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Yin & Yang of Storytelling for the 21st Century by Jeffrey J. Michaels


In much of the 20th century, the most basic form stories took were often based in a good vs. evil setting. As if the world were that simple. One Hero, one Villain, and voila! They struggle and fight and often the hero is simple and pure while the villain is just mean for the sake of being mean.

In our 21st century world where audiences have been subjected to reviewers and critics since birth (I blame Siskel and Ebert for making us hyper-aware of the storytelling techniques and tropes in common use), it is increasingly difficult to get away with telling a tale that is just bad guy versus good guy and let the fight begin.

The study of eastern philosophies shows us the principles of Yin and Yang. They are the active aspects and energies of balance and harmony in the universe. In the west, we have often simplified this concept as dark and light, male and female, or good and evil. This doesn’t actually work for more reasons than we will discuss here, but a brief examination of the philosophy may increase your ability as a writer to craft a more complex and balanced story.

Yang more easily and accurately translates as action or structure, perhaps even as logic. Yin translates as peaceful or creative, emotional satisfaction, or as I say, the heart’s desire.

We are not dealing with opposites. Although the symbolization of yin and yang is delineated as two equal but separate shapes, within each shape is an element of the other. A circle of Yang within Yin, and a space of Yin within Yang.

If you have a character that is quite logical, they must also possess a bit of emotional strength to be complete. Conversely, a person who is highly emotional will be more interesting if they seek to nurture some logic or structure within their lives. A character bound in one dimension is stagnant. But if that same logical character has a secret desire to be an artist or engage in some form of creative endeavor, acting against the rules of their society, you have, as a storyteller, opened up a deeper level of conflict within your story.

If your character is a wild and crazy artist, a person who possesses absolutely no structure or limits in their life, how does that affect their society? They might even be viewed as a villain by some of the other characters if they leave chaos in their wake. But if they are doing so out of rebellion against strict rules or fundamentalist laws, if they are secretly desirous of an orderly life, one where they might be happy with themselves and then, perhaps another, a partner, then the inner conflict spices the outer scenario and intensifies the storyline.

The days of one-dimensional (or single-faceted) villains Hans Gruber and Goldfinger have passed us by for the most part. In our world we know enough psychology to understand that the villains have feelings too. The agenda they create has a purpose, even if they must use nefarious or antisocial means to gain their goal.

Our story and movie heroes transformed earlier than their villainous counterparts. Our somewhat flawed Bruce Willis’ John McClain and various James Bonds lack the purity of the older cowboy films or super heroic serials of Flash Gordon and Superman. Their imperfections work in allowing us, the audience, to engage more fully with the characters. They could be us! The flaws also allow us, as writers, to more easily create intriguing tales based on the twilight area between the brightest day and the blackest night.

Never underestimate your audience’s ability to grasp complex motivations. It may not be that they are doing so consciously, but the principles of Yin and Yang hold true in every level of life. It is the seeking of a balance that drives the best stories.

Author Jeffrey J MichaelsJeffrey J. Michaels is a Gemini. As such he is deeply involved in whatever interests him at the moment. He describes his book “A Day at the Beach and Other Brief Diversions” as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements.

He is currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as “The Mystical Histories.” It is varied enough that he says he may even finish most of the stories.

In his real life he is a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant.
He does not like to talk about his award-winning horror story.

a-day-at-the-beach-book-cover“A Day At the Beach and Other Brief Diversions”

What if… …your perfect day never ended? …your life were to pass before your eyes, one person at a time? …the genie in the lamp had a wish? …you heard the perfect last words? Versatile author Jeffrey J. Michaels invites you to explore new ways of looking at your world and worlds beyond in this selection of metaphyictional short stories.

Author Interview: Jeffrey J Michaels

Jeffrey J Michael’s goal as an author is to inspire people to be better humans. All that he does is with the intention of offering the reader an opportunity to explore new ways of looking at their world (and worlds beyond).  Please welcome him here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Jeffrey J MichaelsMy name is Jeffrey J. Michaels. I am a Gemini. As such I am deeply involved in whatever interests me at the moment.

I am currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as “The Mystical Histories.” It is varied enough that I may even finish most of the stories. I like to think of my work as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements.

In my real life I am a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant

If you need to know more than this, we can sit down over a nice cup of coffee or 21-year-old scotch some afternoon and I will provide fascinating facts such as “born in the Midwest” “loves the Art Institute and architecture of the Loop district of Chicago” “likes peaceful pine forests and giant sequoias” “voracious reader” “many brushes with fame, but not impressed by it” or “likes cats”. Probably there will be a story involved with each of those facts and it may even be true.

When and why did you begin writing?

My grandmother told me that I was always telling her stories from the time I was able to speak. My mother said I was always making things up and I don’t think she always approved. Blah, blah blah, something about lying or not telling the truth, she would say.

I don’t consider myself a writer so much as a storyteller. Paper and pen seemed a good medium to immortalize some of the better lies, er, stories.

It is not so much a thing I began doing as it is an essence that makes up a great part of me, a motivation that cannot be excised from my existence.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

High School solidified my commitment to the written word. I shifted from being a passive participant to an active creator. What that means is I stopped just reading others’ work and started writing and (this is the important part) distributing the stories I was making up to others: teachers and fellow students, the kind fellow that ran Brainerd’s Bookstore, a couple of cousins who acted like they liked my work. I tended to avoid showing things to friends and family by instinct and I would say this is wisdom for every writer to follow.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

My most recently released volume is the first in a trilogy that is a part of a larger series. It is titled “Tasa’s Path” and introduces us to a young girl who travels to a mystical community, ostensibly to learn how to become a steward of Gaia, the living earth. She thinks she is normal, but by the conclusion of the book she is setting off with her friends to find others, like them, who are of the Blood of the Dragons. Tasa was hoping for a quiet life of reading and collecting books, but she finds herself in possession of a sword forged in dragonfire, and one of her friends is dragon named Torin.

