Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Carl Jung

Sailing the Sea of Story ~~~ Ursula K. Le Guin


I am a writer; but, I’ve rarely read books about “how” to write.

I’m from the school of read omnivorously, absorb grammar and syntax usage, rub up against all kinds of storytelling; then, write my own…

However, I did recently read Ursula K. Le Guin‘s,  Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story.

The book has Exercises (from workshops she did); Examples, from accomplished authors; and, Further Reading recommendations; but, of course, most of the book is Ursula talking to you about writing.

The best I can do to honor her book on this blog is to share a few choice excerpts and hope writers will read it; and, that readers will tell their writer friends about it.

First is her explanation of why Plot is not the same as Story:

“I define story as a narrative of events (external or psychological) that moves through time or implies the passage of time and that involves change. I define plot as a form of story that uses action as its mode, usually in the form of conflict, and that closely and intricately connects one act to another, usually through a causal chain, ending in a climax. Climax is one kind of pleasure; plot is one kind of story. A strong, shapely plot is a pleasure in itself. It can be reused generation after generation. It provides an armature for narrative that beginning writers may find invaluable. But most serious modern fictions can’t be reduced to a plot or retold without fatal loss except in their own words.

“The story is not in the plot but in the telling. It is the telling that moves.”

The next excerpt might be more fully understood if you first read my past post, How The Words Get On The Screen/Page

“Some people see art as a matter of control. I see it mostly as a matter of self-control. It’s like this: in me there’s a story that wants to be told. It is my end; I am its means. If I can keep myself, my ego, my wishes and opinions, my mental junk, out of the way and find the focus of the story, and follow the movement of the story, the story will tell itself. Everything I’ve talked about in this book has to do with being ready to let a story tell itself: having the skills, knowing the craft, so that when the magic boat comes by, you can step into it and guide it where it wants to go, where it ought to go.”

One final excerpt:

“There are a limited number of plots (some say seven, some say twelve, some say thirty). There is no limit to the number of stories. Everybody in the world has their story; every meeting of one person with another may begin a story.

“I say this in an attempt to unhook people from the idea that they have to make an elaborate plan of a tight plot before they’re allowed to write a story. If that’s the way you like to write, write that way, of course. But if it isn’t, if you aren’t a planner or a plotter, don’t worry. The world’s full of stories . .  . All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you’ll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you’re going, but the rest works itself out in the telling. I like my image of ‘steering the craft’, but in fact the story boat is a magic one. It knows its course. The job of the person at the helm is to help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.”

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Words ~ They Can Harm or Heal ~ Why?


Whether you’re reading a novel  on the beach or the side-panel on a box of cereal, words are out to get you

Right where it matters most—in your mind and heart.

Of course, the way words get you (or, get to you) can range from euphoria to horror and understanding their power would seem to be something we all could afford to appreciate more.

In an essay you can download from the left side-bar, What Are Words?, I gave a simple example of the power of words that brought up parts of our mind we don’t often pay attention to:

“Let’s say the word-symbols on the screen/page are: ‘John walked down the dirt road, happy that he had no idea where he was going’.

“’John walked down the dirt road…’, will more than likely call up images stored in the personal unconscious, though, if you asked a thousand readers to describe that dirt road, you’d have a thousand different dirt roads, depending on the individual reader’s experience. {imagine for a second a reader who had never seen or read about a dirt road…}

“Of course, if a reader had been down some dirt roads, the image would be colored with some blend of those experiences. If they’d had a scare while on a dirt road, that feeling-image may come to mind and they may worry about John.

“If they’d been on a dirt road as a child and had an adult molest them, as well as having consigned that memory to their Shadow, they may break out in a sweat and have an anxiety attack

So, the human mind seems to work in tandem with the bare words to cause the often-surprising reactions we have to these written or verbal symbols.

Have you ever had a surprising or shocking reaction to a set of words?

Do you think it helps to know more about the workings of the mind in order to protect yourself from words?

Do we need protection from words?

What about folks who are rigid about never using certain words?

What about the effects of words that don’t obviously cause consternation but still wield great power we’re not consciously considering?

And, the ultimate question about words, one we may never have a complete answer for: Why do words have such power?
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This Page Intentionally Blank


This Page Intentionally Blank is the name of a blog that has a recent post called, Making Characters Real. I saw the title and immediately thought of two posts I’d written: Very Special CharactersVery Special Characters ~ Revisited. I touched on minor, significant, major, very special, and meta characters. But, all characters need a rationale for their being–some underlying psychology that helps the author create them and justifies their actions in the story.

So, up steps Bill Jones, with his blog post on making characters real

Ever feel surprised by something that immediately reminds you of a pleasurable time in your life? Kind of like being swept up and back at the same time.

Bill did that for me by bringing up a personality test I’d studied and used extensively back in the 90s–the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators. That’s the “official page” but you can find a use-it-right-now version by checking out Bill’s blog post.

He sketches-out the way he uses the personality types in the Myers-Briggs system to give substance to his characters as well as find fascinating personality combinations for character interactions.

