The Hero’s Journey Part 5 – Crossing The First Threshold

To recap: Our hero started in his ordinary world.  He received a call to adventure.  Initially, he refused the call.  Then, a mentor approached and provided the hero with tools and insight he needed.  It is time for the hero to fully commit to the other realm.  In order to do so, the hero must cross the first threshold.

Approaching the Threshold

Our hero has had much of his fear and doubt alleviated by the intervention of his mentor.  This doesn’t mean he is going to readily accept all of it and plunge head first into action.  The adventure might not be personal enough for the hero to journey forth.  This is the final precipice.  What will finally push the hero onward?  That’s up to you, but it could be the kidnapping of a loved one, or a force of nature might force the hero forward.  In the end, at this point the hero needs a shove.

Threshold Guardians

Making the cross to the world of adventure is not going to be easy.  Often the path is blocked by a Threshold Guardian.

Guardians are not always obstacles that need to be tackled.  Often, they are only emotional blockades to the hero that need to be acknowledged.  Defeating the challenge they represent can deliver important insight to the hero that will aid in later steps of his quest.  They can present physical, mental or morality types of challenges.  A threshold guardian could be as simple as the hero’s father telling them they are not allowed to go out.

The Leap of Faith

The hero has defeated the guardian.  Now, they stand with one foot in their ordinary world and the other dangles over the cliff into the next.  They must now make a leap of faith and plunge into the other world.  By finally crossing the threshold the hero commits himself entirely to the quest.  There is no turning back.

Charting the hero’s transition could be as simple as climbing out a window, or as treacherous as crossing a desert.  In either case, the hero has finally accepted his destiny and made his move into the realm of adventure.

Entering the Other World

The hero’s entrance to the other world does not have to be a smooth one.  Maybe he falls out the window, or perhaps his initial thoughts of the other world are shattered by its realities.  In either case, he is now here, and the adventure truly begins.

Next, our hero is put to the test, meets new allies and new enemies.

Searching for my voice

Ugh.  So I’m 16,000+ words into The Veil.

I watched Donnie Darko three nights ago and it resonated with me.  Which now has me contemplating tossing half of what I’ve written.

Where I was with The Veil had it turning into a group hero piece.  That wasn’t working.  Deep down, I wanted the story to be more introspective, more a tale of identity and learning who you want to be.

Donnie Darko had this dreamlike quality to it.  The events of the movie seemed random until the very end, when you realise that the purpose of them all was to drive the hero to his destiny.  The story tied into questions of existence, love and being alone.

That’s the voice I’ve been searching for.  Now, I need to plot.  This time, for real.  No writing until I have a rough plot drafted out.  This write and find out approach is a big fail for me.

The Hero’s Journey Part 4 – The Mentor Appears

Our hero has received a call to action.  In his human frailty and inexperience, he has refused the call.  Our hero needs the tools for success.  While these could be literal tools or skills, perhaps what our hero needs most is someone to give them confidence.  The archetype of the mentor fills this need.

At its essence, the mentor is often wrapped in the guise of the wise man or woman.  Their classic function is to provide the hero with vital tools or clues that will aid him on his quest.  Through their intervention, the hero builds the needed confidence to continue on.

The mentor’s role is temporary.  At some point in the tale, mentor and hero will part ways, allowing the hero to face his destiny alone.

Varied Uses for the Mentor

Sources of Wisdom

The mentor provides the character with knowledge.  This can also occur without a physical mentor, such as the hero finding a book, or a website.

Sources of Conflict

People rarely want to be told what to do.  The dynamic between the mentor and a reluctant hero can add to the conflict, and therefor, character development of your story.

The mentor may eventually become a villain.  This form of misdirection is used often in cautionary fairy tales where a mentor appears to save the day, only to exact an evil price for his services.  This is also a way of avoiding the mentor as too much of a cliche.

Sources of Tragedy

Hero’s suffer.  As a writer, what better way to make your hero suffer than to deprive him of his beloved mentor?  I did say earlier that the mentor and the hero would part ways.  You can use this to add more dimension to your hero and story.

In the end, the mentor can be a very rich and vivid character, or can take the stage for the briefest of moments.  The mentor doesn’t even have to be a person.  In the end, the mentor role is to aid the hero in conquering his fear and moving forward with the quest.  The next challenge for our hero will be to cross the first threshold.

The Hero’s Journey Part 3 – Refusing the Call

In the last of these series, I talked about The Call to Adventure.  We had established our Hero’s Ordinary World and the call was going to start shaking him loose from it.  Before our hero commits entirely to his quest, he gets reluctant and often refuses the call.

Why would your hero do that?  The most simple answer is it’s because it is the human thing to do.  The refusal of the call is mainly about fear.  Not only fear of change and the unknown, but also fear of failure.  By showing fear, the hero becomes more relatable to your reader.  Why they refuse the call, and also what will lead them back to it, can tell the reader so much about your character.

Harry Potter initially is in disbelief that he would be a wizard.  It tells us about his character that he doesn’t immediately accept his fate and instead doubts himself.

Hiccup, in How To Train Your Dragon, folds under the pressure of his father and joins the training course to kill dragons.  It tells us that he wants to please his father, even at the risk of his own life.

