Looking For Assistance – Haunting Dark Fairy Tales

Hello dear readers.  I post today with a small plea (I promise, more in the way of helpful posts soon).

My wife is a visual artist.  While her primary medium is photography, she is also a Photoshop guru and creates altered art.  We have talked at length about combining my love for writing and her love of art into a single project.  I would write a story, maybe 50-100 pages, and she would provide art for the work.

Here’s the thing, for what she does, I want to write something that is a haunting, ethereal, dark fairy tale type of story.  Problem being, I haven’t read much in that particular genre and as much as I have some ideas, I’m unsure of the voice for it.

So I ask for your help.  Do you have any suggestions of things I should read as research?  I appreciate anything you might be able to suggest.  I need some guidance and inspiration.

Thank you in advance.

The Hero’s Journey Part 10 – The Road Back

Our hero has crossed two major thresholds so far.  The first brought him to the other world.  The second delivered him to his ordeal.  Now, he needs to cross a third.

After the ordeal, our hero seized his reward and felt pretty good about himself.  He celebrated, became a man, found love, recounted his amazing tale to the delight of his companions and generally let himself forget that maybe, just perhaps, he wasn’t finished yet.  The third threshold that needs to be crossed here is rededicating oneself to the quest.  What our hero has endured might be believed by no one when he returns home, he might be called a liar or never have his accomplishments fully appreciated, but he set out on this course to accomplish something.  Perhaps the village is starving, or a magical illness is running its course.  The hero has the cure for what ailed his ordinary world, and now he must return with it.

So what makes this interesting?  How does this fill an entire third act of a film?  Well, if the road to hell is a downward slope, the road back is an upward climb.

Our hero’s decision to return to the ordinary world could be made for him by a vengeful force rising from the ashes of the ordeal.  Our hero might start on the road back at a healthy run, with evil in fast pursuit.

Much of what puts our hero on the road back is going to relate to a) Why he started the quest or b) How he obtained his treasure after the ordeal.

If the hero started his quest to save his ordinary world, he will take the road back because that is part of the quest.

If the hero had to steal his end goal (an elixir or treasure) chances are he needs to get back to the safety of his ordinary world to avoid the owner of said item.

Here’s some events that might kick off the road back stage.

  • The villain appears to avenge his main henchman
  • The villain was only faking death and reveals he is much stronger than thought
  • The “elixir” is stolen from the hero
  • The hero’s love interest (or loved one in general) is kidnapped
  • The owner of the “elixir” returns to take it from the hero
  • The hero receives word conditions in his ordinary world are worsening

If any single image sticks in your head about this stage, it should be of a chase.  The celebration after the ordeal has caused a lull in the action of our story and the road back hits the ground and throws evil at our backs so we get running.

Next, our hero receives a symbolic, or maybe literal, resurrection.

yWriter – Useful Writing Tool…. and it’s FREE!

OK, I’m going to admit something embarrassing…  I am lazy.

I know, I know, it’s hard for you to believe, especially when I haven’t posted a blog entry for over 5 days, but it’s true.  I fall so madly in love with ideas, but the second they require true work I buckle.  While this usually means a temporary stall in things such as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, or getting the garage cleaned out, it becomes unsettling when it prevents me from fulfilling a long-held dream.  Let’s face it, writing is work.  Especially when you create a new Word document for Plot Ideas, each character, each chapter, etc. etc.

I am happy to say I have found the answer to my problem.  Best part, it’s FREE!  Through the help of the Twitter gods, I was pointed to a program called yWriter.

yWriter allows you to do so much.  The best part is that everything is available in the assortment of tabs.  Let’s say you’re about to describe a scar belonging to a character you mentioned 100 pages ago.  The way I used to do things, I had to minimize my writing, navigate to the folder with all my notes files, open that file, find the information on that character, then close that file and return to my chapter.  With yWriter I just click on the Characters tab, find the character, and all the information I’ve created about that person is available.

yWriter also helps you keep track of whose viewpoint you’re telling the current scene from, you can create location information, item information and have it accessible the same way the character sheets are.  Each scene is created in its own RTF file so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.  But when you’re all finished, you can export the whole thing into Word as a single document so you can do your global print settings and print the thing!

There are a ton of features to this program and I’ve only been skimming the surface so far.  I just wanted to pass along this really useful tool to anyone following the blog, because I think it is a fantastic piece of software that can only make the work of writing a novel easier.  And that’s a good thing for a lazy boy like me.

