The Hero’s Journey Part 2 – Call to Adventure

In my previous post, I discussed the Hero’s Ordinary World.  Since I’ve defined the Hero’s foundation, I now need to shake him loose from it.  Welcome to the Call to Adventure.

The Call to Adventure can literally be a call, but is in general the thing that draws the hero away from their ordinary world.  In fantasy, it could be the day the dragon attacks and kills the hero’s parents. In Romance stories, it could be the first time two lover’s meet.  In short, it doesn’t matter what it is that happens, it is the singular event that ensures the hero will be drawn away from the ordinary.

In Twilight, the call occurs when Bella first sees Edward.  From that point on, her growing obsession with him informs and alters her world, finally culminating in the revelation that he is not human.

In the recent movie, How to Train Your Dragon, it is when Hiccup realises he can’t kill the dragon.  From the start of the movie, he has informed the viewer that all social life within his village revolves around prowess at killing dragons.  When he has the opportunity, he can’t bring himself to do it and his world is forever changed.

In Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s debatable whether the call to action is Harry’s literal invitation to go to Hogwarts, or maybe it’s when he inadvertently releases the snake.  In both instances it is clear that he is being drawn away from his ordinary world.

The Call to Adventure can be grandiose or it can be subtle.  Both ways work, depending on the context of your story.  Remember too that the call doesn’t have to be something that happens directly to the hero.  In most revenge tales, it is usually an event that happens to a loved one of the hero that stirs him into action.

In the end, the call is the one event you can trace the events of the story back to.  It is also key in setting up the stakes of the game and can often lead to singular questions such as, Will Bella and Edward get together?  Will Hiccup befriend the dragon?  Will Harry become a great wizard?  In case you aren’t guessing, this is the hook.  This is the initial point where you make your reader wonder what will happen.  The key to a great story is keeping them interested until that question is finally answered.

Next, our hero gets all reluctant and Refuses the Call.

The Hero’s Journey Part 1 – The Ordinary World

In keeping with my fascination with the story template originating with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero Has a Thousand faces, I’ve decided to do a multiple post series focusing on each of the steps in the Hero’s Journey.

The steps are;

Today I will be focusing on the first step in the journey, the Ordinary World.

Of all the steps, this one should be the straightest forward.

The Ordinary world is our hero’s starting point.  Since the point of the Hero’s Journey is to show growth and development, we need a point of reference.  Who is your hero?  What is his life like before the journey begins?

In Star Wars, we meet Luke Skywalker as a whiny farm boy who dreams of bigger things.

In Harry Potter, we meet a mistreated boy who is awkward and has no apparent powers.

In How to Train Your Dragon, the main character Hiccup is introduced as the village joke who just wants to fit in.

While this may be the straightest ahead, it is fraught with disaster.

  1. This is the introduction to your hero.  The reader needs to learn who he is.  It is especially important to show those qualities that will change over the course of the story so your reader will see his growth.   On top of all that, you need to make him interesting and worthy of your readers’ sympathy.
  2. You need the opening to be engaging enough that it captures the reader and carries them forward.  How do you make the hero’s ordinary world interesting?  It’s easy to focus on what amazing adventures await, but your reader will never get there if the ordinary world is too boring.
  3. If you intend for your hero to return, it means you need to know how the hero’s journey will ultimately affect the ordinary world.  Will things improve?  Will it cause the world’s destruction, or just destroy the world’s way of life?

In short, the ordinary world is the foundation of your story. Everything that comes after is dependent upon the ground rules established there.

The next step in the Hero’s Journey is The Call to Adventure.

Current state of my writing

I’ve been away from writing for a couple of days.  This isn’t to say writing has been far from my mind, quite the contrary.  My iPhone currently has two scenes in it that I wrote in the middle of nowhere after having been hit by inspiration on the drive to said nowhere.

I find my story comes to me in drips and drabs.  Sometimes a whole scene washes in and obliterates everything in its path.  At other times, a few key sentences, a stray thought, are all that come through.

I keep trying to sit down and plot everything out.  Every time I do that, I get seemingly more stuck than just sitting at the keyboard and letting words flow.  I’m finding out I am the kind of writer that needs to get there before I can describe it.  I don’t know all the scenes in my story because I haven’t made it there yet.  I’m hoping this changes.  I can’t imagine trying to build a career based on whim and mercy of the creative muse.

