Helga’s Post # 98 – Okay, I think we’ve all had our fill of New Year resolutions (which the older than 50 crowd is most likely to break anyhow), not to mention the over-eating, indulging in sparkling beverages and leftover turkey. The time has come to return unwanted gifts, crawl into our private little space and chill out a bit. Maybe pick up that half-read book you started before the mad holiday rush, or watch some more TV than other times. Time to relax. Uncoil.
In our household, we got ensnared watching the World Junior Hockey championships. I am not an over-the-top avid hockey fan, but I am intrigued with the incredible speed of the game by these young players, the next generation hockey stars. Those 17-, 18- or 19-year old teens are superior to any of the ‘established’ hockey stars when it comes to speed and agility. Sedin twins, the youngsters are nipping at your skates.
I also wanted to keep my spouse company, in spite of itching to watch the latest episode of “House of Cards” and “The Bridge”. Never mind. Since I demurred, I decided I might as well watch hockey like a writer.
Watching hockey like a writer?
Here is the thing. Tonight Canada played Denmark. We both cheered after goal #1. I cheered even more after goal #2. Then the unthinkable happened – a third goal in the first period. I cheered even more, while my husband complained. He wanted to see the Danes score. ‘Why are you doing this,’ I complained. ‘Where are your loyalties?’
‘I want a game,’ was what he said, ‘not a circus’.
Hmm. Then Canada had 5 goals, Denmark zero. A big fat zero. I got bored. After goal #7 I left and read my book (Will Ferguson’s 419). I compared the experience to how it would play out in a story. Great suspense to start, cheering for my protagonist at the first few victories over the antagonist, then more victories. My antagonist starts to fade into oblivion, while my protagonist marches on, unhindered.
Where’s the the joy? The love?
My apologies for this simplistic example. Every writer, even the most elementary, knows this of course. Make your protagonist suffer. Have him/her encounter the uttermost obstacles, etc. etc. ad nauseam. Amazingly, a lot of books don’t seem to follow this simplest of simple rules. And they still managed to get published, somehow.
Never mind. As for my own writing, I may break a multitude of rules, but this one I won’t. It’s part of my writer’s DNA as it surely is yours as well.
Talking of rules, I found over time that they bog me down as much, or more, than they help me. Not the really good ones, and there are many, but I am talking about being confronted with the bulk of them, and trying to follow them all. To make a choice which one is the best of the lot. Have you had that experience too? A dozen really great books on your shelf, all dispensing really great advice to aspiring authors, each begging to use their method. So much so that you are overwhelmed, confused and discouraged. Which one to follow? What to read first? Which to ignore?
Ah, we writers have become consumers. We newbies are supporting an entire industry. Not that there isn’t a need for it, I’m not saying that. We all have to start somewhere, acquiring basic tools on the way, and gradually morphing from apprentices to experienced writers who don’t need the crutches of Write your Bestseller in 90 Days or some such. But it’s the sheer volume, and worse, the often conflicting ‘rules’ that you, the writer are not supposed to break that’s bogging your writing progress down.
For me, I found that my initial piss-and-vinegar style of writing was the most productive (though admittedly with lots of plot problems). Until I took time to find the holy grail of writing advice that will lead me to publishing and stardom.
My writing started to be more cautious. More deliberate. Less spontaneous. Like a connect-the-dots kind of template. You must outline, in such-and-such a way. You must know your character from the moment she was born. You must not let the plot drive your character. You must let your character determine the plot. You must know the plot before your character gets out of hand. And so on.
Sure, some of this makes sense if it fits your writing project. But not all of it lumped together turning into one huge avalanche. It will bury you.
So I decided after some deliberation to keep all these wonderful books on the shelf (after my initial reading) and let one, and only one, guide me in writing my new book, at least for my overall plot planning and structure. My selection may surprise few. It is The Writer’s Journey.
It’s a simple approach to plot, using the ideas of Joseph Campbell as interpreted by Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer’s Journey. Campbell studied the literature of many cultures and found common elements. You will find these elements in stories, movies and classic myths of every culture. Many writers use these 12 points instead of more formal plot outlines. You are likely familiar with his concept, but here is a summary. By the way, the 12 steps do not have to be in order.
- Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
- They receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
- They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
- Are encouraged by a MENTOR to
- CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
- They encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
- They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
- Where they endure the ORDEAL
- They take possession of their REWARD and
- Are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
- They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION and are transformed by the experience.
- They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.
I hope all this will somehow spill over to my new novel, which by the way, is starting to get me excited. Amazing how quickly the passion for writing comes back to bite you, even after a lengthy hiatus.
Wishing you all a serious case of writers’ itch in 2015.