Storytellers Need Access to All Levels of Reality

The goal is not to get to the highest level and stay there; it’s to know how and when to use each level.

Photo by @charlpost

Life has layers of perception.

Level 1: Physical bodies

People who are obsessed with their bodies are almost always here. They see everyone else based on their body, too. Short, tall; dark, light; pretty, ugly.

Level 2: Social

People obsessed with status are stuck here and at number 1. Here you find relative power, relationships, family dynamics, and hierarchy.

Level 3: Spiritual

I don’t know what else to call this one. It’s the visceral recognition that we are all the same. It’s universal love and artistic expression.

Storytellers Need The Whole Toolkit

Some characters will use one level of reality at all times. Some articles will be focused on one level or the other.

It’s fun to think about people this way. The obvious ones are there: the gym bro is stuck at level 1. The socialite is at 2. What about a person who is stuck at 3? Maybe they don’t bathe, or they can’t tell when they have overstayed their welcome. Ever seen that movie Our Idiot Brother? Paul Rudd.

If you’re writing characters, you can mix and match these perceptions to make characters complex and interesting.

Writing articles needs the same considerations, except you need to think about the audience and their levels of perception. Which level(s) of reality are you trying to speak from? It’s good to know that 98% of people are in the first 2. It’s also good to understand that Medium has an audience of people mostly at level 2, and some around 3. Sprinkling in level 1 here might be a nice surprise.

Switching Levels

People can’t switch from a lower level to a higher one without a nice emotional bridge. For example, spiritual teachers speak from a place of level 3, but they understand level 2, because they advertise based on their social accolades (being a doctor, book sales, etc.) They also dress the “spiritual leader” part and it doesn’t hurt if they are attractive. They work us up toward a level 3 experience by laying a foundation of the first 2.

A lot of us over romanticize level 3 because we believe it is the “highest reality.” While I do agree that in our painfully materialistic world we could use some more love, we should never ignore the first 2 unless we ourselves want to be ignored.

Another example: in stand-up comedy, the comedian will address her level 1 at the very beginning of the show. “I know I look like if ___ fucked ___.” This puts the audience at ease, because we know she is aware on the first level. OK, great. She goes on and usually discusses social situations and maybe even addresses the audience dynamic. If she can do these well, she can bring us all the way to level 3, which is laughter. Isn’t that nice?

The Role of Storytellers

To be a good storyteller is to understand each level well and never judge those who reside in them. It is not better to be in level 3 all day necessarily, but as a storyteller, it is better to know how to get ourselves in each level and when each can hurt us.

In my personal experience, level 2 stresses me the fuck out and I want to skip it to level 3. I hate the idea of status and social games.

The problem is, they exist whether I like them or not. And if I ignore them, it won’t be neutral, it will be bad. My journey is to learn to see this level as a game and one that is not to be taken too seriously.

I believe we all have different journeys depending on our upbringing and disposition.

Which level are you avoiding?

Originally published at on July 6, 2020.

Written by

Lost southern boy learning to be a storyteller in Los Angeles. Interested in writing together?

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