On the up side, I figured out how it ends.  I know who the villain is.  I know why he’s doing the things he’s doing.  His undoing was one of the scenes I wrote in my iPhone.

Which brings up another stray thought I’m going to throw out; never be too focused on your current work that you ignore other ideas.

My wife is a photographer and visual artist.  She and I have talked about collaborating on a piece of work.  This really excites me.  I came up with two things for this work that I kept mulling in my head.  Guess what?  I used them for my novel.  See, they didn’t work on their own, but put the mention of them on the lips of a madman and suddenly things are cooking!

So my collaboration is on the back burner, and I need to sit and get to work.

I guess I should stop referring to my work in progress as that.  Right now, the working title is The Veil.  I’ll call it that from now on since it just makes things easier.

Sorry, this blog post is random.  Not so much in terms of advice, but more a journal entry.  I’ll do these from time to time.  Now I think I’ll go work on The Veil and see if I can crack 15,000 words.

Going With It or Accepting that I Am God

So I’ve been talking a great deal about plot.  Actually, my last four posts have been obsessions about it.  Seeing as how plot is the main vehicle for story, it seems important, right?  Unfortunately, what my researching on plot has revealed to me is that my current work in progress was severely lacking in it.  Sure, I had some characters, I had lots of concepts, but I lacked structure.  I lacked an actual story.  Most stories are propelled forward by some form of conflict, and I was really lacking in that area.  My antagonist was weak and his motivations murky at best.  It left me with a lot of questions regarding the viability of my “story.”

So, breakthrough while out in the car driving last night.  Funny thing though, my initial reaction was what I’m blogging about today.  When I thought of the main antagonist’s motivation, his plan, my initial reaction was, “I can’t do that, it might lead to A or B and that’s just too mean.”  The problem is, sometimes you have to mean.  Sometimes you have to accept that you will become the hated God of your own little created reality.

Does the idea of being God make you wriggle a little?  Does it make you uncomfortable?  Maybe, but it is the truth.  For our stories, we assume the role of the creator.  We breathe life into our characters where none existed before, we create the laws of physics, we populate the world with plants and beasts.  We guide the events of the story toward our desired ending.  Sometimes we are cruel.  Sometimes we are kind.  We need to be above morality, because sometimes we have to let awful things happen.  Sometimes a child, pure and innocent, has to die.  Sometimes an entire city needs to be wiped off the face of the earth.  Sometimes our hero needs to cry, fail, or die.  Ultimately, we are the ones responsible.

I need to let go.  I need to accept that if this is right, if what my antagonist is doing are the actions he would take, I need to let him.  I can move my hero and his companions into places to keep some of them safe, I can ultimately lead them to a place where they may foil his plan, but I also need to accept that there will be casualties along the way.  I have to accept the blood on my hands.  I have to accept that letting these things happen does not make me less of a human being, it makes me more of a writer.

As a reader I’ve been let down in the past by authors setting up certain events, only to have them completely back out in the end.  I felt betrayed and ultimately the book was less fulfilling.  I have to remember that experience as a writer.  I have to live up to my readers, which means I have to live up to my story, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable.  After all, being God is a tough job.

OK, decision made

So in regards to my previous posts on plot, I am now convinced that crashing ahead is the wrong way to go.  I said I’d tell you and here I am.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been devoting some time and concentration to the links on plot that I posted the other day.  They have been incredibly inspiring and insightful.  The problem is, I’m now looking at the 14,000+ words I’ve already written, not to mention the next 2,000+ those words set up, and I’m thinking it’s now all wrong.  That’s a pretty hard pill to swallow.  So, do I scrap it all and start from scratch?  Do I carry on as if I had written what I had intended, get to the end and then go back during the rewrites.  Or do I bang my head a little more and see if I can make what exists work at least even a little?

I wouldn’t be in exactly this mess if I had done all this work before committing words to page.  I mean, at my current position, I am only vaguely aware of my antagonist.  How am I supposed to have a cohesive plot and conflict without any form of antagonist?  I need to rethink a lot of what I’ve done and where I was going with it.

So I have some challenges ahead.  I’m going to hammer out a plot outline basing it on the idea that I will leave what I already have.  I know there will be major revisions eventually, but at least it won’t be as demoralizing as deleting everything.  Wish me luck.  Progress updates as I go.

