Monday, 2 July 2012

I Took the Long Way Home.

I like the idea of The Hero's Journey. I've read the Christopher Vogler book,
The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, I've read essays by Joseph Campell and I've hit so many websites talking about the structure that I feel like I've been on the journey myself.

Well of course I have, we all have. We've all had to overcome adversity, found love, lost love, battled our demons, taken a leap of faith and all the other aspects of Campell's monomyth theory. We do it in our personal lives and careers. We do it in our examination of ourselves when growing up, and if your'e over thirty, re-growing up. 

There is on thing about The Hero's Journey I could never really come to grips with however. It always felt too rigid to me. This may be the cause of it falling out of fashion in recent years. Though Hollywood still seems addicted to it. Well if it worked for everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter who can blame them?

I pull this lever, my jet-pack will takes me home.
I've structured stories using this plan then gone all native and pantster on my next piece of writing. I always felt like I needed to escape, to free my self from the bondage of the thing. The problem is I kind of accidentally structured the novel I'm writing using the Hero's Journey template. And it feel right. It feels like I'm writing a true novel, one that looks at all the half finished manuscripts in my drawer like they are delinquent children.

So how will I cope? Where will with this retraining structure take me?
Well these question have not only kept me awake but also forced me to abandon this novel several times. Then one sleepless night I had an epiphany. I look back now and realise it was simply an awaking to what everybody else already knew. Maybe I was so blocked in my anguish and fear of failing at yet another novel that it held back free thinking. But I reached the answer just in time.

I can continue with this template and adapt it. "What, did I hear that right?" Yes you did. I said I'm using a version of the Hero's Journey. I'm not adhering to the strict structure. If something needs adapting or changing to suit the story then I'll do that. I like the arc the Hero's Journey offers. I like the way it forces us to think about the characters and their personal arc too. But maybe I want things to be more organic while retaining that rainbow of the journey.

Coincidentally, or through synchronicity, I had a stab at writing a two page screenplay for a short film competition. While looking for tips to refresh me on the art I came across this Powerpoint presentation on Big Spaceship on how to write a screenplay that utilises the Hero's Journey, while expanding it for the good of the story.

It was exactly what I needed to read. I hope you like it too.


  1. One, I was at a college enjoying an interview with Ted Eliot and Terry Rossio who wrote the Pirates of the Caribbean screenplays and so many more huge blockbuster hits. When they opened the audience to questioning, someone asked, "why are so many movies nowadays so predictable and unoriginal?"
    The authors blamed "The Heroes Journey." The funny thing was, the professor who put the talk together was a huge fan of The Heroes Journey. I took her English class fifteen years ago and she introduced me to Joseph Cambpell and all of his ideas. She was a huge Star Trek fanatic.
    However, times have changed. The heroes journey is being taught to everyone as the quintisential structure for all stories. When this happens, things become predictable. I studied the history of theater and I can tell you that each generation comes up with some sure proof structure that is supposed to mirror the perfect story. Over time, people accept it as the norm and will bash any story with a different structure. As more time goes by, they will get tired of it.
    It's still okay to make up your own structure. I was blown away when the heroe's journey emerged. Hmmmm... that was in the 70's when Star Wars came out. Forty years later, every move wants to be just like star wars. I'm ready for something new.
    I still love the Heroes Journey, but I must admit that I know what will happen next every time I watch a movie. It's the stories that experiment with that structure that I enjoy the most and there have been a few like Pirates of the Caribbean. I say, take some of the journey and do the opposite of what is supposed to happen. The structure is more ancient than the written word.

  2. Yes I agree and that's what I believe. Even the best structures will become formulaic and we need to change that. One thing that's relevant is the fact our lives, no matter how different, do seem to follow in similar patterns. I guess this is why the Hero's Journey appealed to so many for so long.

    But as anybody knows it isn't as staid as the same old cut and paste structure that Hollywood love so much. There are many subtleties and nuances that are contained inside. Obviously people lean toward the simplest forms of any art though. Also as you know Hollywood has it's own mantra, if it pays it stays.

    When films like Chris Nolan's 'Memento' came out people were blown away and thought it was revolutionary. It was to an extent. But really it was Campbell's vision cut up and twisted. When people try to jump on that bandwagon we are treated to structures that are cut up and thrown in the air like confetti; whatever lands is the way we tell the story. I don't think we'll ever fully withdraw from telling the story of life because in the end hat's all storytelling is about- us trying to find how this thing called life really works.

    Thanks for the comment, I really appreciated your input and thoughts. Very interesting points.

  3. Oh, planning versus winging it. My first novel was, well, a typical first novel. A mishmash of things. I liken it to mowing grass in the dark, mowing a lawn I've never seen before. It's a slowly evolving process, and mostly it was years of pantsing and starting over and revising until I had something satisfactory.

    My second novel was essentially built the same way, though by this point, I had a better sense of what I was doing, so it came much easier (and it doesn't hurt that the story is simpler).

    I had a different experience with my third novel, which was a sequel to the first. Though I'd convinced myself I was incapable of pre-planning--heck, the prose just wouldn't feel natural that way--I had a definitive framework, and I found the process easier. And I was still able to be completely spontaneous. Heck, I know the end result, even some mile markers along the way, but it was still an adventure getting from point to point. In the future, I'd like to use kind of a minimalist framework. That's kind of necessary now, as another partner and I are about to embark on a novel-length project.

    Screenplay, an excellent exercise for any novelist, even if he does not endeavor to ever use the screenplay. It's a good pacing test, and I ended up doing this with my first novel (and subsequently making some changes as a result). You think you've got an opening that's fairly poignant, and you discover, to your horror, that you're twenty-five pages into the screenplay, and not a damn thing has happened.


Paws: The Revenge.