What inspired you to write this book?

I read a book about a young boy, Harry somebody, who is invited to a school of wizardry. He and his friends get involved in a lot of adventures in the first book and in subsequent volumes things get quite dangerous and dark for the kids. I wanted to write a brighter series, but maintain the emphasis on education and learning. Basically I was looking to tell an upbeat story about happy kids playing in the woods at a Renaissance Faire style community. It was all going fine until the beast men showed up.

I have several other volumes in progress. In structuring them I took my cue from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, which contains several trilogies and many stand-alone volumes. Her stories all weave a larger history of humanity in space and colonizing the planet called Pern.

In my work I tell the histories and tales of the mystical beings we know of as dragons, giants, elves and fairies. I am a metaphysician by nature and seek to weave the philosophies of stewardship for the planet and co-existence with all life forms into my stories.

Do you have a specific writing style?

There is an oft repeated phrase in writing classes these days that one should “show not tell” and to a great extent I agree, but I do like to tell sections of my tales, as if we are sitting about a cookfire and grilling up a bit of mastodon meat. I sometimes envision myself as a shamanistic type, one of the cave painters, a Druidic bard, or perhaps a Grecian student of Homer telling an epic tale.

Here is a secret about all the books in my series. There is a single narrator of the stories, though he remains well hidden and may never be fully revealed. I am just taking dictation for this great being. But please don’t tell anyone.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

“Tasa’s Path” is called such because the main character is Tasa and she learns of her path through life beginning in this book. The following volumes are titled “Tasa’s Journey” and finishing with “Tasa’s Home”. The entire series is under the umbrella title of “Tasa’s Passage” and each title has multiple meanings that eventually tie in to the greater series.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I dislike books that are preachy or purposefully sermonizing, so I tend to believe that mine are not “message” books. That said – yes there is a message. Respect the earth, love life and live it well, get along with everyone if possible and let others be if not possible. The characters in my series often get back to a single question when they are confronted with a challenge or an obstacle. It is the question that guides all the mystical beings. “Is the action I am about to take for the good and well-being of Gaia?” Gaia is the character that exists in every one of my books. Every one. She is the vital energy of the planet earth itself. We are expressions of her will and as such we do not own her or any portion of her. We are of Gaia and when we walk a balanced path we act as stewards of the earth itself.

Sorry. Looks like I got a bit of a sermon in there after all!

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Not really. One thing I get asked is “How do you write about women so well?” My life has been blessed with the knowing of powerful women. Not dominating, but strong. Not forceful, but intelligent. Not warriors, but nurturers. They have influenced me every step of the way and I cannot express enough gratitude to every single being who has shown me the balancing path of strong yin to assist yang in creating a beautiful life.

What authors have most influenced your life?  What about them do you find inspiring?

As to fiction authors that I have enjoyed I must first say that Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne connected me to the joy of imagination and adventure early on. As time went on I discovered many, many others such as Isabel Allende and Italo Calvino, but the two that remain most influential in my mind to this day are Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Gene Wolfe.

Mary of course wrote Frankenstein and this single creation set off a chain reaction of media representation that continues strong to this day. But it is often more her life story and the fact that she is the author of many powerful novels that are relatively unknown that I find inspiring.

Gene Wolfe was kind and generous to me during a brief decade or so that I was privileged to know him personally. Many of my writing lessons are directly traceable to candid offhand remarks that Gene said in quiet discussions. In addition he is a damned fine wordsmith and quite possibly the finest writer of the late 20th and early 21st century.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

I would love to be able to call Gene Wolfe a mentor, but our communication was never such a formal student teacher thing. Still, more than any of the writers I have had the privilege of knowing, Gene’s sly style and wit has shaped much of my confidence as a writer. He demonstrated early on that an author should never take the reader’s intelligence for granted. Write to a higher level and raise the bar for the reader to reach if they choose.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

The initial painting of Tasa is done by a young artist named Lane Brown. He is a great talent and I found the portrait by chance one evening while looking for images on the internet. He has since done a few pieces for me and I love his art. We took that original painting and using a website called 99 Design submitted it in a contest. Of course the prize is money you provide as a fee for whoever wins and you are the one that selects the winner. We were blessed to find a designer out of Romania, Andrei Bat, who is working with us to create a unified look for the entire series.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Gene Wolfe said to me, “If you want to be a good writer read good writing.” I often quote that advice to students and clients. The corollary is, if you want to be a great writer read great writing. In addition, I tell aspiring writers to write the story they want to read. That is not uncommon advice, but I believe it is the advice that will help fan the creative spark to full bright flame.

Remember that the universe is a creative energy and YOU are an aspect of the universe, a particle of that same creative force that brought the entire diversity of existence into being. Act like it! Create!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

In the immediate context of reading I say this, enjoy! Read what you wish and ignore the critics who are more than willing to tell you what is wrong with this or that book or author. Are you having fun with the book? Then it is a good book!

In the greater sense of life and living, here is a little story.

A hero of mine, Norman Vaughan, did what many thought was an impossible thing. He went to Antarctica at age 89 and climbed a mountain that was named after him. He had gone to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd in 1928 and Byrd named a mountain after Norman. The guy got it into his head to go back and climb this thing and everyone said, “You’re nuts, Norman.” But he did it despite all the naysayers and a great many setbacks and outright disasters. When he got to the top he said, “Dream Big and Dare to Fail.” Those words changed my life about and I give them to all my students and readers whenever possible.

Tasa's Path Book CoverJeffrey J. Michaels
Huntington Beach, California


Cover Artist: Andrei Bar
Publisher: Quintessence

Tasa’s Path