CHAPTER 11 The Memory Palace (complete)
After discovering the Philosopher’s Stone and applying many Jungian techniques to aid in its use, it might seem that the subject would be pretty well exhausted. Anything else of importance to help the author would be difficult to imagine. Well, get ready for another big one. I realize you won’t be able to comprehend its significance at first, but you’ll have to trust me on this. You haven’t learned the most important thing. Not yet. I call it “the most important” somewhat in jest but also because it is the mechanism that populates the Imaginarium with your story and enables contemplation of it. This new discovery will weld your mind to the process. In many ways, it’s what enables you to wield the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s known as “the memory palace.”
And yes, it will also address the worthiness issue. Preliterate ancient Greek society measured a man by the quality and expanse of his memory. In a time when any thought, even those spoken, could vanish into thin air after the uttering, possibly never to be thought or heard again, memory was everything. For many occupations, including law, professional rememberers called mnemones were government officials and much in demand.
So here we go. Again.
Chances are you haven’t thought about it, but one of the greatest assets when writing an extended narrative is a good memory. By “memory” I’m specifically talking about remembering, instantly and without external aid, the details and structure of your story — its content and orchestration. When you hold details in Consciousness, it causes a scintillating effect something like viewing the primary stars of a constellation and watching the mind’s eye create the associated image. If you look at the constellation Orion, you immediately see the four stars at the shoulders and knees, and that fuzzy band of stars in between that represents the belt and dagger, but your imagination then goes to work, and you intuitively start to envision the giant huntsman. Similarly, the more details of your story you can hold in your mind’s eye at once, the more the story will build around them, and the better attuned they’ll be to your needs.
Oral formulaic thought and expression ride deep in consciousness and the unconscious, and they do not vanish as soon as one used to them takes pen in hand. [Ong, page 26]
We also know that the mind never quits dreaming. Mental activity in the unconscious is continuous and ongoing, and the mind doesn’t limit itself to just repeating what was put there but will ruminate on it, evaluate and revise it to suit itself relative to a higher form of knowledge in an even more remote psyche.
It’s in fact much more important than that, and to reinforce how important it is, consider how memory helps form our own self-image. Here’s what Joshua Foer, author of the 2011 non-fiction bestseller Moonwalking with Einstein, says about memory:
I thought of my own self fifteen years ago, and how much I’ve changed in the same period. The me who exists today and the me who existed then, if put side by side, would look more than vaguely similar. But we are a completely different collection of molecules, with different hairlines and waistlines, and, it sometimes seems, little in common besides our names. What binds that me to this me, and allows me to maintain the illusion that there is continuity from moment to moment and year to year, is some relatively stable but gradually evolving thing at the nucleus of my being. Call it a soul, or a self, or an emergent byproduct of a neural network, but whatever you want to call it, that element of continuity is entirely dependent on memory. [page 86]
Memory is crucial for a strong sense of self. We are mythical beings. We only know ourselves by memories of what we’ve done and what has happened to us. Those memories have formed through a sense of story. In an absolute sense, identity is the story of our lives. The way we put that story together is self-image. For a strong self-image, we need a series of well-defined successes throughout our own history. Memory is important almost beyond imagining. Here’s more of what Joshua Foer has to say about it:
How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember. We’re all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories. And to the extent that we control our lives, we do so by gradually altering those habits, which is to say the networks of our memory. … Our ability to find humor in the world, to make connections between previously unconnected notions, to create new ideas, to share in a common culture: All these essentially human acts depend on memory. Now more than ever, as the role of memory in our culture erodes at a faster pace than ever before, we need to cultivate our ability to remember. Our memories make us who we are. They are the seat of our values and source of our character. …memory training is not just for the sake of performing party tricks; it’s about nurturing something profoundly and essentially human. [pages 269/270]
Although I may have some quibbles concerning how all-inclusive these statements are, I believe he’s essentially correct that our self-identity is mostly dependent on memory. His statement that memory affects “How we perceive the world” has enormous implications for the creative writer of fictional worlds. What we remember of it determines how well we can imagine and describe it, and also how well our characters will function within it. This sounds an awful lot like the path to worthiness. We’re always participating in the twin alchemical processes of becoming worthy while trying to transmute lead into gold.