Bill gives a hint of the usefulness of the personality types by showing his own profile:

“ENTJs are natural born leaders. They live in a world of possibilities where they see all sorts of challenges to be surmounted, and they want to be the ones responsible for surmounting them. They have a drive for leadership, which is well-served by their quickness to grasp complexities, their ability to absorb a large amount of impersonal information, and their quick and decisive judgments. They are ‘take charge’ people.”

I hadn’t answered the profile questions in quite awhile (yes, your profile can change over time) so I took the test again. Here’s my profile:

“To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of ‘definiteness’, of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise — and INTJs can have several — they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don’t  know.”

So, I hadn’t changed from the last time I took the test but then I’m 65 and rather settled in my ways :-)

Do check out Bill’s post and, if you take the personality test (it’s relative short), it would be great if you came back and let me know how well it captured your basic nature.

I’d also be intensely interested if you shared how you think this method of sketching out personality could be used in character creation!
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How The Words Get On The Screen/Page ~ Part One


Even though my theories of word creation and transmission are my own conceptions, they are based on years of study–with Carl Jung, my Muse, other psychologists, various spiritual mentors, arguments with myself, and conversations with other writers.

I find Jung’s ideas of the Mind the most useful because they’ve proven their practical value.

Let’s start with a word-symbol formula of the full process, from word-creation to word use, by showing the various areas of mind/body involved, in the order they’re activated:

Collective Unconscious–>Personal Unconscious–>Shadow–>Conscious Mind–>Brain–>Body–>Screen/Paper

Collective Unconscious: This is where all the Archetypes hang out and have sex with each other. The CU is full of Psychological Energy Patterns like Mother, Father, Child, Lover, Murder, Transmutation, Hero, Wise Old Person, and tons more. For more background knowledge check out this entry in Wikipedia.

These metaphysical entities are called Psychological Energy Patterns because they have no specific conscious form. For instance, the Mother Archetype is no ones’ particular mother and has no particular traits or personality–She belongs to all of us since this is the Collective Unconscious. In a way, she contains all the possible traits and powers of all possible mothers. She’s also the source of the word, “mother”.

All these Energy Patterns are always blending and interacting–having “Sex”. This constant creative activity, deep within us, is the ultimate source of all our thoughts since it’s believed the Collective Unconscious gives birth to the Conscious Mind.

The qualities of the main, person-like Archetypes are what give birth to the characters of a story; their interactions are what produces the plot.

But, we don’t just peer into the CU with our ego-mind and snatch plot, character, and word.

By the way, it’s the intense, creative interactions of all the Archetypes that produce what I’ve been calling Real Words. The Words that hold the complete Meanings. For example, not the mere word-symbol, “tree”, or the various forms of the personal word, “Tree”, that each of us has packed with slightly different Meanings, but the Real Word, “TREE”, that contains all of whatever can be considered Tree-ness

Personal Unconscious:

This is where the broad, ultra-creative, endlessly active Words produced by the Interactions of the Archetypes become more like what most people call “words”.

The PU is where we can get a first glimpse of an image of a mother or a tree or a murderer.

The PU also has a lively interaction with the Conscious Mind and stores memories and concepts and words that the Conscious Mind has labored over. But it uses the infusion of creativity from the Collective Unconscious to massage the memories/concepts/words so that, even though the word “tree” is there in the Personal Unconscious all the time, it’s being “worked-on” by both the Collective and Conscious Mind–it’s evolving

Also, the words in the Personal Unconscious are the ones that have the normal “word-histories” that an etymology dictionary contains.

This mutual interaction of Collective Unconscious with Personal Unconscious and Personal Unconscious with Conscious Mind aren’t the only instances of creative “loops” in that schematic, straight-line formula I proposed earlier:

Collective Unconscious–>Personal Unconscious–>Shadow–>Conscious Mind–>Brain–>Body–>Screen/Paper

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When The Muse Speaks . . .


Any of you remember the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the nine muses of myth? Here are their respective fields of museness: epic poetry, history, love poetry and lyric art, music, tragedy, hymns, dance, comedy, and astronomy.

Are you a person who creates in one of those areas?

Do you think there are muses for other creative activities?

What about the muse of Fatherhood?

How about a muse for bricklayers?

Perhaps each person has a muse specialized for whatever they choose to do with their life?

I’ll vote for that last one without denying all the other possibilities :-)

It’s been said the muse is a shape-shifter. Which could mean, for a creative writer, the muse plays the part of all the characters inhabiting the author’s head.

Then there’s the issue of whether the muse is really “in” the head. Can’t the heart abide a muse’s process? Couldn’t a muse hang out on one’s shoulder?

My muse has been with me since I was born. She made me do things as a child that my mother wondered at and my father abhorred.

I worked hard in my twenties to make her proactively real. It’s a process called Active Imagination

She’s changed her name many times and she usually, of late, speaks to me without using words.

Her latest command was to be more attentive to this blog–make it shine

Since I know the task isn’t just on my shoulders–she doesn’t issue commands that she doesn’t help me with–I feel I can make the effort.

I do hope that small percentage of my readers who leave comments will let me, and her, know how we’re doing
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