Luke Skywalker initially turns down Obi-Wan’s invitation to fight the empire, believing himself nothing but a simple farm boy.  This gives us a true vision of Luke.  Initially, he complains to his uncle that he wants to get away, join the academy, etc.  When the opportunity comes to flee, he refuses because of all the obligations he has previously complained about.  It is a character trait we all recognise and it shows that despite complaint, Luke is reliable and trustworthy.

The simple fact is, a hero who can do no wrong, never shows fear or doubt and overcomes all odds with ease, is boring.  A hero like this only belongs in the realm of caricature.  Your audience is made of real people.  By allowing your hero some weakness, you bring him closer to your audience and increase their sympathy to his plight.

This refusal, while integral to the development of a believable and sympathetic hero, creates a problem; how do you get your hero to accept their quest?  There can be a number of ways, but one of the most common is due to the intervention of the next step I’ll discuss, The Mentor.

Not Finished Your Manuscript? Write Your Query Letter Now

You’ve read the headline and now you’re wondering, why would I write my query before I finish my manuscript?  After all, the advice you see on every website says to not send out any queries until after the manuscript is finished, edited and rewritten.  Well, I’m not going to tell you any different.

What I am going to do is give you something to think about.

What is a query?  New writers agonize over them, agents spout platitudes about their importance and they are generally seen as the key to the publishing kingdom.  Forget that.  They might all be true, but focusing on those points creates a distraction.  Besides, that’s not the point I’m getting at.

The query is a statement that uses two to three paragraphs to describe your story and then perhaps a single paragraph that states who you are.  You’ll read lots of advice on writing queries, but they will all tell you to include these two components.  It is because of these two components that I suggest you write it early on, like now, maybe before you write a single word.

The query in this sense becomes your mission statement.  Every time your story feels overly complicated and you think you’re losing track, you look back to those simple paragraphs and you remember the essence of your tale.  Distilling your story to its core early on will keep it omni-present in your mind.  This will give you cohesiveness.

It is not only the story the query distills, it is also your identity as a writer.  Remember, you and your story are a package.  Both need to be sell-able.  There have been interesting conversations about online identities and figuring out who you are as a writer.  Once again, your query not only serves as a mission statement for your book, it also serves as a mission statement for yourself.

The query is about selling yourself and your work.  If early in the game you can write a query that sells you on your book and your identity as a writer, it will be all that much easier to sell those things to someone else down the road.  No one will love you until you love yourself, KWIM?

Maybe someday I’ll feel competent enough to write a post on how to write a query.  Until then, I’ll provide you with a link to Adventures in Children’s Publishing where they link to examples of  Successful Kid Lit Query Letter Examples.  Feel free to add any great websites you know of that provide instruction on writing queries in the comments.

Depression, Writing & Satisfying the Need

My tag-line for this blog is, “This is my writing journey.”

Because maybe someday  someone (perhaps only myself) might find this interesting, I’m going to not only throw out great tips and the lessons I learn, I’m also going to comment on me, myself, and sometimes, I.

Yesterday I was depressed.  I don’t mean just feeling blue, I’m talking about staring blankly at the screen, no energy, questioning my existence, depressed.  It sucked.  What irritated me most about it was that I had no idea why I should feel that way.  I used to have many of those days.  Since giving my life some serious evaluation, seeking a little professional help and getting off my butt and actually working to make my writing dream come true, I’ve felt much better.  So why all of a sudden?  I came up with two answers. One was no big surprise.  The other gave me some serious food for thought.

The easy answer was the weather.  April surprised us all with its warmth and sunshine.  While May got off to a good start, yesterday was a horrible day.  Though it wasn’t as cold as winter, it was that kind of damp chill that creeps under your skin.  Add the grey sky and you have a very dreary day.

The interesting answer had to do with my writing and my online persona.

I haven’t touched The Veil in over a week.  The word count sits stagnant at the right side of my website, begging to be increased.  I put it there to guilt me into action.  The guilt is there, not so much the action.  I also hadn’t blogged in four days.  While I’ve been present on Twitter, my posts have provided little in the way of substance.  In short, I felt like a poser, a fake.

I’ve had numerous story ideas in the past.  The more I thought about them, the more themes and ideas I threw at them.  They buckled under the weight until they finally cracked beyond repair.  By comparison, the more thought I give to The Veil, the more it asks for.  The deeper I delve, the more layers it reveals.  It’s liberating and scary as hell.  I’ve allowed myself to be frightened to a standstill.  I need to get over it.

I’ve made no attempt to hide the fact I am a chaotic writer.  I don’t plot ahead, I don’t plan for specific times of day to write, I don’t have any kind of regular regiment.  This is turning into a considerable weakness.

I work shifts.  Between my job, my kids, trying to be a good husband, and just finding time to breathe, it’s impossible to pick a time of day in which to write.  There’s no time that will work everyday.  So I’m thinking what I need to do is look at my schedule for the week and decide on a day to day basis when I’m going to write.  Whether it be a blog entry or The Veil, I need to get my fingers moving on the keyboard.  I feel more alive when I see words forming on the screen in front of me.  There’s an energy in creating something that never existed before.  Even if my first draft is crap.  Even if I end up rewriting eighty-percent of it, there is still energy and power in its mere existence.  Within the dirt is a gem worth harvesting.

Now the question is, will I walk the walk, or is this just a whole lotta talk?

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.