Utilize Story Resonance to Unleash New Insights and Fuel your Writing

Help me welcome a very special guest James Mayfield Smith. He will help you unleash the writer in you.

As writers, we all know the feeling of being stuck. We’ve experienced the dreaded writer’s block. Some of us may also feel the hesitation that comes with not being sure what is OURS to write about. If this fits for you, then we have some good news. Read on to learn a technique to address these issues and to unleash greater creativity, confidence, and power in your writing. The beauty of this technique for writers is that it utilizes the magic that is inherent in how the power of Story works.

As an applied mythologist, educational consultant, and transformation coach, I apply the principles of depth mythology and the power of Story for practical purposes, such as organizational innovation, product development, sales and marketing, and personal transformation. Today we’re discussing the principle of story resonance applied to the writing process.

Humans have been listening to stories for 190,000 years. Over this span of time, we’ve developed deeply unconscious ways of responding to Story. Stories provide a direct link to the unconscious material where our creativity and passion reside, just waiting for us to tap into. When we hear a story, we relax a bit and begin to become emotionally involved in the tale. But this isn’t done haphazardly. Our psyches identify with and are drawn towards characters that are like us, who share our values, or who face difficulties similar to those that we face. At the same time, we feel repelled away from characters who display aspects of ourselves that we judge as negative, often unconsciously. Whenever we feel such positive or negative emotional energy in a story, it creates a resonance that we can feel.

Think about the stories from your childhood. Which tales did you ask for over and over and over again? There’s a reason for this. Your young psyche resonated with some dynamic inherent in these stories. Perhaps Where the Wild Things Are stimulated your sense of adventure or your longing to be a wild creature free of the rules of your parents. Maybe The 3 Billy Goats Gruff reminded you of the terror of the troll who may be waiting under your bed or the bully just around the corner. We often have no clue why such stories resonate, as this usually occurs on an unconscious level. These stories are gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Buried within these stories is an emotionally-laden dynamic that can be a great source for personal development by providing greater clarity about our values or insight into a new direction for our lives. Such insights and the energy that come with them also provide prime creative material for writers. Here’s a 5 step process for harnessing this story resonance for your own writing efforts:

5 Step Story Resonance Process

1. Make a list of stories that have resonance for you. Include childhood tales, great books, and films that draw you into them or that repel you. The best stories are the ones that resonate for reasons unknown…the mysterious ones. The Frog King, La Llorona, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Where the Wild Things Are, The Lorax, The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, American Beauty. These tales all resonate with me for different reasons.

2. Find the place where you enter the story. Locate the point where you become emotionally involved with a character or situation, either positively or negatively. The important dynamic often lies close by. In the Three Billy Goats Gruff, I enter the story when the Billy Goats long for the green pasture that they see across the bridge. I have big dreams for my life, and sometimes they seem far away, with troll-infested bridges to cross in order to get there.

3. Use dream interpretation tools to pull apart the dynamics and look for clues to why the story is a psycho-emotional stimulus for you. A few techniques include:

A. Use the present tense and evocative sensory language to help bring the story alive. The big, hairy Troll jumps in front of me and blocks my path to the green pasture.

B. Use When/Then questions “When ____happens, then what?” When it’s not easy to get what I want, then what do I do?

C. Consider the action from the viewpoints of all the characters. What do each of the Billy Goats think about themselves as they encounter the Troll?

D. Make friends with the characters and ask them to guide you to deeper understanding, and then remain open to their reply. (Yes, of course any reply will come from your imagination. This is what we want! How else can messages from your psyche reach you?) How might the Troll be my helper? What guidance would the Troll provide to me?

E. Pay close attention to your feelings and make notes about them. Look for surprises. Hmm…I feel a touch of fear when I hear the trip-trap of oncoming danger. I’m actually a bit relieved when the Troll jumps out, as danger I can see is easier to deal with than danger that is hidden. Interesting…

F. Start with outside actions in the story, then go to inside feelings within your self about these actions, and then look for the deeper meaning below the feelings. Remember…Outside-Inside-Deeper. The littlest Billy Goat uses his wits to trick the Troll, but places his brother in danger by doing so. I feel a bit of anger about this. I’ve been manipulated before and I felt betrayed. How do I betray others in order to get what I want? How does one part of me betray other parts of me? How does my inner Critic betray my Writer on a daily basis?

