#248 – The Artist’s Wants, Needs, and Desires


[00:00:00] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you level up your craft as a writer. My name is Tim Grahl, and I’m a writer and the behind the scenes guy here at Story Grid. This podcast episode is hosted by Story Grid certified editor, Kimberly Kessler, alongside Shawn Coyne, the Founder of Story Grid and an editor with over 30 years of experience. In this episode, Kim and Shawn discuss the artist’s wants, needs, and desires.

Before we jump in, I want to recommend you pick up a copy of the Story Grid Masterwork Guide to the Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, analyzed by Sophie Thomas. What are the must have moments in every mystery, and how did Christie pull them off in such an innovative way? What made the book’s narrative device so revolutionary? How does a great writer sustain narrative drive from page one to the ending pay off? Sophie brings expertise and passion for the writer’s craft to her analysis, as she answers all of these questions and more. You can get 20% off the Master Work Guide to the Murder of Roger Ackroyd  in all of our books at storygrid.com/books with the coupon code PODCAST. Okay, that’s all on the announcements. So let me turn it over to Kim and Shawn.


[00:01:18] KK: Okay, Shawn, you’ve been giving us an education in wants and needs and desires. It really brought up some really cool things on our last call about – We were talking about George R.R. Martin and this valence of language, and we were talking about knowing sort of like what the characters want, what the character’s motivation is. I think it really sparked something to take it all the way back to not just your protagonist but to you as an author, artists ourselves, right? So how do you think what, as the author artist, as the godlike figure in a story, our wants and needs and desires and how they inform the stories that we’re telling?

[00:02:02] SC: Well, I think this is a very, very deep question, and it’s a very, very good question, and it’s one that everybody should really put their minds to it and come up with some personal answers. But abstractly, just to look at the role of the artist in the culture itself because I think people get very confused, and they’re not really sure where the artist sits sort of in the land of importance, if that’s an appropriate word, because I think our culture is very much about artists are important in so much as they are popular or in so much as they are financially successful or attractive or whatever. So the artist seems to be a persona more than an actual archetype in our culture. So a lot of people call themselves artists, who aren’t really artists, and they dress like them, and they try to behave like them, but they’re not really filling up the archetype of an artist.

What is the archetype of the artist, and what does it have to do with wants, needs, and desires for the individual and for the culture at large? Well, I mean, that’s kind of a really great question to think about. I’ll just throw some thoughts out there. I think the archetype of the artist is the artist just sort of lives in this liminal place between they’re the great explorer. So generally, I think it was Jung who said or somebody like that that the artist sort of lives on the fringes of the cognitive consciousness of the culture. So the madness of the artist is often what we hear about because what she’s doing is she’s hanging out. She sort of like gets in a spaceship every morning or every afternoon or whenever she decides to do her work, and she sort of takes off from the ordinary world. She explores sort of the noumenal space like “What is this thing, why are we here, and what should we do about it?”

Social pose questions for herself that she has no real interest in getting an ultimate answer but enjoys the quest of trying to pursue possible processes that can get her closer to some kind of ultimate truth. The artist is really about exploring things that matter to her. So the first thing she has to do is like, “What’s the thing that matters most to me,” because that might be something to start with. Like the thing that keeps on popping up in my unconscious or my conscious and when I’m sleeping, when I’m dreaming, why do I keep – Why am I obsessed with reading every single True Crime book ever? Why am I obsessed with X, Y, and Zs kind of story. Then you can start mapping it out and start thinking, “Well, what’s the value? What’s the shared value of all these stories that are really capturing my attention?”

Because a couple of episodes ago, I talked about how your unconscious is trying to capture you. It’s really trying and the protagonist is – Their unconscious is trying to capture their attention so that they can dissipate some bad behaviors or maladaptive behaviors that have been lingering in the genetic chain for them for quite some time. So it’s the same thing you can do as the artist is like, “What are the things that really get me excited? Like the things that I know that if they ever come up on Netflix, I’m immediately going to look at them? What’s the value at stake?” From the value, you can start thinking about, well, there are certain stories that deal with that particular value. Justice. There’s the crime story and there’s any kind of number of crime stories that you can tell, just life and death. That’s an action story. Damnation. Well, that could – Or horror, the fate worse than death. What else? The complete, incomplete, incredible difficulty in understanding of evil. Where does it come from? Are some people just plain evil? Do they have no conscience? Like what about betrayal? What does it mean to actually perform? What is that about? Why did people do it? All those kinds of questions.

