Have you ever wondered what makes certain stories more powerful than others? Could there be such a thing as a story’s fifth element. If so, what is it?
Although in recent times, the basic elements have been recognized as four, in most ancient cultures and religions there are five. Hinduism acknowledges five great elements—earth, water, fire, air, and the ether, aka akasha. In ancient Tibetan philosophy, the fifth element is the space and in Japanese traditions, the void or spirit. In Ancient Greece, the ether was the most sacred element, for it was unchangeable as opposed to the other four.
Also, the primal geographical directions have been subject to confusion in this matter. Most Eastern and Mesoamerican natives viewed the center of the Earth as a fifth direction, the principal essence from which the other four primal directions derived. In the West, this center is called the Axis Mundi and is the connection between heaven and earth, the point where the four cardinal directions meet.
When I learned of the five elements and directions, I began wondering whether stories, being the reflection of life, could possess them as well? And if so, then what could such elements represent in regard to story?
In most spiritual and esoteric traditions, fire is considered the element of passion and desire, hence functions as a driving force. Such an element is crucial in storytelling and the plot itself. Without it, no story would unfold. In all genres, the protagonist usually has some wish or goal, from a love interest to resolving a mystery. Air, on the other hand, is regarded as the element of change and movement. And what would stories be without changes, twists, and turns? The element of emotions and the subconscious is water, which could reflect the protagonist’s psyche and emotional growth. The fourth element is the ground, a symbol of stability and roots—another crucial building block of stories. Without a certain background or history, a story could not move onwards and grow into an ultimate resolution.
The mysterious fifth element
It seems that the basic four elements are naturally incorporated in story. However, what could the mysterious fifth element represent?
If the fifth element is the source of the other four, then we could think of it as the soul. But what is the soul of stories? What infuses them with the unique impression, the needed depth that has the power to touch the readers? Could the most well constructed, rationalized, and intellectualized story succeed without a soul? And does a story’s soul equal a protagonist’s soul?
Even if protagonists have more flaws than virtues, their inability to communicate on a deeper level makes the plot less powerful. If the central character’s soul is the source of the other four components of the story, this could explain why different stories and protagonists affect or touch different people. Maybe the fifth element varies, depending on the connection between a certain reader and a certain author? Or is the fifth element something beyond us? Something that we simply can’t explain only sense, like the ether? Perhaps the omnipresent, divine power, which touches us on a subconscious level?
I believe that within all stories lies the potential of the fifth element, though some authors may not be aware of it, and therefore not incorporate it. Maybe the answer truly lies somewhere in between the physical and metaphysical, or rather, on the bridge between our heart and mind.
Visionary approach to story telling and the fifth element
And that’s where visionary fiction benefits, but is also challenged. Visionary stories thrive on soul journeys and are usually built on connecting the mind with the heart. Therefore, if the fifth element of story is real, then it could be worth considering for visionary authors.
Iva Kenaz was born in Prague, the Czech Republic. Writing has been her passion since childhood, and her novels are significantly influenced by spirituality and metaphysics. She studied Screenwriting at the Film Academy in Prague and holds an M.A in Creative Writing. She’s also a screenwriter, translator, and practitioner of tarot, runes, and astrology. For more information please visit her website: www.ivakenaz.com
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