How many of you have heard of the Hero’s Journey? And how many of you have made much sense of it?
Yup, that’s about how it goes for everyone. I’m not a particularly deep cookie sheet, so it took me a bit of time to understand how the Hero’s Journey could change my writing. Did it only apply to heroes? What could it really do for me? And why, sweet lord, was everyone talking about it?
Between you and me, it’s because it’s very worth talking about. (And reading. If you get a chance, pick up the book “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler. Brilliant book that made it simpler for this cookie sheet to make some better cookies!)
And also between you and me, I’m going to be dedicating my TTT for the next several weeks to help you break it down and see if it helps all of us with our WIPS!
The Hero’s Journey has many stages that can help you develop your character arcs, arrange your story into acts and help you build a pace. The most important way thing to remember is that for your characters, in their own minds, they are their own hero. So, you can use this Journey to guide your heroes, heroines, villains and even secondary characters.
As we work our way though this series, I will be using quotes from the book listed above to ask questions and give guide instructions. And, of course, I’ll be adding my own hopefully helpful tips and explanations.
The very first stage of the Hero’s Journey is what is commonly called “The Ordinary World”. This is because you always want to show where the hero is from, what is the world as he knows it.
Things are about to happen that will send your hero on an adventure, be it a love adventure, a physical adventure or a mystery adventure. Something will happen to the hero in question to change them from the world they knew to an experience they’ve never known, possibly even never wanted. Ultimately, this adventure is going to change them. A hero that has not changed at the end of your book simply has not finished their adventure. You cannot come out of an adventure without becoming different in some way.
In order for your reader to understand how drastic those changes are, you need to first show them where the hero feels comfortable, the world they know. Then begin working your way through the functions of the Ordinary World--afterall, we’re showing it for a reason :)--and try to incorporate these within your first chapter.
• Raise The Dramatic Question: Give your hero something for the reader to be concerned about. "Will she achieve the goal, overcome flaw, learn lesson needing learned? Dramatic questions hook audience & involve them with the emotions of the character."
This section is where you introduce the Internal and External Conflicts, usually they are what create your Dramatic Question. Don’t be afraid to simply lay out what your hero’s problems are. But how do you go about creating the question? Here’s some more functions to look for to see if you’re getting enough done at the very beginning of your story.
• Make An Entrance: When you first introduce your hero, they should be seen in a way that best shows who the character is, deep down, in the world as they know it. "The first action should be a model of the hero's characteristic attitude & future probs or solution that will result. The 1st behavior should define & reveal character, unless intent is to mislead & conceal true nature.”
What this means is that you should show the hero the way you want the reader to think of him or her. Create a first impression. Remember the movie “Tombstone”? The first time we see Wyatt Earp, he’s happy and looking pleased with himself...until he sees a workman whipping a horse. He takes the whip in hand and wallops the workman saying, “Hurts, doesn’t it?” Immediately we are shown that he’s a man who is excited about his future, fair, if rough, and decent at his core. We’re going to need that impression to sustain us as he begins doing things that aren’t so fair and decent, and it does it’s job. We are now interested enough to follow him whereever he leads, convinced of his inner goodness.
• Introducing The Hero: Like a social intro, establish a bond between reader & hero, commonalities so they can relate to him.
Again, using a movie reference, when you introduce a character, you’ll want to immediately prove to your reader that we’re following someone they’d like to make friends with. The character can be cranky, quirky, goofy or even rude, but they should have something a reader and empathize with. “Terms Of Endearment” begins with the heroine deathly concerned that her child isn’t safe in her crib, filled with first mother anxiety. We relate to that urge to protect, that sense that if we stay by their bed all night long, we can keep the child safe and alive. We probably wouldn’t pinch the kid until she cries and leave satisfied, but the writer’s job was already done. We related.
Establish What's At Stake: What does the hero stand to gain or lose in the adventure?
This is a highly important question. If they just go running around for the hell of it, why do we care? You’d think they were idiots and not waste your time. Most things in life have a price. Every story you ever read is simply a tale of what price people are willing to pay for their heart’s desire. Show what a hero can lose if they take the adventure and here’s a very special tip--make sure it’s outweighed by what they can gain. Heavily outweighed.
There are also certain facts that are needed to be shown in The Ordinary World. Information you must impart with your reader.
1) Backstory & Exposition: Backstory: facts that explain what got the hero HERE. Exposition: graceful--preferably slow--revelation of the back story and pertinent plot facts; explanation of all aspects of plot pressures.
Backstory can be a few lines or even a flashback. I’m of the “few lines” school of thought myself, but what’s important is why your hero feels this Ordinary World is home. Show us why they have a level of comfort here. Now, by comfort, I don’t mean that Cinderella particularly enjoys sleeping in the fireplace. I mean, she knows the ins and outs of her world. She knows that if she wakes up early and cleans all day long, she stands a pretty good chance of not getting beaten. Why wouldn’t she leave that world at the drop of a hat? Because she doesn’t know that doing everything she’s told will increase her odds of getting through each day if she goes anywhere else. A rat in a trap may not want to die, but it knows the current danger. Setting it free can get you bitten because you are the Unknown and nothing in the world is scarier than that.
2) Theme: State it HERE. "If you had to boil down it's essence in a single word or phrase, what would it be?"--ie: "Love conquers All"
Ever write a thesis in your high school essays? That line you’re trying to prove at the bottom of your first paragraph? Something in there that says “This is the way things are” and you go on to present concrete details that show you’re right? Believe it or not, you should have one for your story. It doesn’t have to be epic, but it can be the thread you come back to when you can’t find your center and your characters seem to be aimlessly wandering around. Find a way to place what you’d like to show your reader somewhere early in your book. First chapter, most preferably. In fact, if you can fit all of this in chapter one, you’re definitely on the right page.
Next Week: The Call To Adventure!