All right, so the artist has to sort of start pinching in and constraining where they’re going to take their spaceship, right? Because you can’t go to every point in space. That’s not exploration. That’s madness.

[00:06:51] KK: Right. That’s interesting. Right, madness.

[00:06:54] SC: So you got to like set your sights for Alpha Centauri and then head to Alpha Centauri, and you’re going to keep going there. The great thing about these destination points is you can never get there. So they’re very aspirational, and the exploration is what enables the artist to have revelations, to have insights, to look at things in a different way, to make a connection between an abstract idea with the personal specific experience that they can bring to bear.

Oh, man. This is why I’m so obsessed with that. This is that story from that episode and story from my past. You know what? I don’t think I want to do autobiography, thank you. But what I can do is map that story and use some fictional characters, and then I don’t have to abide by the “truth” of my episodic memory. I can play. I can use the imaginal space to create a story that would be better than that moment that really freaked me out. I’m kind of over it now, but the moment really freaked me out, and that could be the basis of a really great story.

So why am I talking about this? This is all about what you want, what you need, and what you desire. What you desire is to explore. The artist wants to explore, and what they need is to figure out why this particular realm, why this particular value. The way they can do that is by really locking in on that one kind of genre and playing in the imaginal world and creating stories based upon that. What they’re going to discover is great, amazing things that, well, if they do it properly, could become a masterwork that informs everyone. But that’s kind of like that’s the icing on the cake. That’s the cherry on the sundae. It’s not even close to the sundae.

So what we’re seeing here is is I’m starting with desire moving to need, and the bottom is the one because what we want is to be recognized. We want money. We want to be a best seller. We want our stories to be told for time immemorial. It doesn’t matter. That’s the last thing that you should put your attention on. What you should put your attention on is the craft necessary to be able to explore those things that the grand desire is to figure out those three questions. Who am I? What is this thing? And what should I do about it? What is, what ought, and how do I know? That’s the trinity of philosophical explorations since the beginning of time.

[00:09:53] KK: It seems like what we do, it seems like it mirrors what our characters are doing because our characters are actually mirroring what humans are doing. So it’s really interesting, like previously, when we talked about wants and needs and what we’re conscious of versus what we’re unconscious of. But because we are the authors, we can consciously pursue our unconscious. So that seems like a really cool superpower that we have. That we can we can go after it intentionally and try to uncover it.

[00:10:25] SC: That’s right. That’s a really, really good way of looking at it. So the things that are capturing your attention are messages, and they’re messages from your unconscious that this is a place that you need to make a spaceship and go and explore. So you as the artist just making that commitment to explore that space by, what, deep reading in that space, learning the conventions and obligatory moments of that particular genre, understanding the value inherent, understanding heroic journey 2.0, the transformational process that your protagonist needs to undergo in the story for it to resonate at the highest level, that would be helpful. Then knowing the organizational patterns of beat scenes, all of the craft stuff of practice and procedure that builds story from the bottom up and from the top down.

So, yeah, that’s a really good point is that just paying attention to what captures your attention is a really big help for the artist. Because then it will help you hone in on what they think about it. It’s a way of having you figure out what it is that you believe, what it is that is most important to you.

[00:12:00] KK: A personal question, what would you say has been that you found most fascinating over the years as an editor, as a reader, as a writer? What are some of those answers for you?

[00:12:11] SC: It’s funny because when I was growing up, I really did not like to read so much. I was definitely a science guy.

[00:12:18] KK: So you mean there’s hope for us.