G. Withhold judgment. The unconscious has no morality. Our egos provide this, while stifling creativity in the process. Allow the unconscious free reign to explore before restricting it with our learned sense of right and wrong. A strange and unusual path is exactly the kind of trail that can lead us outside of our normal box and into fresh material for writing. OK, so instead of looking at betrayal negatively, maybe different parts of me simply want different things. What does my inner Critic really want? What does my Writer really want? Is there a way that they can be given different roles and begin to work as a team?

(Above techniques adapted and expanded from the work of Dr. Jerry Ruhl and Dr. Robert Johnson).

4. Look for the paradox. At the heart of story resonance there is usually a paradox involving two seemingly opposite yet equally true values. I want to make a living as a writer and yet I choose to not write every day. I dream big and see beautiful possibilities and I let the risks prevent me from crossing the necessary bridges. I am small and crafty and big and powerful and dumb and dangerous. Personal truths usually arrive clothed in such polarities. Resist jumping to one polarity or the other. Instead, sit in the tension of the opposing opposites. Our psyches struggle with such cognitive dissonance and often throw out new ideas to alleviate the tension. What this means for writers is that when I discover a polarity and express it, I find a wealth of possible writing material to explore. Sometimes I reach a catharsis, or release of pent-up psycho-emotional tension, followed by a sense of new possibility and a wellspring of energy. When this doesn’t happen, there’s usually a deeper truth beneath it that can eventually unleash such passion; Just keep exploring, following the breadcrumbs of resonance, and asking yourself open-ended questions until you stumble upon it. If needed, engage a trained facilitator or coach to assist.

5. Look for the new symbol or metaphor. Our minds are wired for imagery, symbolism, and metaphoric thinking. Layers of deep understanding can reside within one simple image and give rise to many new insights and fresh material. The right picture can be worth ten thousand words. I see a scary Troll lurking in the darkness under a bridge. I’ll bet I can find many layers to write about this one image…

As writers, our best material often comes when we explore fresh insights about ourselves and tap into our deeper truths. Story resonance techniques offer a way to return to the well to draw forth new insights to fuel our own writing process. Good luck and good writing!


To see how the above story resonance technique has been adapted to help parents understand and connect with their children on a deeper level, please visit http://kristisbooknook.blogspot.com/

To learn about my nine year old daughter Ella’s blog and to see how this young writer is working to achieve her dream of exploring Paris, France, visit www.girlwithcrayon.com.

To learn about my educational consulting, which supports increased engagement and achievement for schools and innovative product development for educational publishers, visit www.billygoateducation.com or http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesmayfieldsmith.

To learn about my work as a transformation coach or to contact me about how to get unstuck, how to gain clarity and purpose, or how to uncover the passion and creativity of a rich interior life, visit www.billygoatwisdom.com.

About James Mayfield Smith

James Mayfield Smith is an educational consultant, applied mythologist, and transformation coach. James applies the principles of depth mythology and a deep understanding of how children and adults respond to Story to shed light on practical issues. As an educational consultant, James has created an award-winning reading program, co-authored a book with his young daughter, taught hundreds of children to read, and trained thousands of teachers and school administrators,. As an applied mythologist, James has helped build the foundation of a successful story-oriented selling model and trained business executives to think outside the box. As a transformational coach, James assists adults in stepping into greater clarity and freedom in their lives. This often involves letting go of old stories that no longer serve and calling in new symbols, images, and stories for the next stage of their lives. James can be reached at jamesmayfieldsmith@gmail.com.


To learn more about James please visit my other blogs Kristi’s Book Nook and Get Kids To Read, where he gets parents and children insight on reading.


7 comments on “Utilize Story Resonance to Unleash New Insights and Fuel your Writing

  1. It seems like simple advice – choose stories that resonated with you and identify the points in the story that really captured your attention – but it really is a new way of thinking about my writing. Thanks for this guest post.


  2. Pingback: For All You Writers Out There » Billy Goat Education

  3. Pingback: Story Resonance for Writers » Billy Goat Wisdom

  4. Interesting post! I wonder sometimes about the world technology has created. My granddaughter prefers to play games on her dad’s ipad than to have stories read.

    I lived in Paris. Going to check out your daughter’s blog.


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