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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Hero's Journey

I have a friend of a friend who is an author with a big house and swears by writing to the Hero's Journey. The Hero's Journey, or "Monomyth," is a series of tropes that are supposedly ubiquitous in stories from every culture. This was first pointed out by Joseph Campbell, and later elaborated on in the context of playwrighting by Christopher Vogler, and doubtless others as well. Here's a wikilink with a pretty thorough description of the structure.

I've seen it asserted online that pretty much every successful story can be analyzed in terms of the Hero's Journey--not that they elaborate on every stage of the journey, but that they focus on part of the journey while at least alluding to the rest of it. I'm not convinced that this is so, though. Certainly I can think of lots of novels--especially fantasy bricks--that adhere to this structure closely. I'm willing to concede that the same goes for a lot of short stories. But when I think of a story like "All I Have To Do . . ." or like Elizabeth Bear's "The Horrid Glory of Its Wings," I'm hard pressed to make the connections.

. . . hmm . . . let me rethink that. In "All I Have To Do . . . ," maybe the challenge Liz is confronted with is getting to the bottom of her ability and learning to live (or not) with it. She rejects this challenge through her drinking and her attempts to stay awake. Her road of trials could be when she befriends Ronald and they experiment with filming her and with attempts at lucid dreaming.
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Does that work? *frown* Arguably. But is it useful? If the connections can be as tenuous as I just outlined, how does that help me when I set out to write a new story, instead of merely shoehorning an existing story into the broad strokes of this structure?

I wish I had a good resource on the Hero's Journey for writers. Like every good English major, I have a couple of books by Joseph Campbell, but those don't focus on the craft side of storytelling, but on the analysis side. I'm not going to go out and buy a how-to book without knowing if it's going to be helpful--I have enough useless books on writing. I found precious little online on this topic.


lotusgirl said...

I haven't found that much help in those kinds of books. Most of what I've learned is from writing and rewriting my own stuff. And reading tons of novels. Having friends critique has helped some too. Mostly I think we learn writing by writing and then going back with a critical eye.

Joe Iriarte said...

I've found some books that are helpful, and many that are filled with generalities. Honestly, I get more bang from the internet and blogosphere, as far as good advice goes.

Ray Wong said...

The Pacific Between is a Hero's Journey, except there were no wizards or Jedis. In fact, a reader once compared it to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the parallels were astounding. Both were Hero's Journey.

Ray Wong said...

I think the BEST WAY of learning about the Hero's Journey is by reading such books or watching the movies and then do critical analysis on them.

Joe Iriarte said...

I didn't know that about The Pacific Between--that's a great bit of perspective! Were you consciously writing to the Hero's Journey, or was that something you noticed afterward?