Monday, January 11, 2010

Story Structure Part XII: Return With The Elixir

Victory This is the twelfth in a series of posts talking about the story structure known as “The Hero’s Journey.” I’m borrowing heavily from“The Writer’s Journey: A Mythical Structure for Writers 3rd Edition” by Christopher Vogler. This is my interpretation of it, and I’ve tried to highlight some pitfalls I see writers falling into. Click here to review other installments of Story Structure.

Return With The Elixir

The End. The Dénouement. The Conclusion. The Epilogue. The Resolution. The Verdict. The Payoff. Whatever it’s called, we’ve come to the final chapter of our Hero’s Journey. We know what’s going to happen, and finally, our Hero is back home in the Ordinary World. But, it’s not the same world he started in. It’s changed. He’s changed. He’s undergone a traumatic transformation, and now returns home forever changed. “The Elixir” is the essence of this change, the lesson, the arrest, the anti-virus, the deciding vote, the surrender of the Enemy, the winning score, the hard-earned victory against incredible odds. Something he can carry with him for the rest of his life, and improve the lives of everyone he cares about.

It’s nice to show how your Hero has changed, to cement his transformation. In the initial Ordinary World, he was pushed around, taken advantage of, alone, in debt, or whatever problem he couldn’t overcome. Now he handles bullies with ease, is wise to the world, rife with friends, loaded with riches, and a master of his destiny. Of course, you don’t have to wrap up everything—don’t forget about that sequel—but make whatever final points you want to make.

I think this brings up the entire purpose of writing the book. The “Return” is where you draw your conclusion and illustrate your lesson. “Marriage is hard work”, “You must lead by example”,  “Grief is how we move on”, “Don’t ever cross a ghost”, etc. Did you make your point? Did your character experience enough consequences to warrant this ending? The ending justifies the meaning.

football win Now to conclude our Benchwarming Quarterback story. One final play, one last chance to prove himself, and he leaves the game. On the drive back to the hospital, he confesses his sins. He’s been a terrible son, a lousy quarterback, and a poor boyfriend. The cheerleader never meant to hurt him, but he seemed disinterested, so she strayed. He understands, and forgives her. Everything he’s done lately has been a failure, and even his attempt to redeem himself was false.

Now for the Lesson part. He must do the hard things. He can’t just waltz through life. When he arrives at the hospital, he has the Elixir. He’s back in his Ordinary World. Turns out—his father is fine, and in fact, is conscious. They found the game on the local cable channel. They beg him why he left the game and he tells them because his responsibility lay here…with the people he loves. Suddenly he has his father’s approval, and his girlfriend sees him in a new light. Turns out his Ally on the team caught the winning touchdown, so everything worked out in the end. It’s not a perfect ending, but we leave the story with the sense that things will work out.

Return With The Elixir Goals

  • Clearly demonstrate that the Lesson has been learned.
  • Tie up most loose ends, especially major subplots. If the airplane is going down, either crash it or save it.
  • It’s fine to leave a teaser for the sequel, but at least resolve something. I’ve read some books that just stop. Bad. How do I know there will be a payoff in the sequel, or will it just stop as well?
  • This is the part of the story where you show that you appreciate the time the reader spent reading your novel. Give them something to talk about. Make them wish the story never ended.

Non Goals

  • Don’t tie everything up. Note that in the QB story, we don’t know what’s going to happen with the girlfriend’s baby. We only know he’s be there to support her.
  • Don’t introduce more conflict here. This is the one point of your book where it’s fine if everyone agrees for once. There can be a implied conflict, such as “the whole city has burned and we need to rebuild, but at least we’ll do it together.”
  • Endings don’t have to be happy. They need to be conclusive. In “Paranormal Activity,” the ending is the credits (or lack thereof). But the Lesson is clear: Some people are just doomed. Get over it.

Next Installment: How to Apply the Hero’s Journey to your own writing, what it is and what it isn’t.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Revision Reschmision

Revision Reschmision

Revision_006-450w I decided to take an online (for a small fee) course on revision for my WIP Steam Palace. I’m not going to mention which one at this time because I want to run through the entire course first before promoting it, although if you’re dying to know, send me an email or follow me on Twitter. The concept of the course is “single-draft revision,” meaning that I take my rough draft directly to a final draft, using a bunch of worksheets and index cards as intermediary steps.

So far, it’s been a challenge. It’s been a lot of work, and I have dozens of pages of handwritten (which for me means nearly-indecipherable) notes. The idea is that I maintain a record of everything I write during this process in case I want to go back…but it seems to be turning into TMI. I’ve now spent 5 weeks doing nothing but reading my draft over and over from different angles and taking copious notes. This week, I’m trying to tease out all the conflict and figure out how to improve it.

