Fear not gentle reader, I have not forgotten you. The winter of our discontent is well nigh over. With sickness and familial obligations behind me and the black and sour scrapings of my soul shoveled into the furnace for yet another year, I’m ready to think and talk about writing once again.
Last post I referenced something called the Hero’s Journey. Also known as the “monomyth” it is the result of decades of research and curation on the part of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Presented for the masses in his book “Hero With A Thousand Faces”, Campbell felt that he had identified consistent themes and patterns within myth and lore across many cultures. While Campbell was mostly interested in what this told us about the human spirit and subconscious (he was after all a student of Jung), story tellers of all stripes and quality immediately embraced the formula as an aid to their own creative efforts. Campbell had exposed the bones of what storytellers had known intuitively for eons.
For those of us coming after, the neophytes and students of the craft, the Hero’s Journey is a life saver. Most of us have a world of ideas and characters running around, bumping off the empty places in our heads. Without direction they live like mayflies, buzzing about until they die. Some find a place on the page, but even then, it’s no guarantee they will be anything more than a disjointed collection of words, thoughts, and ideas. Every serious writer has a notebook full of just such writing. The Hero’s Journey provides a skeleton upon which to hang these ideas, turning the soupy mass of story tissue into a living thing.
Richard and I found the Hero’s Journey to be invaluable in plotting out the last three Grapple Gun books. In each case we had a strong grasp of the characters and setting. We knew where we wanted to go. Richard, the primary writer and particularly adept at dialogue, had witty conversations already whipping back and forth between his ears. The Hero’s Journey helped us connect these multifarious dots and keep the action moving.
Could we have done it without the prompting of this universal outline? Probably, but there is a second factor to keep in mind: the audience. Every medium has forms to which the audience has become accustomed. Television has it’s half hour comedies, and your movie needs an inciting incident exactly 12 minutes in. Epic fantasy can be 500 pages long, while your romantic novel better better have lip lock by page 150. Like genre, adhering to these forms rarely has the effect of boring the given audience. Quite the opposite actually. A classic O. Henry short story always has a twist and every reader loves knowing it’s just around the corner. Just like last time. The same is true of the Hero’s Journey. Knowing that your hero will finally prevail against ever mounting odds often has the effect of forcing the reader to wonder how and what, propelling them through the story on the edge of their seat. A well told story in a well worn format can be like a Ferrari in Wyoming: pure joy.
And so I turn to this journey in my own story. In the next few installments I hope to break it down into steps along the Hero’s Journey, fleshing out an outline and identifying support characters. Characters themselves fit into a series of archetypes along the Journey and Lord willing, we’ll explore that next.