Writing craft and heroes


Boudicca, an early hero of Britain.

As I continue revising my WIP, I’ve been reading a lot of books on plot and craft. Some focus on the story logic of Hollywood movies, like Save the Cat by Blake Snyder or Screenwriting Tricks for Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff.

I’ve also read a couple by amazing writing resource K.M. Weiland: Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arcs.

I happily recommend any of these books for anyone looking to learn more about plot and structure for novel writing. But the more I read about character development, the more I felt like something was missing from my reading list.

For the last several months, I’ve been trying to make my story fit into the eight-sequence Hollywood plot pattern. That worked really well for plotting, but when I turned my attention to character development, I could tell I was missing something. I understood that character was just the other side of plot, but the movie structure just wasn’t working for me. Was there some other kind of structure for character development that would help me to move forward?

What I discovered is that, yes, there is, and it’s been around for a long, long time. It’s the hero’s journey, the narrative monomyth described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, first published in 1949, and later popularized by Bill Moyers on the PBS show Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.

This is ground I’d covered in school before I even tried to write a novel. But it was buried deep down until I picked up Christopher Vogler’s classic, The Writers’ Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Vogler’s primary concern is movie plotting, though he examines it through the lens of the hero’s journey. Vogler takes Campbell’s archetypes and waypoints on the journey and applies them to the familiar three-act plot structure.

What I like about the hero’s journey is that it’s much more focused on change in the hero than the typical Hollywood model, which is much more concerned about what happens when. This makes the heroic monomyth quite useful for examining structure from a character development point of view.

Next up on my crafty reading list is John Yorke’s Into the Woods, which engages with many of sources above, but examines all narrative (not just film) using a five-act, Shakespearean structure that finds its roots in the fairy tale. I’ll post a review here when I’m done.

Photo credit: Statue of Boudicca by Thomas Thornycroft. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
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