With my back hurting like it is, I haven’t had much BIC time (that’s “butt-in-chair time,” for you non-writers) this week. Which translates to being way behind my personal schedule for the WIP to date. A couple of times, I was just too dragged out to even think about writing. So I’ve been watching Star Trek: Enterprise on Netflix and reading Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.
The Writer’s Journey is a really interesting format for story structure. It’s based on Joseph Campbell’s master work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and directly applies the principles of the so-called “monomyth” to movies, such as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Titanic, The Lion King, and others.
It’s been an interesting, but unbelievably slow, read for me. I’ve learned a lot, but I’ve also forgotten a lot of it because of how long it’s taken me to read through this doggone thing. I should know better; either write, or read, but don’t try to read during writing periods. Don’t work for me.
Anyway, the format is, quite literally, a 12-step program for story structure. The basic map, and all its twelve parts, fit nicely into the Three Act story structure; this isn’t anything new, it’s simply two different approaches. The strongest draw to The Writer’s Journey is the flexibility it provides. Whereas the Three Act structure, or as I prefer to think of it, the Four-Part story structure, is fairly rigid in where things must occur, there’s a certain amount of fluidity to the Hero’s Journey structure which has tremendous appeal. I’ve already discovered with my own WIP the need to flex on things a bit.
With Vogler’s map, I can move things to wherever they need to occur. Other elements can be left out, depending on the need of the story. For instance, if your story is about a fisherman alone at sea, the odds of his need for a mentor character aren’t good, and neither is the opportunity to introduce one. So, dump it. However, the trickster or shape-shifter can go from good to bad and back again as needed, so the dolphins which seemed to be comic relief earlier can be helpful rescuers later, etc. Or leave ’em out. The only thing the story’s going to absolutely need is the shadow character and the hero. All the rest, including where in the order of things they appear, is open to interpretation and the writer’s discretion.
In some ways, this is great. In other ways, it’s pretty horrible. For instance, if you place the First Plot Point too late in a story, and spend too much time doing set up, the audience is bored senseless and you’ll lose them. (I’m afraid I made this mistake in my story, though my readers haven’t complained. Yet.) So, you can be provided enough rope to hang yourself as a writer, metaphorically speaking of course. Too much freedom leads to disaster.
But Disney has made a living out of producing movies based on the hero’s journey model for many years now (starting with The Lion King, which Vogler helped develop). It’s still the basic story structure, but in my not-very-humble opinion, it breaks things into a finer granularity than the 4-part structure story map does. The finer detail makes examining the story and analyzing weaknesses FAR easier than using the huge story map I’ve come to know and love so well.
This is such an exciting concept, in fact, I’m going to apply it to my first completed manuscript to see what missing elements can actually be shored up to bring it to viability. (I have to face it: A lot of folks who read that story loved it, complete with all its flaws and issues. I have no right to assume they’re all wrong and I know better. I’m going to try and salvage it pretty much as it is, correcting the major problems and then…well, I guess I’ll publish it. Why not? I have the sequel about 30% finished, too.) When I’m finished with that aspect, I’m going to see about using it to establish a story map for a couple of other ideas I have too, and see whether I like it as well as the 4-part structure or not.
Next week, being Thanksgiving week, would have been a short one for me at work anyway, so I decided to take the three days prior off and just have myself a vacation. I’m going to try and use that time to develop the WIP better, and make some progress. I’m going to try and figure out a way to write in a more comfortable spot in the house, too, just in case I can’t stand the chair (which isn’t going to be replaced until well after Christmas, I’d guess). And I’m going to use the time to focus myself on the business of being grateful. Grateful for my job, my supportive and loving family, and my amazing wife.
I’d also like to see whether I can do anything to speed up my output as a writer, too. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll look into doing some more paid work. We need a new car.
Just some Friday thoughts about writing, since I can’t seem to concentrate on work.