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.

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.