Not only is the author dependent on memory when constructing the story, but the reader/viewer is also dependent on his/her own memory of what has happened in the story to make it come alive in the imagination. When you think about it, story is the time history of events, and if your audience can’t remember what has happened, what is happening will make no sense, and what will happen will be of no importance. Plus, you lose the benefit of anticipation. Boredom sets in, and the reader will close the book or the audience will walk out of the theatre. You may think that the reader/viewer is responsible for what he/she remembers while reading or viewing the story, but that’s just the author trying to shirk her/his responsibility toward the reader. The story can be constructed in such a way that it enhances the reader’s memory. That’s simply part of being a good storyteller — telling it so that you activate the reader’s natural memory skills.
This is beginning to sound like I’m dumping a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the author. Do we have any proof that techniques such as this have been used before and are effective? Well, how about Homer? Yes, the first great storyteller of Western Civilization used memory techniques that had been passed down from generation to generation for millennia. The basic stories behind The Iliad and The Odyssey were not the invention of Homer, who flourished around 700 BC. The stories of Achilles and Odysseus, who were undoubtedly real-life people and lived some 450 years earlier, came to him through an oral tradition. If you’ve ever read even a portion of these two epics, you realize that they are major creative works, extraordinarily complex, full of cultural traditions, religion, strange characters, spirits, gods, and violent action. What you will undoubtedly also notice is that they have a lot of repetition and other ticish characteristics that have puzzled scholars for millennia. What Homer did, as a part of the oral tradition, was to structure the story material with mnemonic devices to help him remember the events and their order. As Walter J. Ong put it, “[The Iliad] is built like a Chinese puzzle, boxes within boxes…” [Orality and Literacy, page 27] Milman Parry first brought this to light back in the early part of the 20th century. Much of Homer’s technique was apparent to his audience, and this also helped them understand and enjoy the story.
To appreciate the relationship between memory and the creative act, first realize that Mnemosyne, mother of all nine Muses, is the personification of memory. When we speak of “mnemonic” devices, we are unknowingly referring to the goddess. At the opening of Chapter 9, when we entered the Iris of Time and walked into the Imaginarium, the first person we encountered was Mnemosyne. So, first of all comes memory, and inspiration from the Muses, the daughters of Mnemosyne, follows in her train. All stories are in some way a mythology, the essence of which is stored away in the Unconscious.
It’s the same with a novel, a play, or a movie. Even a video game. And here lies the secret of writing something that your reader can’t put down. That “hook” at the beginning of a story that drags the reader/viewer/player in, in all seriousness, is nothing more than something that sticks in the memory and pulls the reader forward. The trick, of course, is how to do that effectively. Conflict, that upon which we have built our plot pentagon, has already tugged the reader into the future through that desire to know how the conflict is resolved. How do we get it to stick in the memory?
The author must work toward helping the audience remember what has come before, yet should not leave traces of his craft that aren’t beneficial. C. S. Lewis put it this way:
…all art is made to face the audience. Nothing can be left exposed, however useful to the performer, which is not delightful or at least tolerable to them. [A Preface to Paradise Lost, page 19]
We have to make it irresistible to memory without making it obvious, and memory puts certain demands on what it wants to retain. We first have to solve this problem for the author and then also address how to help the audience without insulting their intelligence. Can we use Homer’s technique? Probably not because it is too intrusive for today’s tastes. We have another ancient Greek source for memory techniques that will serve us better. It was born of tragedy.
The poet Simonides of Chios (circa 500 BC) was at one time called out of a celebration, and just as he stepped outside, the building within which the celebration was being held collapsed, killing all inside. When family members came to claim their dead loved ones, the corpses were too mangled to identify. Simonides realized that he could remember where everyone was sitting by replaying his memory of the events in which each was involved. It seems that the mind is better at remembering spacial locations than facts. Plus, images are also easy to remember. Using location and events as memory aids, he showed each family member where to find their dead loved one. This technique became widely used throughout the ancient world, and has more recently come to be known as “the memory palace.” Even though the origin of the technique has been historically attributed to Simonides, it may have actually come from Pythagoras, of all people, who would still have been alive when Simonides was young. The technique has never died out. It’s used by many people today, and fuels the memories of international championship competitions.
The story of Simonides’ discovery of the memory palace technique has traditionally come down to us through the writings of Cicero, but scholars today realize that the author of the Rheortica Ad Horennium, in which it is documented, is unknown. I’ve included the part of the Rheortica Ad Horennium that applies to the memory palace at the end of this book as Addendum I.
The importance of these memory techniques is also born out by a recent article in the New York Times. Three researchers, Dr. John O’Keefe, along with Dr. May-Britt Moser and her husband, Dr. Edvard I. Moser, have started decoding how memory works:
In 2005, they and their colleagues reported the discovery of cells in rats’ brains that function as a kind of built-in navigation system that is at the very heart of how animals know where they are, where they are going and where they have been. They called them grid cells.
On the most profound level, Dr. O’Keefe, the Mosers and others speculate that the way the brain records and remembers movement in space may be the basis of all memory. This idea resonates with the memory palaces of the Renaissance, imagined buildings that used spatial cues as memory aids. The technique dates to the ancient Greeks. In this regard, neuroscience may be catching up with intuition. [James Gorman, “A Sense of Where You Are,” 4-29-2012]
It’s quite possible that Socrates, a couple hundred years after Simonides, used a memory palace, or at least some form of mnemonic technique that served him well. Keep in mind that Socrates never wrote anything, and it would seem that he kept all his arguments in memory, possibly even composing them without benefit of stylus and waxed tablet. Perhaps Socrates’ memory techniques made him the genius that he was. The surprising thing about it is that we have, through Plato of course, a firsthand account of Socrates in the act of exercising his mental process. Alcibiades, a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and military general, describes what Socrates did for one twenty-four hour period while on active duty with the army during the Battle of Potidaea:
Well, so much for that. And now I must tell you about another thing ‘our valiant hero [Socrates] dared and did’ in the course of the same campaign. He started wrestling with some problem or other about sunrise one morning, and stood there lost in thought, and when the answer wouldn’t come he still stood there thinking and refused to give it up. Time went on, and by about midday the troops noticed what was happening, and naturally they were rather surprised and began telling each other how Socrates had been standing there thinking ever since daybreak. And at last, toward nightfall, some of the Ionians brought out their bedding after supper — this was in the summer, of course — partly because it was cooler in the open air, and partly to see whether he was going to stay there all night. Well, there he stood till morning, and then at sunrise he said his prayers to the sun and went away. [Symposium, para 220c/d (page 571)]
It’s entirely possible that not only was Socrates solving a philosophical problem, but that he was also executing a memory technique to store away this hard-won bit of wisdom so he could unleash it in one of his many dialogues with his compatriots.
Socrates’ twenty-four hour meditation occurred in 432 BC, some 300 years after the Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet for their own language and started putting their greatest oral works on papyrus. Memory had been paramount for thousands of years, and when writing became available to record the stories, the entire oral culture started to shift to a literary one:
Homeric Greeks valued clichés because not only the poets but the entire oral neotic world or thought world relied upon the formulaic constitution of thought. In an oral culture, knowledge, once acquired, had to be constantly repeated or it would be lost; fixed, formulaic thought patterns were essential for wisdom and effective administration. But by Plato’s day (427?-347BC) a change had set in: the Greeks had at long last effectively interiorized writing — something which took several centuries after the development of the Greek alphabet around 720-700 BC. The new way to store knowledge was not in mnemonic formulas but in the written text. This freed the mind for more original, more abstract thought. [Ong, Orality and Literacy, page 23/4]
We have been living under that influence ever since. And it’s a bigger change than you might think:
Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally even when it is composing its thought in oral form. More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness. [Ong, page 77]
Don’t put too much stock on reading and writing as an aid to wisdom without storing much of it in memory. Here’s what Thamus, King of Egypt, thought of writing, an opinion also subscribed to by Socrates:
And so it is that you, by reason of your tender regard for the writing that is your offspring, have declared the very opposite of its true effect. If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows. [Phaedrus 274e-275a, page 520]
Although you’ll eventually see your story in print, treat these words of wisdom with the respect they deserve, and try to internalize and help your reader internalize your story by building the memory palace that will embed the memory of it in yours and your readers’ psyches. And what I’m asking you to do is to revert back to 2500 year old techniques for supplemental assistance in creating your work of art.
