BookLife Talks with Hazel Denhart
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Universal Grammar of Story'
A long-awaited project comes to fruition in Denhart’s Universal Grammar of Story, in which she explains the ancient writer archetype and why some stories stick with readers while others are gone in a flash.
Can you describe the goal of your book?
The book aims to guide writers in reclaiming their role as cultural scouts. We have lost our mentors in the gold rush of modernity and forgotten how to navigate the consequences that stories bring into the world. The Universal Grammar of Story uses the wisdom of our literary ancestors to awaken the ancient writer archetype as we navigate uncharted and increasingly dangerous social unrest. Awakening comes from recognizing three primal forces that call us to write from deep in our personal and collective unconscious. Responding to this call requires moving past logical thought and reaching into our emotional and intuitive intellect, where stories come alive as entities in their own right. Of course, composing these stories demands precision in the timing of the hero’s moment of ego transformation. Such transformation distinguishes these archetypal stories from reports or journal entries. While the hero’s ego shift is typically the focus of the work, all characters, whether they appear in the work of Sophocles, Shakespeare, or Dostoevsky, undergo ego dislocation on some fundamental level, be it a fleeting moment of doubt or a full-on crash into humility before the ego takes command again. When this modeling of humility is repeated by millions of writers, it becomes the herd mantra and enters the minds of billions of people, in turn bringing positive consequences to the world. Such are the guiding stories—the technical, linguistic, psychological, emotional, cognitive, and mythological treasures—inherited from the mentors of antiquity so that we can create the stories humanity needs for survival.
Did you find writing a guide on writing to be difficult?
It’s been a life’s work that started as my master’s thesis. After years of developing the guide by teaching it in university classrooms and workshops, I needed fresh insight. So, I took it abroad, teaching it in Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East. The perspectives of Kyrgyz people in the mountains of Central Asia, urban Kurds in Turkey, and rural Bedouins in Saudi Arabia beautifully corrected the work. It was the best and yet the most difficult experience of my life, as I faced three armed uprisings, first during the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010 and then during the Arab Spring. Every writer should have to run for her life at least once!
Is your book solely for writers or can nonwriters find something useful in it too?Among my students have been film and theater directors, literary critics, writing teachers, and composers, all seeking to understand what makes one story intoxicatingly beautiful while another collapses.
There is also a companion workbook available. Did you always mean to have one?
The workbook was originally part of the main book, but nobody wants a 500-page writing book! There is also a card game in production for people who just want to have some fun with writing. Other books and materials related to The Universal Grammar of Story are also in the queue.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing but feels intimidated?
If you crave to write, then you are a writer. Claim it. You already have everything within you necessary to write all that destiny summons you to write. You just need to be reminded of what it is and where to find it.