The Hero’s Journey Part 9 – Reward

The hero has survived death.  He is forever changed.  Luckily, it’s time he was allowed to breathe.

As I stated last time, the ordeal occurs about midway through the story.  It often represents the hero’s opportunity to obtain the thing he has been seeking in the special world.  Perhaps he came seeking a restorative elixir, or a magical sword.  The ordeal represents a test for the hero.  Now that he has survived the test, he receives his reward.

The Reward stage of the Hero’s Journey allows the hero and audience a temporary reprieve from the relentless pace of the journey.  The reward phase of the story can serve numerous purposes.

Celebration

Surviving death and seizing a prize is a major achievement. It’s not inconceivable that there would be a celebration.  Such a scene could be used to cement certain relationships, or secure a character’s position within their social group.  Perhaps the prize here allows for the hero to finalise a rite of passage.

Recap and Reflection

The hero and his allies may gather around a campfire, or in a restaurant.  They could recap their experiences so far, perhaps giving some important insight into what the events meant to them.  This could also be used to introduce themes that will play an important role during the Road Back phase.

Romance

Until the reward stage, the hero has struggled.  Chances are he hasn’t proved himself worthy of his heart’s desire until this point.  More likely, there’s been little time for love during the height of the quest.  Now that there is a moment to breathe, the hero might look to finally give himself to love.

New Knowledge

Surviving death can change how you perceive things.  The hero might gain new insight.  With this, he might

  • See through characters who have been deceiving him
  • Realise his true destiny and/or heritage (son of a god etc.)
  • Have a moment of clarity to see new paths for his quest

Downfalls of the Reward

People are far from perfect.  Having survived a great ordeal, the hero might become over-confident.  He might see himself as being stronger, smarter, or more valuable than he really is.  This can lead to a great downfall, perhaps setting up the conflicts that will carry through to the end of the story.

The Short and Long of it

The reward stage is about action.  Not the edge of your seat questioning-if-anyone-will-survive type of action, but the action of taking.  The hero must seize this moment.  He must take the elixir, draw the magic sword, take hold of his love, embrace his destiny or all of the above.  The hero has spent much time reacting and doubting.  Through conquering the ordeal, he has earned this moment to take the action he has desired since answering the call.

Next, our hero begins traveling the long road back.

The Hero’s Journey Part 8 – The Ordeal

Our hero has been through a lot.  Now, he faces the greatest and darkest of moments, The Ordeal.

The ordeal is about change.  When this is over, our hero will never be the same.  Often, the ordeal results in a symbolic death for our hero who is then reborn. Once the rebirth has occurred, he will begin the long journey home.

The ordeal should not be confused with being the climax of the story.  Instead, it is the mid point.  All roads travelled thus far have lead to this point, and all roads away will be forever altered because of it.

Consider the recent movie, How to Train Your Dragon.  The ordeal occurs when Hiccup first rides Toothless high into the sky and becomes separated from the dragon.  The two plummet toward the earth, their doom certain.  At the last moment, Hiccup grabs hold of Toothless and the two are in perfect sync, performing maneuvers impossible to this point.  The fireball Toothless shoots backfires and singes Hiccup.  This is symbolic of all his old fears and misconceptions being burned away.  After this point, he truly realises that the vikings are wrong about the dragons and he needs to show them.

Speaking of near midpoint ordeals, consider Harry Potter’s experiences at the end of Goblet of Fire.  He literally goes to a realm of death, is witness to the physical death of a classmate, and then conjures the spirits of the dead in order to flee.  From this point, Harry is changed.  So too are the books.  Both Harry and the audience know that nothing will ever be the same.  The horror of the possible consequences if Harry fails in his quest are far more clear.

The ordeal can take several forms as to the type of “death and rebirth”

  • The hero can face the main villain and nearly lose his life – the villain may live or die
  • The hero might face the main henchman of the villain, saving the villain for the final act
  • The hero might face a great fear and have to conquer it
  • The hero will have to face up to a parental figure
  • The hero will have to let some of his ego or pride go
  • The hero will have to learn how to work with others
  • The hero will give himself completely to a relationship

These are only a few permutations.  The simple fact is, the ordeal transforms the hero.  That transformation will inform every decision that he makes from this point forward.  Remember, while it seems we’ve come a long way, this isn’t the climax, we’re only halfway to the end.