Again, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s just not true. I can sense that you almost closed up this book and planned to never open it again. Everyone is afraid of difficult, painful memorizing techniques. But this one isn’t difficult or painful. It’s easy, and it’s fun. Using this ancient Greek’s memory aid, the memory palace, can turn practically anyone’s mediocre memory into a world-class repository. According to Ben Pridmore, the 2004, 2008, and 2009 World Memory Champion, in conversation with Joshua Foer, “It’s all about technique and understanding how the memory works. Anyone could do it, really.” [page 7]
The good news is that we have already constructed our memory palace: the plot pentagon and dodecahedron. This is where you’ll create the rooms, the spacial locations, to implant specific scenes from your story. It will even aid in bringing your story out of the mundane real world and into the mythical Land of Story. To remember something with a memory palace, you need locations, characters, and some associated weird activity. Strange behavior sticks in the memory better than the mundane.
It might help to view the exaggeration I’m recommending as being like a children’s storybook. When you turn the pages, some of the images pop up and become three-dimensional. We need to accentuate some aspects of the story to make it memorable. Picking and pulling at details can make the entire scene come alive. This doesn’t mean that you should take a gentle love story and make it into a sex manual. It takes a deft hand to accomplish some of this delicately, but on the other hand, some stories need the elevation of content through exaggeration to get at their essence.
Not only will this aid the writing of the story but also help the reader remember the storyline. The story builds in the reader’s memory as it goes along, as it always does, but we’re looking to make it vivid and unforgettable, something to crowd-out all other thoughts and encourage the reader to live in this fictional world. Let’s again take a look at how Homer started out his epic poem. Imagine being in a dim candle-lit room crowded with people, you amongst them, seated for a long performance. The rhapsode sits before you readying himself. The audience turns quiet so that scarcely anyone breathes as his face lights up with inspiration, and then his voice rises into the air filling the room:
Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending…
A chill runs through you realizing that he has just called upon the goddess of epic poetry, Calliope, and that she has come amongst you to supply inspiration, and that he also has need of her mother, Mnemosyne, memory herself to guide him. He has constructed his material in such a way that it facilitates memory, but also aids the memories of those in his audience so that they might more fully understand and contemplate his story. Once his words evaporate into the air, they will be lost forever, unless the audience remembers them. Some will undoubtedly have memory skills of their own and will be storing away his words for future reference.
How might we go about accomplishing this ourselves? We start with building a memory palace. So what do they look like?
Memory palaces don’t necessarily have to be palatial—or even buildings. They can be routes through a town… or station stops along a railway, or signs of the zodiac, or even mythical creatures. They can be big or small, indoors or outdoors, real or imaginary, so long as there’s some semblance of order that links one locus to the next, so long as they are intimately familiar. [Foer, pages 96/7]
Here’s where I make another confession. From the beginning, I’ve been leading you along the path to building a memory palace for your story. If, in our Imaginarium, we envision each of our five plot points as being “rooms” or “locations” wherein events take place, we then have the overall structure for retaining story details for these major milestones in the order in which they occur. The plot pentagon may not be a building, but it is a psychic storage “place” for the memory of events. The story structure, provided by the plot pentagon, connects the events. Here’s the thing. We can use not only the plot pentagon but the entire dodecahedron as a plotting mechanism.
The dodecahedron contains a memory palace. To find it, we must set aside the idea that each of the pentagons that surround the central pentagon represents subplots. This illustrates a central aspect of the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s versatile and can be used in many different ways. It can be disassembled and its components put to various uses. You can use a single plot pentagon to explore a character arc or a subplot. You can use the second half of the dodecahedron, viewed from the antagonist’s point of view, to research the antagonist’s half of the story. If the storyteller has a need, the Stone can fulfill it, if he/she knows how to use it. Once you get used to working with it, you can always re-imagine it and find a solution to a new problem.