[00:12:20] SC: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I found that I probably am dyslexic. But I didn’t know it when I was a kid because they didn’t have it back then or they didn’t care. So I found it very difficult to read, obviously. So I’ve made a commitment to myself. When I go to college, I’m never going to read another book. I’m just going to do pure science.

[00:12:44] KK: The irony of this is correcting them.

[00:12:47] SC: Yeah. So then I went to college and then I did the science thing. On the side, I couldn’t help it and I started. I had to take these core classes. This is why you should get a liberal education because the core classes, you think that they’re a pain in the butt and then you take them and then you read something. You’re like, “Wow, that was pretty good.” That kind of skewed me back. Then after I got out of college and I muddled around for a while, then I was like, “You know what? I really do like stories. For some reason, I’m attracted to them. Why don’t I just get a job in publishing?”

Then I became more and more obsessed with story, a psycho technology, so story as a consilient phenomenon. What I mean by consilient, it’s both essential, meaning it has an essence, meaning there is a science to it. But it’s also noumenal. Like we don’t know where it came from. I mean, obviously, it was the thing that sort of moved us out of the now in the cave, and it created the future because we can project into the future using simulation and story. So we don’t know how that came online, just as we don’t know how linguistics and verbal communication really came online. It just sort of evolved and emerged, and then it’s been leveling up since then.

So the consilience of the ability to look at story from a scientific mathematical point of view is very appealing to me. Then the pursuit of the noumenal is another one. Then I love the whole enchilada, right? I want the whole elephant. So I do love all particular genres. But my big thing is like there’s got to be a meta. What’s the meta genre? That’s what got me into Jung and Campbell and all those people and then cognitive science. Then at the same time that Jung and Campbell and cognitive science and the cognitive revolution came online and people like Claude Shannon and cybernetic theory and Norbert Wiener and all those people.

So it all converged for me over the last 20 or 30 years, and I’ve been just at it since and it’s – I love getting in my spaceship every morning and just going out there and looking for the bridges. How can I bridge cybernetic theory and information theory to the five commandments of storytelling? What does that mean? What’s B.F. Skinner got to do with any of this, right? Oh, it’s operant learning behavior. Oh, where’s Jung? Oh, he’s in the unconscious. Oh, where’s Maslow? Oh, here he is. So you can sort of like bring together all of these giants in the field. Where’s Edith Wharton? Where’s Jane Austen? You bring them together in this conciliate realm, and it’s just the most – I mean, I feel so great because I was lucky enough to actualize at a place where I have a few years left, where I can keep working? Knock on wood?

That’s where I found my desire was to enable my potential and to actualize my potential. I didn’t know what my potential was until I followed what captured my attention with great clarity and desire and want and need all wrapped into one. Like if this is where it’s leading me, I’m just going to go with it. For some reason, I want to get into publishing. I don’t have the voluminous reading experience that I should but I’m going there. Then I made up for lost time. I’ve read a ton of stuff since then.

[00:16:43] KK: That’s so encouraging I think. Like I love the freedom too that says like, “Follow what you’re interested in, right?” I think there’s a lot of like pressure. I think socially or we do it to ourselves, and all that like to figure yourself out like, “What do you want to be? What do you want to do?” Like all of those things and there’s a lot of pressure that like, well, that’s a worthy sort of direction to go in your life, and that’s not so much. It’s the classic, right? I was just thinking of Dead Poets Society, right? You got the kid who wants to act and the dad who doesn’t want him to, who wants him to just like – You know what I mean? And just how like you have all these influences that are telling you what’s a good path or not.

I love that. I love the story of listening to your inner voice and finding it and listening to it and following where it’s pointing you. You don’t know, right? You don’t necessarily know where it’s going to lead. I’m very interested in that story, right? Like the how do you find your inner voice and what is it telling you and like where it leads you to make those discoveries. It’s fascinating, like you’re saying, like that your interest in science early on and not an interest in reading has now led you to understanding the science of story and teaching it and like giving it back to the world so that we can understand the science of storytelling and tell better stories.

