Thursday, February 28, 2013

Writing And The Monomyth

Writing And The Monomyth

Let's get back to talking about writing, the butt-in-chair stuff.


The Monomyth


Just as all philosophy is a footnote to Plato, all plots are variations of the monomyth. Perhaps, in writing circles, the best known version of the myth is the one popularized by Christopher Vogler in his wonderful book, The Writer's Journey.

I believe that every writer has internalized his or her own particular version of the monomyth. This is the structure that organizes our stories.

Each of our individual monoymths is going to be different because each writer is unique. We each have a different perspective on life and the world and this is going to show itself in our work.

What follows is my version of the monomyth. This version is no better than anyone else's (and hopefully no worse!) and I present it here more as an exercise for myself to make my implicit understanding of story structure explicit. If something I write resonates with you then I invite you to use it and if something doesn't then ignore it, it's not for you.


The Stages of the Monomyth


1. The ordinary world


Here we see the hero (the hero can be a male or female) in the ordinary world. This is the life he is used to. For instance, at the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope we see Luke working on his Uncle's farm.

SHOW the hero in the ordinary world. Take this as an opportunity to show what the hero is good at. What is he comfortable with? What is he terrible at? What are his hopes and dreams?

2. Call to adventure


A force crashes into the heroes ordinary world. Something happens, something changes. Perhaps a herald/messenger comes with news that the hero's great uncle has passed away and left him a mansion. Perhaps a malfunctioning droid shows him pictures of a pretty girl pleading for help.

3. Refusal of the call


The hero doesn't always refuse the call to adventure, but at the very least he has to consider what answering the call would mean. What would he have to give up? What might he gain?

4. Meeting the mentor


If the hero refuses the call to adventure the mentor can help spell out the stakes for him and motivate him to explore the strange new world that awaaits those few brave enough to attempt the journey. Even if the hero is eager to be off, the mentor can provide him with advice, or perhaps equipment, or--if it's a fantasy--a magical charm or three.

Often the mentor travels with the hero as a helper. Nearly always the mentor dies or leaves the party before the climax of the story, leaving the hero on his own to meet the final test alone.

Think of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid or Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope. The mentor knows more about the special world where the adventure will take place (e.g., the world beyond Luke's home planet of Tatooine; knowledge of The Force).

5. Entering the special world 


Before the hero leaves the ordinary world he often has to pass a test given by a threshold guardian. He doesn't quite pass the test, or he does but he makes the guardian angry, and is tossed into the belly of a whale, or trash compactor, or otherwise left for dead.

In any case, something happens to the hero such that he is swallowed into the unknown and begins--perhaps grudgingly--to adapt to the ways of the special world.

The special world is the land of adventure. There are different rules here, different social norms, different dangers. What the hero was good at he is no longer and what the hero couldn't do before now becomes possible.

After entering the special world the hero goes through a period of adjustment. Think about Luke when he goes into the Mos Eisley Cantina with Obi Wan Kenobi and the wonderful strangeness of the customers, the setting.

Have you ever used the monomyth to help structure your stories? Is there another structure you use? If so, please share!
Update: The discussion of the monomyth is continued here: Writing And The Monomyth, Part 2.

Other articles you might like:

- Steven Pressfield Gives Writers A Pep Talk In A "Get Off Your Duff And Start Writing!" Kind Of Way
- Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story
- Podcasting on the iPad

Photo credit: "let's type" by |vvaldzen| under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing about this, Karen. I've read The Writer's Journey and the Hero's Journey several times, but I needed a refresher. It comes to me at the perfect time since I'm getting stuck with my manuscript.

    Thanks for the post! Terrific as always!

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    1. Thanks Robert!

      This morning I got out Blake Snyder's Save The Cat and Michael Hauge's handout, Six Stage Plot Structure, and tried to 'line up' each system's stages with that of the monomyth. I don't know when I'll blog about the results, but it's a wonderful exercise!

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  2. I've actually done a series of posts on my blog applying the Hero's Journey to several movies. I love it. Not necessarily for plotting my own work in the first draft stage, but certainly for textual analysis and in editing.

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    1. Paul, I'd love to read your analysis!

      You're right, it's not for the first draft. On the first draft I just concentrate on getting the story, what there is of it, down on paper. Then I worry about whether it has the proper structure, if the hook is strong enough, and so on.

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    2. Here you go, here's three of them:

      Kung Fu Panda: http://paulanthonyshortt.blogspot.ie/2011/06/heros-journey-in.html

      Thor: http://paulanthonyshortt.blogspot.ie/2011/11/heros-journey-thor.html

      Run Fatboy Run: http://paulanthonyshortt.blogspot.ie/2012/05/heros-journey-challenge-run-fatboy-run.html

      I've even done Soylent Green and Bridget Jones' Diary!

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    3. Great analysis! Thanks for the links. :)

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