To build the memory palace, we go back to the flat construction-paper cutout that represented one half of the dodecahedron. We can see that, between each plot point of the central pentagon, we can take a detour and go around the adjacent pentagon picking up three more plot points. This constitutes what I call a corridor. These contain the events that fall between plot points. Each segment, each corridor, contains three. Once we have identified our five major plot points, we can then fill in the fifteen corridor plot points. We have twenty total.
Figure 11-1 The Memory Palace
You can then trace the flow of the story, and it’s not a storyline at all but a crooked path around all six pentagons, five external and one internal. This constitutes the memory palace for your story. It is in the overall shape of a downward-pointing pentagon.
Corridor events are different from central plot point events. They advance the story but don’t actually turn the plot, at least not as much as do the central plot points. Initially you feel the urgency of the previous plot point pushing you forward, but as you approach the next plot point, you start feeling its pull. You navigate the pentagon as if pulled by gravity, and that gravity is the central conflict. We have three corridor plot point events for each line of the primary pentagon. For a novel, if we also view each vertex as a chapter, we then have twenty chapters. If we allocate fifteen pages for each chapter, the novel is 300 pages.
The excursions into the psyche to establish memory palace plot points are acts of colonization. We performed Active Imagination to get the plot points, and in doing so, the material within the plot points now resides in both Consciousness and the Unconscious by virtue of the bridge we have built between them. We have colonized part of the Unconscious with aspects of Consciousness.
Figure 11-2 Colonizing the Unconscious
When we type our Active Imagination sessions, we are establishing a beachhead within the Unconscious that will enable us to reconnect with the Unconscious material while within Consciousness. Memory resides within the Unconscious. We don’t know that we remember something until Consciousness accesses it, or requests the Unconscious through Mnemosyne to reveal it. When we are inside the dodecahedron, which resides within the Unconscious, we see all our little Consciousness colonies as plot points. All this is of course stored in our memory palace. The dodecahedron is not just a reference symbol. It is the active storage for the story.
Apparently, we can use the dodecahedron in any manner we wish. We can disassemble and use any part of it that serves our needs. If it’s a particularly long story, we could also use one half of the disassembled dodecahedron as a memory palace for the first half of the story and the other half for the second half of the story. For a television series, each pentagon could represent an episode, and the complete dodecahedron for the overall series arc.
We can create a memory palace of all twelve pentagons, like this:
Figure 11-3 A Dodecahedron Memory Palace
At the top, right in the middle of the story, the stacked two-pentagonal corridors (2PC) become a stacked three-pentagonal corridor (3PC). We can devote this pentagon to the reversal (PP3). Once we memorize the basic twelve pentagonal pattern, we start loading each vertex (plot point and corridor plot point) with images and establish a path based on the proper sequence. That then represents your overall storyline. Once you envision your story as spanning the entire memory palace, all thirty-eight plot points, you’ll feel the tension pull you through it.
Here’s what you need to know to do that. First of all, load each memory palace event (scene) with as many of the five senses as possible: sight, sound, feel, touch, and taste. Plus, you need to animate the image. Actions are easier to remember than stationary objects. Then you add one last touch: exaggeration, extraordinary beauty, debauchery, anything appropriate to the story that will take the action out of the ordinary. Memory stores the extraordinary, not the humdrum of daily life. This imbeds it in memory, but may also affect the nature of the scene and make it more interesting. You can allow some of this strangeness to infiltrate your story, but you must not allow it to disfigure the story too much. Take chances but still exercise a certain amount of control. Remember the one truism of all creative writing: life is stranger than fiction.
Initially you should throw caution to the wind. Here’s what the author of Ad Herennium had to say about it:
When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvellous. But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonourable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable, or laughable, that we are likely to remember a long time.