So, yeah, it feels like to circle back to our thing, we’re creating that thriving community of we’re greater than the sum of our parts, right? So everybody doing their specific contribution and just trusting that like following the thing that is interesting to you will have a inherent value to someone other than just you. That’s kind of a faith thing, right? Like I’m just going to believe that this is going to be worthwhile to someone. It’s not just interesting to me, right? Like I’m going to believe that and I’m going to pursue that. That’s a good story.

[00:18:47] SC: I think there has to be a level of, I don’t know, this is kind of – It’s an interesting idea, but here’s the trick. Would you do it if nobody ever cared? Let’s say, you’re on an island and you’re alive and you’ve got access to pretty much anything that’s interesting to you. But the only thing is that nobody’s going to go, “Oh. Yay, Kim. Thanks for doing that,” like that’s the thing that is calling to you. So like I can honestly say, “This is my thing.” Like I would just be – It’d be like the guy with a long beard on the island, like writing crazy notes to myself like, “Oh, yes,” and then shouting at the moon.

But I know I’d be talking about inciting incidents and about the connections between above the surface, beyond the surface, and on the surface, and the need and desire. I mean, so that’s tricky. But then again what if nobody really came to the party after I published the Story Grid? What if it just like nobody cared? Then maybe I would have been like, “Yeah. Well, I guess I should find something else that can support me.” So it’s very difficult. I think the trick is how much time you spend in the flow state. So if you’re consistently in the flow state, pursuing something that’s interesting to you, just keep doing that because eventually the flow state is a really good barometer that you’re on to something.

[00:20:32] KK: Yes, exactly. That rings absolutely true to me. Like that’s my – When people are like, “So what do you want to do,” I’m like, “I just want to get paid to be in flow state.” So I’m trying to figure out what flow state is.

[00:20:42] SC: That’s exactly right.

[00:20:44] KK: Yeah. Like please, please just let me live there. I just want to live there. It’s the best feeling ever.

[00:20:48] SC: Yeah, because it’s timeless. It’s exciting. It’s not too exciting. It’s just –

[00:20:54] KK: I can handle it.

[00:20:55] SC: It’s just right there. Yeah, yeah. You feel good.

[00:20:59] KK: Yeah, it’s so good.

[00:21:00] SC: You can sleep well at night. You do all the chores after you’re in it for an hour a day. It’s almost like a really good panacea to keep you grounded and to give you a lot of meaning that nobody can take from you. People can be nasty to you, cut you off in traffic. But if you’ve been in the flow state that day, you’re like, “Yeah, whatever.”

[00:21:24] KK: Right. Yeah.

[00:21:26] SC: Go F yourself.

[00:21:27] KK: Yeah. Like, “Oh, you haven’t been in flow state today. No wonder you’re grumpy.”

[00:21:32] SC: We should have a bumper sticker [inaudible 00:21:34]. Get in the flow state, bitch.

[00:21:38] KK: I love it. I love it. Yeah, that’s great. So, yeah, that feels like a really great place to sort of wrap this series of just really encouraging everyone to not only dig into their own unconscious to really uncover the things that are really calling to them, those themes, right? That maybe have some lineage in their families, the pattern that they just keep noticing that keeps coming up, the stories that they’re drawn to. Then to really dig in to flow state and really get to that place of just practicing their craft and flow state and just yet trusting that. Doing that regularly will lead to something, right? It will –

[00:22:18] SC: I think it will, without question.


[00:22:21] KK: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid Podcast. If your heart is set on telling an internal genre story but is struggling with how to get it on the page, I invite you to connect with me for a free consult at kimberkessler.com. That’s K-I-M-B-E-R-K-E-S-S-L-E-R.com. For everything Story Grid-related, check out storygrid.com and make sure to pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter, so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe.

Also, make sure you go to storygrid.com/books to see all the titles that we’ve released through Story Grid Publishing. If you’d like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast. If you’d like to reach out to us directly, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid. Lastly, if you would like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on Apple podcasts and leaving a rating and review. Thanks so much for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid. We’ll see you next week.



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Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.