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Banes at 12:00AM, June 8, 2017
tags: banes thursday

from the Best of Banes Collection

A writing instructor once gave me brief advice on how to write a story, structurally speaking. It was 1/4 Act One setup, 1/2 Act Two complications and rising stakes (I think), and about 1/4 An Act Three “cathartic ending”.

I knew “catharsis” was a powerful word, and my assumption was that “cathartic” meant “emotional”. I looked it up and it meant “emotional release”. Many years later, now, I encountered the word again and with a much-improved Internet, can now see that it is “an emotional release that leads to purification or spiritual renewal”.

Say what, now?

The catharsis is the emotional climax of a story, where everything the Protagonist has fought and suffered through, all the lessons they've (hopefully) learned are put to the final test.

They face a final challenge and become a new person, the person they needed to become. That “rush” we feel at the end of a great book, movie, or comic is our vicarious catharsis (if I may use two five dollar words in a row), and might be the whole point of telling stories.

If stories are guides, in a sense, that show us how to live (or how NOT to live), then the character's Arc is a metaphor for a path we might follow in our own lives. If we have the wherewithal to figure out where we're going. And the guts to get there.

When you feel that emotional ‘rush’ toward the end of a good story, that's the cathartic moment. That's the best moment in a story.

And maybe that rush represents what we want to ‘get to’ in life. The satisfaction of victory, in becoming the people we want to become. Reaching new milestones in our jobs or careers. Being in relationships or making them work better. Spiritual growth. Or maturity of character. Or ‘really living’. Happiness. Success. Freedom. Being “better”. Authenticity. Being kinder, more honest, more courageous. Whatever we decide to go after.

In the Quackcasts and elsewhere, I often reference the moment in the movie ‘Insomnia’ where Al Pacino's character picks up his police badge and goes after the killer. He decides who he is. I watch that scene over and over whenever I play that movie.

It's the same moment in the first Avengers movie, when Bruce Banner becomes the best version of the Hulk. Or when Sydney faces her tormentor with new strength and determination at the end of SCREAM. Etc, etc, etc.

(More literary or comic examples elude me at the moment, sorry).

We read, watch, and write stories to help us create our own real-life stories.

Or at least that's what I was thinking about today…

May we all reach our cathartic moments!

take care,




KimLuster at 1:25PM, June 9, 2017

I'm traveling (in Virginia) so just chiming in to say another excellent ae Article!

thunderdavid at 11:49AM, June 8, 2017

I like this. Yea, lately i've been reading on story telling. So this blog will come in handy

Ironscarf at 3:52AM, June 8, 2017

The final scene of The Swimmer, where Burt Lancaster arrives home after swimming though the neighbour's pools, to discover his own family have been gone for some time. His catharsis is the realisation he's lost everything, for reasons we learn pool by pool.

bravo1102 at 1:45AM, June 8, 2017

"I never knew how empty was my soul, until it was filled. " Arthur after he drinks from the Grail in Excalibur.

ozoneocean at 12:44AM, June 8, 2017

A catharsis isn't always an entirely positive thing. It can be like the bursting of a swollen, infected wound, when you let all the puss and blood burst out so that you can clean and purify it... In story terms it can be the release of poisonous tension that has been building and building, either emotional or psychological. A character can break down and cry, beat someone to death, go on a killing spree, or just leave their family like Nora in The Doll House.

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