We ought, then, to set up images of a kind that can adhere longest in the memory. And we shall do so if we establish likenesses as striking as possible; if we set up images that are not many or vague, but doing something; if we assign to them exceptional beauty or singular ugliness; if we dress some of them with crowns or purple cloaks, for example, so that the likeness may be more distinct to us; or if we somehow disfigure them, as by introducing one stained with blood or soiled with mud or smeared with red paint, so that its form is more striking, or by assigning certain comic effects to our images, for that, too, will ensure our remembering them more readily. [See Addendum I]
Let’s take a quick look at the Prologue of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code to see how he set up his story. In the opening, the curator of the Louvre in Paris pulls a large masterpiece off the wall to trigger an iron security gate that then descends to trap him inside but also prevents anyone access to where he is. Still, a man sticks a handgun through the bars and threatens to kill the curator if he doesn’t reveal a certain secret for which he’s come. The curator resists but eventually tells the gunman, an albino, what he wants to know. The albino shoots the curator in spite of the revelation, inflicting a fatal wound that will cause a painful death within a matter of minutes. The albino then leaves. But the curator did not tell the albino the truth, and if he doesn’t leave some word behind, the secret will be lost forever. He then creates with his own blood a series of encrypted clues that can only be deciphered by one person, his granddaughter, and then only with the help of Professor Robert Langdon, the protagonist.
This is the setup for the most popular of Dan Brown’s novels. You can easily see how it sticks in the memory by use of vivid images, unforgettable action, and a conflict that will span the entire novel. Simonides would have been proud. These are the keys to writing a bestselling novel, and Dan Brown didn’t stop with the Prologue. Every scene of the novel contains all these same elements. They provoke the reader’s interest and thus his/her memory.
Of course, The Da Vinci Code wasn’t one of the finest pieces of literature ever written. Every story doesn’t need this over-the-top action and images to bring it to life. Literary stories may be soft-pedaled and still retain the necessary ingredients. The opening sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a good case in point:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
This rather matter-of-fact sentence is simply loaded with the possibility of conflict and also sets a satiric tone that carries through the entire novel, which is a social comedy. One need not be overly dramatic to write a good story. You don’t always have to have an albino committing a slow, painful and bloody murder. However, vivid images will always be of great assistance to your audience in remembering your story.
The ancient Greeks thought in memorable ways so they could remember what they mentally composed. This meant that
…you have to do your thinking in mnemonic patterns… Your thought must come into being in heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions or antitheses, in alliterations and assonances, in epithetic and other formulary expressions, in standard thematic settings… or in other mnemonic form. Serious thought is intertwined with memory systems. Mnemonic needs determine even syntax. [Ong, page 35]
Consonance, assonance, and alliteration as well as rhythm all play a part in the effectiveness of the first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice quoted above, particularly the last seven words: “…must be in want of a wife.” Too much of this will give your prose a singsong quality that will quickly become objectionable. Yet, used with a deft touch, it can strengthen the emotional undertone and readily stick in your reader’s memory.
One of the more effective ways to reinforce story structure in your own memory is to take a trip around your fictional world and reminisce about what has happened or will happen at each location. You can then use Active Imagination to find extraordinary details. This is similar to what tourists do with The Da Vinci Code. They go all over Paris and Rome seeking out the settings of various scenes from the book. If they can do that, you can do likewise with Active Imagination. You’ll have to visit them in psychic space. If you’re not interested in visiting these settings, neither will your audience. When you visit these places without the worry of trying to create story, you can simply enjoy being there and reminiscing about who did what where when and how. You’ll also find details that you overlooked in the heat of telling the story and be able to find something that makes it more exotic. This is an excellent way of meditating on your story.
When you’re walking around inside your story, you can sit on the same sofa where your protagonist turned her best friend and lover into a vampire. You can warm yourself before the fire where she used to sit worrying about how her life had crumbled. You can go outside and into the woods where she was first waylaid and became a vampire herself.
You have your plot pentagon to store the action and scenes of your story. All plot points and channels connecting them are containers for locations and actions. You can visualize this “cord of conflict” that runs through your story as a physical item that traverses these places. You can reflect on the event that locked the conflict at that first plot point. The setting is somehow “real” now, and when you consider it, wishing it to stick in yours and your readers’ memories, you can stretch the strangeness and discover what that strangeness might be, what detail might take it out of the ho-hum world and bring it into the unusual so that you and your reader can better remember it. From there, you can take a walk around your plot pentagon. Doing this with each scene will make your story not only flow well but also make it unique and special.
