I’ve just started reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. I bought it a while back after reading some very compelling reviews. I was hesitant at first as I don’t like the idea of being formulaic, who does? So I sat down and created a very general outline of my story in my head, wrote some key points down and then I went back to what I’d read about this book and to the theories developed by Joseph Campbell on the monomyth.
It was with some trepidation that I started analysing what I’d come up with compared to the stages of the hero’s journey and the character archetypes. It is drilled into most of us that fitting into a mould or a box is bad in one way or another, that fitting into a set of parameters makes you unoriginal. But then again, would I not have worried that my story was unoriginal anyway?
My story, maybe not to my surprise, fit these guidelines pretty well. And Vogler is keen to point out that they are guidelines, not rules. That’s when I decided to look deeper into it and that’s when I ordered The Writer’s Journey, which is written with scriptwriting in mind, but there’s nothing to say that it can’t be applied to other types of storytelling just as well.
I’ve not read the whole thing yet, so I won’t give you a final verdict in this blog post – that will come at a later stage, I’m sure. I can say though, that I will not attempt to bend my story as I want it to play out to the guidelines in this book. What I will do is look at my story as it plays out when I outline, write and edit it, attempt to pick out the parts where adding or emphasising character archetypes or stages of the hero’s journey would make the story better and more dramatic. Vogler points out quite frequently in the beginning of the book that steps can be omitted, archetypes can be modified and the order of events can be different compared to the order used in TWJ.
As the Crow Falls is a fantasy adventure, and one could argue that it’s the prefect candidate for the Hero’s Journey. Vogler frequently uses Star Wars as an example when illustrating his points, but I’m pretty sure that the principles he describes can be applied to many other adventures and even romantic or literary works without too much bending. Most stories have a protagonist, and he or she usually has a couple of friends or sidekicks. There’s a villain and a challenge or hardship that must be overcome, whether that’s emotional, physical or metaphorical doesn’t matter. There’s usually a setback or two, and towards the end, the protagonist comes out richer and more mature.
I know it sounds like I’m trying to justify using this book as a guide while writing, and maybe I am. I don’t know. I find the ideas it presents very helpful in my writing, so why not? I like the structure it provides along with the flexibility to stray from that structure should your story call for it. I think I am trying to overcome my own resistance to using the book to help me craft my story, which is maybe a bit strange. If this method helps me write a novel that I am happy with, that’s a good read, then why shouldn’t I use it? Is it cheating? I don’t think it is. It’s still my world, my characters, my prose and my idea. No book can think those things up for me, but I think this one will help me with structure, pace and drama.
I’m going to keep reading and keep the Hero’s Journey in mind when I write, and at the end I guess we’ll see if it worked. As with my outlining progress, I will keep you up to date on my own Writer’s Journey – most likely in my next post about outlining, which will be when I’ve outlined about another 20 chapters or so.