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Lesson#26 Mirrors, Spirals, and Story Fractals

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

#Verigo #structure #insidethescenes

What do fractals have to do with storytelling?

Most storytellers consider their creation to be a chaotic experience but recognize it as successful or whole and finished once the elements of that creation fall into some kind of order. It is known that for a stronger emotional impact it’s better if that ‘order’ is not visible or apparent at first glance, but rather felt like an emotional truth in the subtext. For successful correlation and communication, the patterns that are built into the story should at least resemble that elusive order of the human psyche.

Storytelling structures are like successful architecture: if we are inside a great building, we are going to feel comfortable and enjoy its beautiful design, but once we are outside the building, we will also feel its mightiness.

For the architects’ (storytellers) structures function as just the foundation of their constructions, but if the match between the idea and the plot is perfect, then they speak the language of the ultimate truth, or rather they let in the truth through its patterns, like rays of light that find their unique way through blinds to create the perfect meaning and perfect atmosphere.

The most fascinating notion about the chaos that surrounds us in our lives and in nature is that there is a hidden (or not so hidden) order to it. If we look closer or deeper, we realize that under the illusion of chaos, there is the real beauty in the world that is always hidden in patterns and ultimately, those patterns show us that order actually does exist.

If we would like to find a storytelling model that resembles life and nature the most from the perspective of the main arch, it would not be a circle, but rather a spiral.

Our stories never really end, as our learning never really finishes. As soon as we hit some kind of awareness, the story circle goes one level up and up and up… this learning process continues to infinity. Because of that, it is important to see that the geometry of the main arc of every story is closer to a spiral than it is to a circle, which is a closed system.

Intuitive Screenwriting Wheel

Through the whole Intuitive screenwriting wheel system, we mentioned mirrors as the main communication model inside this wheel-spiral. In every stage, every archetype communicates (and characters emotionally evolve) with the help of the opposing archetype. The stages also communicate with their opposing, mirroring stages.

The main arc, acts, scenes and fractals

As you know by breaking down the architecture of a film, we first recognize the main arc, then the acts and within the acts, we have scenes that are built upon a unity of time and space. Within the scenes, we can find some emotional beats that I think are also gathered in some kinds of patterns.

If we imagine a film as an “organism,” the “single cells” of this organism I see as “fractals.”

“A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems.”

I will use term fractal because it suits me and my theory the most, but have in mind that Robert McKee the author of Story, defines the smallest particle of a story, as a ‘beat’ (as in a heartbeat). For him, that one beat is one action/reaction exchange and one scene can have many beats. So, you may have a ‘break up scene’ but the couple might try different approaches or tactics to fulfill their wishes. One might apologize, while the other might attack, one might cry, while the other might lie, one might want to leave, while the other might blame the other.

One emotional pair of ‘action vs. reaction’ will rhythmically be one beat for Robert McKee. And of course, this does work.

But for me, it is also very important to recognize that the smallest story particles, fractals or ‘atoms’ consist of the same material as the whole ‘organism,’ – so we can say, that everything about, around and inside one film belongs to the same DNA pattern.

Having that in mind, I see the Intuitive screenwriting wheel not just as the backbone of a story or as the main arc structure that we have been exploring in-depth, but also as the emotional material with which we can build our scenes.

Let’s see how it works in films, inside the scenes, without drawing any final conclusions yet.

And please don’t think that what I am trying to prove here has anything to do with robbing art of its playfulness and uniqueness. I would actually like to show that stories and films are built into the collective unconscious and as much as we would like to escape this truth, it will serve us more if we bring light to it.

I will use the screenplay of Vertigo, written by Alec Copple and Samuel Taylor, which you are familiar with as I analyzed the whole film in the previous post, step by step. Here I will put two scenes under the microscope: ‘the apartment sequence’ at the beginning of the film, and the final scene, in order to see how action and dialogue (in action) go through emotional shifts and how the archetypes can help us to recognize these shifts in characters. Once again, I’ll use the Ana Lasic story template which you can read more about here.


EXAMPLE 1: The scene from the first half of the movie uses the first half of the wheel stages in their order.


It is fresh, light, and simple, and crowded with books, phonograph records, pictures. The most striking feature of the apartment is the view: The rising hills of San Francisco framed by a large picture window. To one side of the window is the owner of the apartment, MAJORIE WOOD, called MIDGE, at a commercial drawing table concentrating with professional intensity on a drawing of a slim, a elongated woman with few features and fewer clothes. A brassiere sits on a table at Midge's elbow, and she studies it as she draws. Midge Wood is about thirty-seven, attractive, straight-forward, well-but-simply-dressed; she wears glasses but does not whip them an and off as they do in the movies. The music comes from a

gramophone. The other occupant of the room is Scottie. He sits in a big chair, with his feet stretched out on an ottoman and his head far back. There is a drink on a table nearby.

He rouses himself to reach for it, and in doing so knocks over his walking stick that has been propped against the chair. He reaches out to catch it, and in the quickness of trying to keep it from falling, he wrenches his body around.

Warrior →Fool (The exposition of a wound — ego) BATTLEFIELD

Pain caused by the wrong identity vs. all possible identities.