Next, we finally cut our hero a break and he gets a Reward.  Have no fear, it’ll get sucky for him again before it’s all over!

The Hero’s Journey Part 7 – Approach to the Inmost Cave

Our hero has crossed over into the special world and faced tests, made new allies and enemies.  Through the various facets of the previous stage, he has grown and developed.  The central goal of his quest must now be approached.  He will need to cross the second major threshold, into the darkest and most dangerous realm.  We will refer to this as the Inmost Cave.

The Inmost Cave is where the ultimate goal lies for the hero.  It is the castle where the princess is hidden, the resting place of the Holy Grail, etc., etc.  However, this stage is not about being in the Inmost Cave.  Instead, this stage is about the approach to it.

Why treat this separately?  In much the same way as the hero had to prepare to cross the first threshold into the special world, this stage represents the hero preparing to cross the second threshold.  This is a time to regroup, makes plans and outwit the guardians that stand guard over the antagonist’s domain.

This particular stage could also be used to strengthen existing relationships.  For instance, this is often where the hero commits to a romantic interest.  It might also be the point where some of the allies that appeared along the way will now gather, or perhaps flee, for the major confrontation.

Take this time to strengthen your hero.  His resolve should show little weakening.  After all, next he faces The Ordeal.

Formulating a Plot

If you happen to follow the “Current Work In Progress” meter to the right, you might notice a drastic change.  It’s not an illusion or a joke, my work in progress has fallen from 25% done at 15,000+ words to just above 10,000 words.  Maybe you’re scratching your head wondering, why?  Today I chronicle the tough decision I felt forced to make, and what I have been spending the last few days doing about it.

First off, why chop a third of my work in progress?  The simple answer is, I had painted myself into a corner.  I hated it.  When I first started The Veil, I had a vision of it focusing very closely on the main character.  The cast would only expand  if the story became a series.  I already had characters in mind and how they fit into what would become a team setting.  The first book, however, was about finding yourself.  Where I had taken the story, characters appeared far quicker than I had anticipated.  My story about a young man finding himself turned into more of a super-team book.  Not what I wanted.  So I retraced my steps and asked where I went wrong.  The point I decided on meant a third of the work got intimate with the delete button.

So where do I go now?

As discussed in previous posts, writing wildly ahead without a plan or direction is the wrong approach for me.  Like a stubborn fool, I continued to do just that and got myself into trouble.  So I decided to make a plan.

I asked the Twitter gods if there was some sort of form for a plot outline.  I enjoy filling in forms.  Having some structure gives me security.  Unfortunately, the Twitter gods decided to ignore me that day.  Or perhaps were too busy preparing for the Lost finale.  Regardless, I was on my own.

First thing I did was look at Martina Boone’s Plotting Made Easy – The Complications Worksheet.  This gave me some idea of what I should accomplish in each section of the story.

Secondly, I thought long and hard about the Hero’s Journey.  My character’s arc fit the hero journey, so I gave close consideration to the various components.

Third, I allowed my idea to run free.  I said, “If this is the world I’ve created, what’s possible?”  The more I asked what could happen, the more did happen.  I started having some pretty wild ideas.  They worked.  They fit together.  My story excited me again.

With these new ideas, I wrote a synopsis of the story.  It was dirty.  It had holes in it.  I would never give it to anyone if I wanted them to read my book.  But it gave me a framework to pin things on.

Then, I created a space that I called Themes & Ideas.  I used this space just to write words and random sentences.  Some were about mood, others about deeper themes and meanings.  I used it as a space to brainstorm with no restrictions.

Out of those random thoughts, I was able to return to my synopsis and start plugging holes and touching up the paint.

Last night, I started putting together scenes.  For each scene I asked;

  • Scene – [Title]
  • What’s the Purpose of the Scene:
  • What Action Happens:
  • What Do We Learn That’s New:

Making sure that every scene answered these points fleshed out the story.  It was more cohesive.  No scene could be a throw-away, I forced myself to justify their existence.  I didn’t worry about order, I just wrote scenes. As their number expanded, I saw where they fit together.  When I have more, I will create a new file and copy the scenes in their proper order.  When that’s complete, I’ll have my plot map.  Then the fun starts!

While it was hard to kill a lot of work, this new direction is far more exciting and satisfying.  It stays truer to the original vision I had while still managing to provide surprises.

This process is frustrating to a “I want it done now” kind of person.  Which I confess, I am.  Truth, though, cannot be denied.  This is the only way this book is getting written.