Gleaning Conditions of Value from a Picture

The principles presented in Discovering the Soul of Your Story can be used to tease out story elements from many different sources and generate new stories from those elements. This article concerns those that can be gleaned from a single photograph.

Woman Praying at Disaster Site

From NBC News "Week in Pictures": March 6–13 2014

Photo credit: Kyodo via Reuters
Click the image to visit its source

Photo description excerpted from the NBC News website: "A woman prays in the snow for the deceased of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami at the location of a photo studio where she had been employed at the time, in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on March 11, 2014."

In this photograph, a woman squats and prays over two bundles of cellophane-wrapped flowers that have been placed on barren ground in the midst of what appears to be the beginnings of a daytime snow storm. The bleakness of landscape seems to mirror the apparent personal distress that has brought her to this location to pray.

As Chapter 5 of Discovering the Soul of Your Story points out, a main character who has suffered the loss of a loved one is certainly sympathetic to an audience, but the loss itself is not enough to generate a story. Rather, the story stems from what the main character does in the wake of the loss and is specific to her condition of value and vector of intent. In this case, the condition of value and vector of intent may depend on whom she is praying to and why she is praying.

For example, if she is praying to the deceased relative, her prayer might be an attempt to gain guidance with regard to some important life decision. In that case, the condition of value in her immediate action is the guidance that she seeks to gain, but the condition of value that drives the story may lie in the decision for which she needs it. She might, for instance, be asking a deceased husband for guidance regarding whether to accept a proposal for remarriage—in which case, the story might be driven by either her attempt to keep her loyalty to her late husband or her attempt to gain freedom from the cultural judgments that would prevent her from moving on in her life (two very different conditions of value).

As an alternative, she might be praying to the deceased love one to gain a sense of forgiveness for some unresolved wrong for which she needs to feel absolution so that she can move on with her life. In that case, the condition of value is a sense of absolution, and the story may follow her attempts to gain it.

However, if she is praying for (rather than to) the deceased person, then her condition of value must involve the well being of that person, which is likely to be a gain attempt—with conditions of value such as his or her fortunate rebirth and enlightenment or well-lighted wanderings in the samsara.

In either case, the nature of the prayer determines the direction of the story, including what starts it and what goal we-the-audience will use to measure its progress.

What story idea comes to your mind from the photograph?

For More Information

For details regarding these concepts and terms, see the Discovering the Soul of Your Story—Overview video and the glossary. For more articles like this, visit the Field Notes category.

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