Things I’ve learned so far:

  1. It’s more important to get the story right than the style. This was my mistake with my Dawn’s Rise revision attempt. I was so focused on my writing style that I completely ignored the content of the story, so my effort finally fell apart because I couldn’t get the story together. If this process works for Steam Palace, I might try to use it for Dawn’s Rise at some point.
  2. World-building is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can kill your story by introducing tons of backstory and expository writing. On the other hand, it might be the only thing that sets your book apart from others. It’s what makes your novel unique.
  3. Conflict is King. Well, I didn’t really just learn this, but it’s something that’s becoming paramount in the revision process. It’s not just conflict overall in a grand sense, but conflict down to the scene/paragraph level.
  4. Analysis is hard work. And it’s wearing me down. I’m dying to write. I think best when I’m writing, not when I’m thinking about writing. So please, revision course, let me start writing!

I know I’m going to have to cut scenes, and perhaps rewrite large portions of the novel. The problem is, I don’t know what would be better than what I’ve written. I’m assuming the next few weeks of this course will reveal that, but right now, all I see are problems, and not solutions. I know the Climax is weak. I know the Ordeal is weak. I’m now getting worried about the beginning as well. The whole revision process is becoming overwhelming, mostly because I don’t have a clear picture of what the book should be. And without a concrete goal, it’s hard to know what direction to move in.

That’s probably what happens when you focus solely on problems for five weeks straight, you start seeing it as a unsalvageable piece of crap. What was I thinking? No one’s going to buy this. How am I going to turn a 240pg manuscript, 50 pages of notes and 104 index cards into a polished, marketable debut masterpiece? I guess that’s why I’m taking the course. Stay tuned.

(Thanks to InkyGirl for the comic)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Story Structure Part XI: Resurrection

Fantasy-Angel-Wallpaper-jpgThis is the eleventh in a series of posts talking about the story structure known as “The Hero’s Journey.” I’m borrowing heavily from“The Writer’s Journey: A Mythical Structure for Writers 3rd Edition” by Christopher Vogler. This is my interpretation of it, and I’ve tried to highlight some pitfalls I see writers falling into. Click here to review other installments of Story Structure.



At last, we’re at the Climax of the story. The Stakes are at their highest, and everything the Hero has fought for and sacrificed for is coming to a head. As the name “Resurrection” implies, your Hero must not only face death, but in some way, he must die and be reborn anew. Some Heroes actually physically die. Some appear dead or hopelessly lost, only to return miraculously saved. Your Hero must risk everything. This is the make-or-break moment of the story. This the “The Point” of the story, the moral, the lesson you wanted to impart to your readers. This is where nothing get left unsaid, and souls get bared.

Elements of Resurrection

  • Everything hangs in the balance. There is nothing left on the table, and every character is “all-in.”
  • Your Hero makes a major sacrifice for the greater good.
  • Your Hero learns something about himself he didn’t know, remember, or care about that changes everything.
  • Your Hero transforms into something greater, even if just for a moment.
  • Your Hero is forever changed by the experience.
  • The Villain is defeated, because he doesn’t learn or transform like the Hero does.

FootballScoreboard Now for our Benchwarming Quarterback. He has fought hard, but time is running out. His team is still losing. His Enemies have tried everything. Blitzing. Sending in bad plays. Calling penalties. Illegal hits. His body is bruised and aching, he can barely stand up, yet he keeps fighting, knowing his father could die any second. It’s the final seconds of the 4th Quarter, and they’re down by five points. They have time for one more play, but our Hero is suddenly struck by something.

What is he doing? Why is he playing football? Shouldn’t he be by his father’s side? He realizes that by returning to the game, he’s still running from responsibilities, running from himself. He hasn’t changed. He’s only tried harder. Here’s the critical piece of the whole Hero’s Journey. Here’s the one takeaway I’d like you to have from all of these posts. Your Hero must change. Otherwise the whole entire story has been a waste of time. Our Benchwarming QB is about to die. He hands the ball to someone else and leaves the field. The entire crowd is stunned. He grabs his girlfriend, and they go to her car. There’s time for one last play, one last chance to win, but he’s gone. To everyone on the field, it’s as if he just up and died. It’s a race to see if he can get back to the hospital. His Resurrection occurs during this car ride, and when he steps back out, he’s a new person. He may never play football again, but he’s no longer that irresponsible benchwarmer he started out as.

Resurrection Goals

  • Something your Hero holds dear must die.
  • If you have anything left to reveal, do it now.
  • Your Villain is pulling out all the stops as well. To him, victory is at hand.
  • Demonstrate the reason why you wrote the book. Make your point.
  • Find out what the most important thing to your Hero.
  • Your Hero must face his Worst Fear.

Non Goals

  • Your Hero can’t win unless everyone wins. Sometimes a Hero even needs to lose to win. What does he gain here?
  • You don’t have to tie up everything. Just the main threads. Sub-plots finish here as well. Leave something for the sequel. ;)
  • Change is not the same as trying harder. That means it’s not enough to be “better, stronger, or faster,” because that’s really just More of the Same.

How does your Hero change? How does this let him overcome his final obstacles on his path to Resurrection? What was the critical lesson?