How can we help: Exploring how and why we give, and how we might do it better
Bad things seem to pile up: the slow grind of dishonest politics, the sharp horror of war, the unfathomable end of life on earth barely registering on our front pages. You want to make the world a little bit better, but amid all of this, is there any point?
Much has been written already about the risk of burnout among activists, charity workers and healthcare workers. Many have repeated the advice to put on your own oxygen mask first, to practise ‘self-care’ (a term that I find off-putting for some reason, even if I agree with the concept).
But aside from looking after yourself (time off, getting into nature – whatever works), I wonder if it’s most important to find a kind of acceptance, to see despair as the inevitable other side of the coin.
The hero’s journey is trotted out regularly in discussions on storytelling (and, therefore, also on advertising, campaigning, fundraising, and so on). The protagonist goes on a journey to fulfil a desire or answer a call to action; overcomes the enemy; returns home a changed person. Even if we don’t know the theory, we’re all aware of the formula somewhere deep in our bones.
Into the Woods: How stories work and why we tell them, by former BBC/Channel 4 producer John Yorke, picks this formula apart, exploring each element and providing a few more clues to watch out for in any narrative. The three-act or five-act structure; the inciting incident, midpoint, crisis and climax; the central character who must face his or her opposite.
Some of it is almost gloomily formulaic: in a Bond or Hitchcock film, he writes, the crisis is nearly always a high-octane, 25-minute sequence at the end, set in a unique location, and almost always on territory that’s alien to our hero.