behind if you die. Yeah, because that's meaning. Yeah, yes, exactly. So that's our problem is that we're not, and we can't generate new stories unless we know what a story is. You've made a really eloquent case for this. I've really enjoyed this. This is fantastic.
John appreciates Shawn's innovative approach, suggesting a future discussion to analyze popular stories. (58:10)
Hopefully, we can talk again. Oh, it'd be great. Yeah. It would be nice for perhaps you and I and Chris to, you know, reflect on some popular stories, and start, you know, bringing some of this critical reflection to bear on them because there's, you know, there's tremendous, and I mean this in the proper sense of the word, there's tremendous critique, and you've been engaging in it here. But it's also, it's not destructive, it's constructive in a really obvious and probable manner. I always like to give the guests on Voices with Raveki sort of the last word. It could be summative, it could be cumulative, it could be inspirational, aspirational. Just what, what, like, what would you like to say? Because we're going to talk again, but what would you like to say for now? Oh, well, I would like to say that just one last thing is that we don't just do this theoretically, right?
Shawn talks about the value of analyzing masterpieces to understand how expert writers craft complex stories. (59:01)
So the way we look at our stories is we define what we call masterworks. And so masterworks are things like Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, you know, there's a zillion of them, Old Man and the Sea. We've got a lot of them. And then we analyze them, right? So we use the toolbox from Storygrid to show how these master writers were able to create complex stories. And then we say, I don't know what to do about this, this one scene and go, well, let's take a look at what Edith Wharton did, right? This is how she solved that problem. So our masterworks are our bread and butter because they enable, they're the portal through which people can understand what we're talking about. Right. So the last thing I would like to say is that I've been deeply engrossed in doing a masterwork analysis of the matrix. Oh, wow. And so I'm analyzing it from the three sort of planes of perception that I use that, that on the surface, I call them above the surface and beyond the surface.
Ongoing Analysis Of 'The Matrix' Storyline By Shawn Coyne
Shawn shares his ongoing project, analyzing The Matrix and its relevance to contemporary society. (01:00:00)
And I'm going to be doing a masterclass examining every single scene and the, what I call the genre blueprint of the entire masterwork so that people can, because I do think the matrix, everybody is invoking it now, oh, we're living in the matrix, right? Well, what the matrix has to say is so relevant and important for us to wake up because it is, you know, it is Plato's parable of decay, right? Here. So I want to invite you, let's come back on voices with Ravecki and we'll do the matrix. Oh, great. I have a lot of thought about the matrix and obviously, Neil Platonism and Gnosticism, and there's Jung in there and there's all this other stuff that I'm deeply interested in. And I talk about the matrix in awakening from the meaning crisis. And then how we, and then of course, the movies that came afterwards sort of epitomize some of the failures that we're talking about. I won't even see the fourth movie. I haven't seen the other two. Oh, the four, the other three. Yeah. So, but let's come in and let's, that would be great. Yeah. That would be really, really good. That'd be fun. Yeah. Thank you so much, Sean. This has been wonderful. Oh, thank you, John. I really appreciate it.