Once you’ve done that with the central conflict, you can walk through this first plot pentagon, the Iris of Time, through the dodecahedron and over to the antagonist’s plot pentagon. You then turn around and face back toward the protagonist’s plot pentagon, which is now on the far side of the dodecahedron. It looks backwards and in disarray. The antagonists’ plot pentagon looks right, and you can rewrite the premise and visit each plot point from his/her perspective. Perspective adds complexity. Your antagonist will no longer be so stereotypical. He/she’ll acquire nuance, become more interesting, formidable. If they had a fight, you can see the same room where they fought, but if it was the protagonist’s home, it now looks strange, foreign. You can feel the antagonist’s intimidation at being in someone else’s home. The uneasiness, fear. You can take the trip around this plot pentagon visiting all the plot points trying to understand what each event meant to the antagonist and uncover the Five Types of Deep Awareness that she/he must also experience.
Then you can go into the center of the dodecahedron, this three-dimensional bindu where the narrator resides, and talk to your narrator, if it is a person, but also if it is just a presence that occupies the edge of the story. You can see the story from her/his/its perspective and look at each plot pentagon representing all the sub-conflicts from inside the dodecahedron. You can see how your narrator is orchestrating your story, perhaps even talk to him/her/it about it. You can talk to your minor characters. They don’t have a large presence in your story, so they might enjoy a little one-on-one with the person channeling their words.
You can also look at the dodecahedron as the fictional world, with a sun, moon, stars. You can let the dodecahedron dissolve into the background and inhabit that world with its strangeness that comes from being only a world for the setting of your story. Now you can see more clearly how limited it is. If it’s a world at war, you can feel the presence of the enemy, the great anger and fear destined to tear the countries apart. If it’s a family feud, you can feel the hatred, the threat that hangs in the air like a heavy mist.
These are the imaginative tools you now have by using your plot pentagons and the three-dimensional dodecahedron as a representation of your story. You can use it as a memory palace and a creative tool. It is a mechanism for funneling psychic energy into your story. It is a visualization tool. It’s the mechanism that grinds to life when your narrator starts telling your story. And it all resides inside your mind. It is a repository for your story, and you can work with it anytime you have a free minute. It also will enable you to get back into your story once you’ve been away from it for a while. Your mind has to reboot the story much like a computer rebooting its operating system. Having it instantly accessible by way of your memory palace will radically decrease this boot-up time, as if it’s an entirely solid-state flash drive instead of one of the old mechanical, spinning-wheel hard drives.
You should also remember that each pentagon of your memory palace could be viewed as either a mandala or a yantra. You can read about their uses as meditation devices to gain more insight into the events that reside within your pentagons. You can also explore the all-encompassing circle to try to understand more about the philosophical implications of your story, the cosmic forces involved and the moral implications. You might even choose to take that dragon, the Ouroboros, from around the plot pentagon, release her so that she can come down to earth and talk to you about this story. She will have a perspective on it. You can also go into the center of the dodecahedron and focus on the sphere, that representation of God, and have a conversation with her/him about your story.
The plot pentagons, in both their mandala and yantra manifestations and the dodecahedron along with the all-encompassing sphere, are your Philosopher’s Stone. It glows by virtue of the enlightenment emanating from the confluence of bindus. This is your mechanism through which you can visit your story in a way you’ve never before imagined. I have touched on some uses I’ve envisioned, but what I’ve presented is nowhere near exhaustive. The Philosopher’s Stone now belongs to you. It’s your instrument for creating and investigating your story. All it takes is a little Active Imagination to get the inspiration flowing.
You have the source of all creativity within you, and the evolutionary history of the human race resides there. It is a divine mechanism. Now that you’ve been handed the Philosopher’s Stone, use it to unlock the mysteries of your fictional universe. It’s specifically your tool for constructing and understanding the story you can’t help but tell. More than that, it guides you along your own path to individuation and worthiness.
Realize that the basics of your story already existed before you found it. You are simply dressing it up in new clothes. If you can come to the point where you realize that your storytelling is not your creation but your discovery, you’ll begin to truly understand the process. Remember, Jung said that even our thoughts do not belong to us. You have to give up the egotistical notion that you created the story. It is a gift, given to you by divine entities who reside within your Unconscious. They gave it to you because you are worthy. That must be enough to satisfy your ego.
This is the alchemy of storytelling.