Two fabulous posts about plot

In my previous post on plot, I was very open about my sloppy approach to writing.  As a matter of coincidence, Twitter delivered two fabulous article links that deal with plot development.

I loved both of these articles.  I’ve been doing my best not to turn my site into nothing but recommended link after recommended link, but I just have to put these out there, especially considering my own lack of expertise in this area.

First up is a link to the first of three articles that author Laini Taylor wrote dealing with plot.  In this article Part 1: What is Plot? she tackles very quickly the nature of plot and also discusses the difference between narration and dramatisation and how each can be useful.  Do yourself a favour and continue on to Part 2: Character, Motivation, and Conflict & Part 3: Structure.  Though I’m sure you’ll be hooked just as I was.

Secondly, I’m sending you over to Plotting Made Easy – The Complications Worksheet. This article is written by Martina Boone.  Two things I really liked about this article 1)The structure reminds me a bit about the Hero’s Journey, which I talked about just the other day 2)It really is an uncomplicated checklist of items to help guide and inspire.

The other thing I love about these articles is that the authors sound like they started where I am, lacking the clearest of plans.  They have gone through trial and error and come out with these ideas.  I’m giving them a very close look and thought I would pass along.  Hope it helps me and you 🙂

Plot, or lack thereof, and the surprises that come with it

I’m a man on a mission.  I’m writing a book.  When looking at the history of our race, the thing it teaches about missions is you should have a plan.  Well, I don’t, sorta.

As I said before, I’m a concept guy.  I start developing a work based on a single concept.  One idea I had was a world where the gods rule with an iron fist, but they aren’t really gods, they’re just people using technology to manipulate and keep the rest of the race stuck in the dark ages.  Now, that’s not a horrible concept.  The problem is, what’s the story?  Will one of the gods become dissatisfied with the rest?  Will he turn on them?  Will someone from the ruled populace rise up?  Depending on what I decide, the story is going to be substantially different, even though the initial concept is the same.

My work flow is like this; Concept – Story (usually just bare bones stuff like whose point of view) – initial scenes (which I take notes on) – a few more scattered scenes (also duly noted) – write the first scenes – spend a few days mulling over where to go next – write some more – repeat.

What I’m finding is that this is horribly inefficient.  On the other hand, it is surprising and at times thrilling.

For instance, my initial 3 chapters on my current work in progress flowed very easily.  My ideas for them were strong and clear.  They led to my main character being in the hospital.  What I didn’t have figured out was what happens in the hospital to further the plot and given the nature of his injuries, how do I get him out of the hospital because the majority of my story takes place outside of there?  I kicked this around for a few days.  I put pressure on myself by assigning a deadline for a day where I had to continue writing.  What I came up with worked well for me.  I was surprised though, because it meant introducing two characters I had intended to bring on the stage much later in the story, heck maybe not even until book two!  Now I run up against the same wall, because where do I go from there?  Repeat the previous process of humming and hawing for a few days.  What I decide, and ends up working pretty well, is changing the last paragraph of the chapter I’ve just written to introduce a surprise twist that I hadn’t intended to reveal for a few more chapters.  But what it did was it provided a more satisfying and “hook” ending to the chapter and it allowed me to fill the reader in more of what’s going on.  Seeing as how I’m a quarter of the way through, it’s probably time I let the reader in, at least a little.

Is this the best way to write a novel?  I’m not sure.  I know this lacks a lot of depth because I’m crashing through it without a solid foundation.  Because of what I’m learning about the story and the characters as I progress, I already know the intense level of rewriting that is going to have to occur.  At the same time, there’s something fun about coming up against a wall, having a single idea for a solution, and suddenly a whole chapter flows out and leaves you thinking, “damn, I didn’t see that coming.”

Ironically, the reveal that I’ve introduced early actually makes a later scene I have planned work much better and flow more organically.  I had my main character overhearing a conversation.  It’s an important bit of reveal that he needs to know.  My problem was, how do I get him there?  Well, I’ve created the perfect solution unintentionally by doing my earlier than planned reveal.  Funny how that worked out.

So in the end, this is my sloppy way of working through a novel.  I know far more experienced writers suggest a full plot outline, and to be honest, I would feel more secure if I had one.  With a plan, I might be able to write on a more frequent and consistent basis as I wouldn’t need all the head scratching time between chapters.

I think I’m going to try and plot out the rest of the book from this point.  I’ll let you know as I go along which seems to work best for me.