From Lead to Gold: The Alchemy of Character Arc With Carl Jung

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

Storytelling is a mystical crucible. Just as the ancient alchemists sought the transformation of base metals into gold, writers strive for the metamorphosis of their characters’ inner selves throughout the story. Alchemy, as explored through the lens of Carl Jung’s insights, can elevate your characters from the leaden weight of initial flaws to the gleaming brilliance of transformation.

Last fall, I spent part of my month-long writing retreat in the Berkshires auditing a series of online lectures from the Centre of Applied Jungian Studies. These lectures from leading Jungian experts, collected under the heading “The Mystery School,” explored revolutionary depth psychologist C.G. Jung’s writings and theories about how ancient alchemy stands as a metaphor for psychological transformation. Throughout, my excitement grew as I recognized that the four intrinsic parts of the alchemical/analytical process are also reflected in (surprise!) story structure.

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So what is alchemy, and why should writers care? For me, one of the most delightful mysteries of life is how, when you start paying attention, the theories of story structure and character arc show up everywhere. Not only is this interesting in applying the wisdom of story to life, it also creates opportunities to learn how to tell better stories by examining systems that, at first glance, seem to have nothing to do with fiction.

The series of lectures I watched focused on Jung’s recognition that the four parts of alchemy naturally aligned with his own four tenets of analysis and personal transformation. Even though I teach a Three Act structure, this structure divides story into four equal parts. Particularly when examined from the perspective of character arc, these four parts align naturally and perfectly with the four parts of alchemy/Jungian analysis. The pattern deepens!

I’ve written before about how writers can apply various theoretical models (such as the Karpman Drama Triangle and the Enneagram) to storytelling. Alchemy is yet another window through which to view story. It offers a tool to help us shape our stories into greater verisimilitude. Plus, if you’re a pattern hunter, as I am, it’s just cool!

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors