Calling All Writers--It's Party Time!
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes." -- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
The dedicated writing student must continually search for tools to explore
the core balance of plot, character, and poetics, multiple ways of climbing
the great, misty mountain called story. But the major difference between
Lifewriting™ and other systems is that we concentrate on the tools
from writing that also help us understand our lives…or the tools
from psychology or spiritual disciplines that help us understand our craft.
With that in mind, the Parts Party from Ericksonian hypnosis is worth
exploring. The “Parts Party” is a powerful tool created by
Carol Erickson, the daughter of Milton Erickson, the master hypnotist
largely responsible for legitimizing hypnosis in the therapeutic community.
Basically, the Parts Party technique is used with a client who lacks access
to her own internal resources, or is dealing with values conflicts. Placed
in trance, the client is invited to imagine a cocktail party. Each “guest”
is a personification of a different aspects--or "parts"-- of
her personality. In other words, “Ambition”? Meet “Compassion.”
“Passion”? Meet “Self-Respect.” The therapist
can then engage in what is called “Zero Content Therapy” where
a client is led to heal herself without specific intervention.
An example would be a client of mine who was terrified to perform in
a singing competition, despite months of practice. The competition would
begin in mere hours, and I was brought in as a last-ditch emergency effort.
I placed her in a trance, and established a communications signal—raising
the right finger for a “yes” and the left for a “no.”
Then I invited her to imagine a party, at which among the guests she would
find Ambition, Fear, The Artist, Her Younger Self, and Her Future Self.
I impressed upon her that the nausea and shaking she experienced when
contemplating her performance was just her own inner guardians trying
to protect her. And yet, there was another part of her that truly, deeply,
wanted to prepare for a singing career. I suggested that if there was
a way for her to satisfy the need for safety and also enjoy performing,
that that would be a desirable outcome. Then I asked her future self—the
one who was a professional singer (her goal) to hostess the party, to
introduce the various aspects to one another, and then to let them talk
After ten minutes, she signaled that the conversation was over, I brought
her out of the trance—and she jumped up and said “let’s
do it!” with a verve I’d never seen from her. She blew the
roof off at the recital! I never asked her exactly what conversation had
gone on…in fact, it was none of my business.
A story is much the same. As one famous writing technique says, “A
story is an argument in a story mind.” In other words, every secondary
character exists as a shadow aspect of the main character’s personality.
If the conflicts between them can be resolved, the character gets to move
to the next level of her life.
Seen this way, in The Godfather, various characters represent Michael
Corleone’s ambition, love for family, spirituality, venality, passion,
homicidal nature, and so forth. Watching these different aspects “work
out” their differences is a fascinating process, leading ultimately
to Michael’s utter defeat and destruction at the end of the third
As you craft a film, book, or story, looking at it as a “Parts
Party” can be an extremely useful tool. It also allows you to enter
the realm of the most primal and powerful story, the Therapeutic Metaphor,
where a story is structured to create a change in the mind of the reader
or viewer. Here is the suggestion: write your first draft with no concern
for anything but story and character.
Then, in the process of re-write, search for meaning. Try to gain a sense
of what your unconscious mind was up to, what you were trying to say.
What is your thesis and counter-thesis? Once this has been determined,
look at your characters again. Who is the main character? What aspects
of her personality might the other characters represent? Now the conflicts
between them can be seen as external versions of the internal struggles
we all endure as we try to change, grow, and heal. Those actions and words
can provide the lessons necessary to grow (remember the gathering of Allies
and Powers on the Hero’s Journey?)
Your character may succeed, or may fail. Or may fail to get what they
want, and instead get what they need. These are your choices, based upon
your beliefs about human nature and the ethical structure of the universe.
Controlling the secret meaning of your subsidiary characters can be an
incredibly powerful way of creating meaning and emotional depth to your
work…and speaking to your reader’s deeper consciousness without
When you do this, there is another wonderful result. You are also speaking
to yourself, your own inner wisdom. And you develop sensitivity to the
multitudes within us all. During quiet moments of meditation, or in the
“hypnogogic” state between waking and sleep, you will hear
voices within you. How powerful it can be to identify the voices as aspects
of our personalities as well as positive or negative figures from our
past! This approach is perfect for Lifewriting™ because it allows
a writer to strengthen the connection between the inner and outer worlds.
When you look at your craft in this fashion, everything that you do to
improve and heal yourself automatically makes you a better writer…and
everything you write automatically increases your integration as a human
And that is a worthy goal. THAT is Lifewriting™.
NY Times Bestselling Writer Steven Barnes is a dual black belt as well
as a Tai Chi instructor. He was trained in Ericksonian model Hypnosis.
He is creator of Lifewriting™, the high-performance success system
for writers and readers. Learn more at www.lifewriting.biz