Thursday, August 4, 2011

How's the Journey? A Hero's Approach to Plot

Hello and welcome to This and That Thursdays. Ocieanna here. For this week's offering, I'm reprinting an article I wrote a while back. I love the hero's journey and hope you will too!

“How’s the journey?” It’s my pastor’s favorite question, and I like it. It encourages me to enjoy the view as I travel along. As a writer, I plot my characters’ journeys, and one way to frame them is to draw on the Hero’s Journey (or Quest). Let’s take as an example the story of a writer going to a conference for the first time. Now there’s a quest.

And So It Begins
1. Ordinary Life—First, we show the heroine in her natural habitat.
 Church secretary Abby Writer sits in her office typing letters for the pastor. Her thoughts drift to her two, college-age daughters and her boy—sixteen—on the verge of getting his license. (This shows the reader that Abby’s almost an empty-nester and ripe for a challenge.)
2. Call to Adventure—The call can be obvious, “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” or as subtle as a change in the wind.
 Sifting through mail, Abby discovers a brochure for the Write Choice Writers’ Conference. Something inside nudges her to check it out, but …
3. Refusal of the Call—The heroine’s fears, other commitments, or personal baggage keep her from embarking.
 Abby throws the brochure in the trash and chides herself. She hasn’t done any real writing for years.
4. Meeting with a Mentor—Someone helps the heroine make the right choice.
 That evening, Abby’s husband notices the brochure in the trash can. Excited and supportive, he encourages her to go.
5. Crossing the First Threshold—The mentor’s wisdom and faith give the heroine strength to take the first step.
 Abby buys her ticket online.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies—The heroine prepares for the upcoming challenge.
 Abby’s tire blows out on the way to the airport. Barely making her flight, she dashes on board, but before she can take a breath, the pilot’s voice comes on. He announces that their flight will be delayed. She arrives at the conference after dark. Exhausted, she collapses into bed, but self-doubt and fear (her enemies) plague her sleep. In the morning, she meets her roommate, a published author who knows several editors. She gives Abby a hug and promises to help. That day, she’s heartened by positive experiences in workshops.
7. Approach to the Inner Cave—Build suspense as the heroine draws closer to confronting her enemies.
 Boosted by the day’s successes, Abby makes an appointment with an editor.
8. Supreme Ordeal—The heroine faces her greatest fear.
 Abby sits on a bench preparing for her appointment and overhears two editors laughing, ridiculing the worst manuscript they’ve read. Her stomach coils as she realizes… it’s hers. She’d sent two chapters to be reviewed before the conference. Never has she felt so foolish. But rather than running to her room in tears, she stands up, focuses on her goal, and marches to her appointment.
9. Reward—The heroine receives the good consequences of her achievement.
 This editor has been searching for a book like Abby’s. He asks to see a proposal.
10. Road Back—The heroine barely has time to revel in her reward before new challenges arise.
 On the plane ride home, it hits her. What’s a proposal?
11. Death and Resurrection—The ultimate conflict. The heroine appears dead, but comes back to life.
 The proposal process overwhelms Abby. After a disheartening day, she deletes everything having to do with writing—including her proposal. Feeling like a pathetic failure, she goes to bed. The next morning a new plot twist flits into her mind. Her stomach sinks. Why did she delete her proposal? She races to her computer to retrieve it from her hard drive. Using computer skills and instinct, she gets them back, and that day she completes it and sends it in.
12. Return with Elixir—The heroine’s hard work and perseverance pay off.
 After seven months, a package comes…it’s her self-addressed-stamped envelope. Dejected, she doesn’t open it. She knows it’s a rejection. As she sits crying, the phone rings. It’s the editor. He’s switched publications, and his new house has accepted her proposal. Her husband comes home, and they celebrate with a glass of wine.
The end.

And there you are—ready-made plot. So, have fun with it, but don’t let it limit you. Feel free to switch the elements around, cut what doesn’t work, and add your own ideas. Remember—this is your journey to create.

For further reading: The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler