Showing posts with label christopher vogler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christopher vogler. Show all posts

Friday, April 17

Part 8 of 8: CHANGE The World

This is the last post in my Dan Harmon series. To read the series from the beginning head on over to the first post: Dan Harmon on Story Structure. I’ve placed an index at the bottom of the page.

Onward! Our protagonist is almost the master of two worlds. They have conquered the Special World of the Adventure and now they must complete the circle and bring that knowledge, that expertise (the prize) back to their community in the Ordinary World. 

Part 8 - Master of Both Worlds

Dan Harmon writes: “the protagonist, on whatever scale, is now a world-altering ninja. They have been to the strange place, they have adapted to it, they have discovered true power and now they are back where they started, forever changed and forever capable of creating change. In a love story, they are able to love. In a Kung Fu story, they're able to Kung all of the Fu. In a slasher film, they can now slash the slasher.” (Story Structure 104: The Juicy Details)

The Climactic Showdown

This is what the story has been building up to, the confrontation, the showdown, between the protagonist and antagonist. What occurs here will determine whether the protagonist achieves his goal or fails miserably. Dan Harmon writes:

“In an action film, you're guaranteed a showdown here. In a courtroom drama, here comes the disruptive, sky-punching cross examination that leaves the murderer in a tearful confession.”

Christopher Vogler echoes this when he writes that, “the showdown is a distinct dramatic form with its own rules and conventions. (The Writer’s Journey)” Vogler goes on to enumerate some of these for a Western, but more general guidelines are given by Jim Butcher in his excellent article, Climaxes

Jim Butcher on Climaxes

When I sketched the outline for this post I didn’t intend to talk about Jim Butcher’s take on the structure of story climaxes—I was just going to include a link to his article—but it’s too good NOT to discuss.

JB writes that the climax has much the same structure as a sequel: Isolation, Confrontation, Dark Moment, Choice, Dramatic Reversal and, of course, Resolution. The climax begins just as the Great Swampy Middle Ends. I’m not going to explain these terms, if they aren’t familiar, head on over to Jim Butcher’s Livejournal account. I’ve gone into this in great and gory detail here: Jim Butcher On How To Write A Suspenseful Story Climax.

Mirroring: Completion

When the protagonist comes back to the ordinary world they often find their way back to the same bit of terra firma where the protagonist stood as he or she experienced a significant story transition—like, say, a cataclysmic setback. 

Mirroring can also be done with the use of sayings, some sort of tag line—or even a repeated behavior. Whatever is used, a familiar location or a character tag, now’s the time to put a twist on it. Now it has come to mean something else, something more.

Christopher Vogler writes:

“The most popular story design seems to be the circular or closed form, in which the narrative returns to its starting point. In this structure you might bring the hero literally full circle back to the location or world where she started. Perhaps the Return is circular in a visual or metaphoric way, with a replay of an initial image, or the repetition of a line of dialogue or situation from Act One. This is one way of tying up loose ends and making a story feel complete. The image or phrases may have acquired a new meaning now that the hero has completed the journey. The original statement of the theme may be re-evaluated at the Return. Many musical compositions return to an initial theme to rephrase it at the ending.” (The Writer’s Journey)

As Dan Harmon points out, “John McClane, who at step (1) was afraid of flying, now [in Part 7] wraps a fire hose around his waist and leaps off an exploding building, then shoots a giant window so he can kick through it with his bloody feet. / Strangely enough, he will soon [Part 8] find himself back in the same room where the Christmas party was being held.”

And so we’re brought full circle.

The Prize

Have you noticed that, often, the protagonist will receive something in Part 4—this could be an actual physical object or even just a realization, perhaps a profound one, about life and their place in it—and it is this very thing which will enable the protagonist to succeed in the final confrontation? Dan Harmon writes:

“One really neat trick is to remind the audience that the reason the protagonist is capable of such behavior is because of what happened down below. When in doubt, look at the opposite side of the circle. Surprise, surprise, the opposite of (8) is (4), the road of trials, where the hero was getting his shit together. Remember that zippo the bum gave him? It blocked the bullet! It's hack, but it's hack because it's worked a thousand times. Grab it, deconstruct it, create your own version. You didn't seem to have a problem with that formula when the stuttering guy (4) recited a perfect monologue (8) in Shakespeare in Love. It's all the same. [...] Why is this not Deus Ex Machina? Because we earned it (4)” (Story Structure 104)

And that’s it! I’ll close by mirroring something I said at the beginning of this series. If your story works, leave it alone! But if you feel there’s something the matter with it but you can’t figure out what, then it might be an idea to examine your story in the context of the hero’s journey. Bottom line: The hero’s journey is a tool. You can use it or not, but it’s a good thing to have in your toolbox. Just in case. 

Talk to you again next week, good writing!

Thursday, April 16

Part 7: RETURN - Bringing The Prize Home

Today I continue my series on Dan Harmon’s Story Structure. The first article in the series is here. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from Dan Harmon’s article, Story Structure 104: The Juicy Details.

7. RETURN - Bringing It Home

To review: Our protagonist (YOU) had a NEED that drove (GO) her into the Special World of the Adventure. While adapting to the strangeness of the Special World she SEARCHed for what would fill her need. When she found it (FIND), she TOOK it and RETURNED to the Ordinary World where she can now, transformed as she is, CHANGE the world.

Today we will be looking at the protagonist’s journey, or flight, from the Special World of the Adventure back into the Ordinary World.

The Flight From The Special World

Dan Harmon writes:

“For some characters, this [the journey back] is as easy as hugging the scarecrow goodbye and waking up. For others, this is where the extraction team finally shows up and pulls them out—what Campbell calls "Rescue from Without." In an anecdote about having to change a flat tire in the rain, this could be the character getting back into his car.

“For others, not so easy, which is why Campbell also talks about ‘The Magic Flight.’”

It doesn’t have to take up a lot of space on the page, it doesn’t have to be death-defying (though it could be!), but at some point around 75% of the way through a story the protagonist begins her return to the community, the world, they left behind in Part 3.

The Pursuit

But, as we’ve seen before, nothing comes without a price. The protagonist had to give up something, strip herself of the inessentials, before the meeting with the goddess in Part 5. Further, the knowledge acquired in Part 5 necessitated, in Part 6, that the last of the scales fall from the protagonist’s eyes and she endure the pain and ecstasy of seeing the story world for what it was. Or, to change metaphors, it necessitated reading within the world the deep truth of the story. But this was the last straw, the last little bit of pain/change needed to complete the protagonist’s transformation.

It comes, then, as no surprise that the protagonist’s exit from the Special World likely won’t be easy. Dan Harmon writes:

“The denizens of the deep can't have people sauntering out of the basement any more than the people upstairs wanted you going down there in the first place. The natives of the conscious and unconscious worlds justify their actions however they want, but in the grand scheme, their goal is to keep the two worlds separate, which includes keeping people from seeing one and living to tell about it.” (Story Structure 104)

As such, this part of a story is generally active. By this time many protagonists have become comfortable in the Special World so it will take an active push from something in the underworld to get the protagonist to leave. Christopher Vogler writes:

“This is a time when the story’s energy, which my have ebbed a little in the quiet moments of Seizing the Sword [TAKE], is now revved up again. If we look at the Hero’s Journey as a circle with the beginning at the top, we are still down in the basement and it will take some push to get us back up into the light.” (The Writer’s Journey)

For example, Dan Harmon writes that ...

“This is a great place for a car chase. Or, in a love story, having realized what's important, the hero bursts out of his apartment onto the sidewalk. His lover's airplane leaves for Antartica in TEN MINUTES! John McClane, who at step (1) was afraid of flying, now wraps a fire hose around his waist and leaps off an exploding building, then shoots a giant window so he can kick through it with his bloody feet.”


One of the things I like most about Dan Harmon’s treatment of story structure are the all too infrequent asides he makes about mirroring, about the way one part of the story mirrors or builds upon another. 

In Part 1 storytellers introduce something the protagonist is frightened of, something that is a definite weakness. For instance, in Edge of Tomorrow (spoiler alert) the protagonist, Cage, is a coward. He would do anything, absolutely anything, rather than fight. So, of course, he spends the entire movie fighting! Around the midpoint he becomes a seasoned fighter. But he has a special gift, a special ability, that gives him an edge. Acquiring that special ability marks his entry into the Special World of the Adventure and losing it marks his exit. 

Not every protagonist has as clear cut a flaw as Cage, a flaw that drives forward the action of the story. Indiana Jones, for instance, has flaws aplenty but they don’t drive the story forward, at least, not in the same fashion. Of course, as Dan Harmon mentions, it doesn’t have to be quite that clear cut. In Die Hard we learn early on that John MacClane is afraid of flying and then, in the RETURN portion of the movie, he overcomes that fear—or at least learns to master it—with dramatic effect.

That’s it! That’s it for today and it’s almost it for the series. Next time I’ll discuss the last step in the protagonist’s heroic transformation. Tell then, good reading and writing.

Monday, March 11

Writing And The Monomyth, Part Three

Writing And The Monomyth, Part Three

9. The Reward

As I mentioned in Part 2 of Writing And The Monomyth, the basic structure of the monomyth is that of a quest. The hero wants something and he wants it so much he gives up his ordinary life and goes in search of it. Everything, all the trials and tribulations the hero and his companions endure, have led to this point: the reward. Christopher Vogler writes:
With the crisis of the Ordeal passed, heroes now experience the consequences of surviving death. With the dragon that dwelt in the Inmost Cave slain or vanquished, they seize the sword of victory and lay claim to their Reward. (Stage Nine: Reward)
This is a time for celebration, even if it only lasts for a moment. It is an important milestone. 

A note on pacing

When I first read The Writer's Journey it puzzled me that the hero gets his reward about 65% of the way through the second act. I had always thought the hero would get his reward after the climax which generally comes 90 to 99% of the way through the story. For example, Blake Snyder and Michael Hauge's systems are like this.

I'll have more to say about this in another post.

10. The Road Back

Christopher Vogler condenses five of Joseph Campbell's stages (Refusal of the Return, The Magic Flight, Rescue from Within, Crossing the Threshold and Return) into one: The Road Back.

For those keeping track of the act structure, this takes us from Act Two into Act Three. The hero returns from the special world of the adventure grasping the elixir of life.  Vogler writes:
Often heroes are motivated to hit The Road Back when the forces they have defied in the Ordeal now rally and strike back at them. If the elixir was stolen from the central forces rather than given freely, there may be dangerous repercussions.

Setbacks/Complications and higher stakes

The hero often suffers setbacks on the road home. Perhaps his mentor dies, or perhaps he has failed the ordeal, he may temporarily turn from his quest and need to talk to someone to get him back on track, just like what happened at the beginning when he received a call to adventure.

The hero often encounters tests again, but things have escalated. When the hero first came into the special world he was playing for much lower stakes, he was practicing, getting accustomed to his new surroundings, making friends and probably a few enemies. Yes, it was potentially lethal practise, but practise nevertheless.

The hero and his band are no longer playing war games, they're going to war. People that were the hero's enemy become his allies--perhaps his grouchy, unwilling allies, but allies nevertheless. People he thought were his friends betray him.

11. Resurrection

This is where the climax occurs. The hero goes head-to-head against the antagonistic force, whatever that is, and either wins or fails. Christopher Vogler writes:
At the simplest level, the Resurrection may just be a hero facing death one last time in an ordeal, battle, or showdown. It's often the final, decisive confrontation with the villain or Shadow.

But the difference between this and previous meetings with death is that the danger is usually on the broadest scale of the entire story. The threat is not just to the hero, but to the whole world. In other words, the stakes are at their highest.
Now the villain doesn't just threaten the hero's life and the life of his companions, now he threatens the lives of the hero's family back home, the lives of his entire tribe.

Major setback/Dark night of the soul/All is lost

Often, before the Climax, there will be an all is lost moment where the hero's grand plan for bringing down the villain unravels, his powers are ripped from him and he is plopped in a dark slimy pit of despair. But the hero will find a way out and there will be a showdown between him and the villain/antagonist. Whether the hero wins or loses is up to you and the kind of story you want to write.

12. Return With The Elixir

Christopher Vogler writes:
The most popular story design seems to be the circular or closed form, in which the narrative returns to its starting point. In this structure you might bring the hero literally full circle back to the location or world where she started. Perhaps the Return is circular in a visual or metaphoric way, with a replay of an initial image, or the repetition of a line of dialogue or situation from Act One. This is one way of tying up loose ends and making a story feel complete. The image or phases may have acquired a new meaning now that the hero has completed the journey.The original statement of the theme may be re-evaluated at the Return. Many musical compositions return to an initial theme to rephrase it at the ending.


Show how the hero's life has been changed as well as the lives of his allies. For instance, in Erin Brockovich, at the end of the movie she has her own office and receives a huge, life changing, bonus for her work.

#  #  # 

There is SO much more that can be said about the stages of the monomyth, and I do plan to return to this soon. I'm working on an outline that incorporates the various systems (Blake Snyder, Michael Hauge, Christopher Vogler, etc.) into one. Or at least that's the goal!

Do you use the monomyth to help structure your writing?

Other articles you might like:

- Writers Beware of Authariam
- Chuck Wendig's Editing Plan: Edit A Novel In Four Months
- Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Random Sentence

Photo credit: "She Was Completely Transparent With Me" by Randy Son Of Robert under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, March 1

Writing And The Monomyth, Part Two

Writing And The Monomyth Continued

Yesterday I began writing about what Joseph Campbell called the monomyth (see Writing And The Monomyth), although I drew more from Christopher Vogler's version of the myth than Campbell's.

Today I want to pick up where I left off and examine the final seven or so steps. (update: I only made it to the midpoint, so I'll attempt to finish off tomorrow.)

6. Tests, Allies and Enemies

The hero has just crossed the threshold from the ordinary world and has landed, probably with a few bumps and bruises, in the special world. In a screenplay this plot point would also mark the beginning of the second act. 

Blake Snyder in Save The Cat! make the point that the Special World should be as different as possible from the Ordinary World (for instance, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Miss Congeniality). If the Ordinary World is the thesis then the Special World is the Antithesis.

Something BIG needs to happen to propel the hero (because I'm talking about the monomyth it feels natural to talk about heroes and villains rather than protagonists and antagonists) from the Ordinary World into the Special World.

The hero must enter the Special World of the adventure willingly, he can't be tricked or abducted, it must be an intentional act.

B Story

Blake Snyder makes the point that this is also the place where we start the "B Story", a subplot that, in some way, is the antithesis, the opposite, of the "A Story", the main plot. In Legally Blond this is where Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) meets Paulette (played by Jennifer Coolidge) in the beauty shop. Paulette--big and showy--stands in stark contrast to Elle's other, more reserved, friends.

The B Story is often a love story, one that echos the theme.

Fun and Games

As our hero meets some of the people in the special world and gains a few allies, makes a few enemies, we can relax a little. We can have a bit of fun as we get to know our new friends and become adapted to the strange new world

If there is a 'feel good' part of the story, it comes out here.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

We have almost reached the middle of the story. The hero must now become serious and prepare for the ordeal ahead of him. If your hero has a love interest there's time for one last love scene before facing the ordeal awaiting him. This is a good way, too, of making the stakes clear.

In preparation for the ordeal, the hero might try to 'think like the antagonist', to get inside his mind.

However your hero does it, he's going to have to prepare for the ordeal. Even if he is blindsided by the danger he needs to make a conscious decision that he will confront the antagonistic force, whatever it is.

At this point perhaps the hero reorganizes his party, perhaps he makes alliances with his enemies. As he gets closer to the ordeal the pressure builds and the mettle of his traveling companions--as well as his own--will be tested.

As the hero approaches the inmost cave he is beset with obstacles. Common obstacles are illusions--perhaps illusions created by threshold guardians--ominous warnings, impossible tests (I always think of the Kobayashi Maru in this context!), and so forth.

8. The Ordeal

We have reached the middle of the story and are in the midst of Act Two. The hero will confront the antagonistic force working against him and either appear to win big or lose big. Neither of these, though, will be a complete victory/defeat.

Michael Hauge calls this "the point of no return". The hero is now completely committed, there is no going back to the Ordinary World except by finishing the journey.

For instance, in The Firm at the midpoint Mitch McDeere is given a choice: go into witness protection and live in fear of being killed by the mob or spend the rest of his life in prison. Whatever happens his life has been irrevocably changed.

What needs to happen at the midpoint:

- A false peek (it all seems to go right for the hero) or a false collapse (everything seems to go wrong).

- The stakes are raised. The midpoint needs to change the whole dynamic of the story. Fun and games are over, now things become much more serious, much more intense.

The midpoint is a place of transformation, of death and resurrection.  Either here at The Midpoint or, later, on The Road Back, there is often a death, either a literal one--for instance, the hero's mentor dies--or a symbolic one. Someone could tell a story about death or, this is Blake Snyder's suggestion, show a dead flower. But there should be a hint of death, a reminder of the price the hero has had to pay for his victory.

#  #  #

Well! It seems, once again, I've underestimated how many words this would take to explain. I'm going to leave off at the midpoint--it seemed appropriate--and I'll pick up this discussion again tomorrow.

Can you think of a movie, a movie you liked, that does not follow the structure of the monomyth?

Other articles you might like:

- How To Communicate Setting: Establishing Shots
- Exposing The Bestseller: Money Can Buy Fame
- How To Edit: Kill Your Darlings

Photo link: "the army" by linh.ngan under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, January 6

The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 1

The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 1

I'm going to continue my Starburst Method series today, but first I'd like to say a few words about Hugh Howey's book Wool and why we write. If you'd like to skip to where I start talking about the Starburst Method scroll down to the heading "The Starburst Method, Continued".

Hugh Howey and Wool

I started reading Wool yesterday and was amazed by the story. Hugh Howey's characters and events are emotionally compelling. The world of Wool is stark, filled with unpleasant realities, but the characters refuse to give up, they refuse to abandon their humanity.

Here's HH's dedication:
This collected work is dedicated to anyone who dares dream of a better place.
When I read that something clicked for me.

Wool is more than a book. It tells the story of a Silo and the people who live within its metal grip but, somehow, Hugh Howey has managed to do what all great authors have done since time immemorial, he has reached beyond himself, beyond his story, and connected with something universal.

I'm bringing this up because I don't want to lose sight of this aspect of the craft.

What I talk about in these essays—the questions I present ("What is your character's goal?"), the formulae—are meant to be intuition pumps, to help get us thinking in terms of story, they can't be the whole kit and caboodle.

Okay, now let's continue on with our series.

The Starburst Method, Continued

This post is part of a series about a method I'm calling the Starburst method. You can read the first two chapters here:

1. The Starburst Method: What It Is And What It Can Do
2. The Starburst Method: Discovering Your Characters

I wonder if "Starburst" doesn't give a misleading impression because instead of starting with something small and rapidly expanding we're starting with something big and nebulous—our relatively unfiltered and perhaps contradictory ideas for a story—then honing them.

Perhaps this method is more like sculpting, cutting away parts that don't belong and adding ones that do.

Five Paragraphs: Setting Up The Story

Today we're condensing our story down into five paragraphs. By the end, ideally, we will have reduced each paragraph to a single sentence. Each paragraph represents one stage of the hero's journey.

Let's go through them.

1. The Ordinary World

1.a. How is your hero DISTINCTIVE?

Christopher Vogler writes:
Most stories take the hero out of the ordinary, mundane world and into a Special World, new and alien. This is the familiar "fish out of water" idea which has spawned countless films and TV Shows (... The Wizard of Oz, Witness, ... Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, etc.).

If you're going to show a fish out of his customary element, you first have to show him in that Ordinary World to create a vivid contrast with the strange new world he is about to enter. (The Writer's Journey)
Last time we started to get acquainted with our protagonist. Although we don't know everything yet we have an idea what he does for a living, his name, his special ability as well as his weakness, and so on.

Here's another question: In the ordinary world, where your hero isn't perhaps very heroic, what is the most distinctive thing about him or her?

Is he a troublemaker? If so, quickly write down an example, something that shows he's a troublemaker, a malcontent.

Or perhaps your protagonist is much too much caught up in what society expects of him.

Or maybe he is hopelessly in love with someone unattainable.

Think of some one thing that your character is noteworthy for, that makes him distinctive. That sets him apart from everyone else. What is it that makes the other characters in your story care about him? (They may want to murder him, but that's still a kind of caring! He influences the actions of others.)

For instance, Nathan Bransford in the query letter for his book, Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, had this to say about his protagonist:
Jacob Wonderbar has been the bane of every substitute teacher at Magillan Middle School ...(My Query Letter for JACOB WONDERBAR)
In only a few words NB paints a clear picture of his hero.

1.b. How is your hero TRAGIC?

That's the first part, setting your hero, your protagonist (I'm using those words interchangeably) as distinctive. Now we need to explain his uniqueness.

There's another part to being a hero, the tragic bit. Many, perhaps most, heroes have something very wrong with their lives, some tragedy. This tragedy can perhaps help explain why he is distinctive in the way he is.

For instance, if your hero is a thief perhaps it's because his parents died when he was a child and he had to raise himself on the streets.

This is how Nathan Bransford put it:
Jacob Wonderbar has been the bane of every substitute teacher at Magellan Middle School ever since his dad moved away from home. (My Query Letter for JACOB WONDERBAR)
Jacob is a terror at school but we get the idea that's partly because of his dad's absence. That one sentence encapsulates, summarizes, gives us a snapshot of the hero's distinctive challenges and character.

2. Friends and Helpers

Everybody needs somebody, even heroes. Who are your protagonist's friends and helpers? What do they do for the hero? What are their weaknesses?

In Lord of the Rings Pippin and Merry are troublemakers. They love eating (they could eat their weight in lembas!) and smoking 'leaf' and they nearly get Frodo killed more than once, but no one could fault heir bravery when a friend was in danger.

Here's what Nathan Bransford wrote about Jacob's friends:
He never would have survived without his best friend Dexter, even if he is a little timid, and his cute-but-tough friend Sarah Daisy, who is chronically overscheduled.
 Again, this paints a compelling picture.

To Be Continued

Tomorrow we'll continue this series and finish fleshing out our five paragraph summary. See you then!

What are you writing about at the moment? What makes your protagonist distinctive? Does she have a tragic past? Who are her friends? What are her friends' weaknesses? What can her friends do well?

Other articles you might like:

- How To Format A Word Document For Uploading To Amazon: MS Word Styles
- How To Format A Word Document For Uploading To Amazon
- The Starburst Method: Discovering Your Characters

Photo credit: "Superlative Beauty // Footsteps of Happiness // Wonderful Moments // The Shelbourne, A Renaissance Hotel Dublin, Republic of Ireland // The Grand Staircase // ENJOY!" by || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, November 5

How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character

How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character

Some of the best characters aren't likable. For instance Sherlock Holmes, especially as brilliantly depicted by Benedict Cumberbatch. But that's okay. The trick is to get your readers to IDENTIFY with your protagonist. Making him or her likable is only one way to do that.

I hope to convince you of this before I'm through but, first, let's take a step back and ask what the goal of writing/storytelling is.

The Goal Of Every Story: Elicit Emotion In Your Readers

By the way, I'm taking this material from a course Michael Hauge taught with Chistopher Vogler (author of The Writer's Journey) called The Hero's 2 Journeys. Michael believes that the goal of every story is to elicit emotion from our readers. If we've done that then we've written a great story.

So, how do we elicit emotion from our readers? Simple! (Well, that's what Michael says.) Stories only have three main ingredients:

1. A great CHARACTER
2. A passionate DESIRE/A GOAL
3. CONFLICT/ Something that's keeping our character from fulling their desire/obtaining their goal.

So, every story is about:
An emotionally involving CHARACTER who strives to reach a GOAL (/fulfill a desire) against seemingly insurmountable OBSTACLES.
What we're going to talk about now has to do with the first of these three pillars: creating an emotionally involving character.

5 Ways To Create A Character Your Readers Will Identify With

Here's what we want to have happen: We want our readers to empathize with our main character. We want our readers to identify with our protagonist's situation, his feelings and his motives.

Michael Hauge puts it this way:
You want the reader to become a participant in the story through their emotions. (My paraphrase)
Here's how you do that:

1. Make your character sympathetic

In general, people in love are sympathetic. When I see two people walking down the sidewalk with silly grins on their faces holding hands while sneaking furtive love-sick peeks at each other, I can't help but smile.

This doesn't mean either character is likeable taken individually, but the fact that they have someone, that they are in love, helps (most readers) identify with them.

Or you could make your character the victim of an undeserved misfortune. That would also evoke sympathy in most readers.

Also, if a powerful antagonist deprived your character of something they loved--perhaps their spouse or child--this would be a good way to make your character sympathetic and introduce the Big Bad of your story.

Example: Andy (played by Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption

2. Make your character funny

We like to hang out with people who make us laugh. Why is this? I don't know. Maybe it's because they can say funny things we don't have the courage to.

Example: Beverly Hills Cop

3. Make your character likable

Make your character a kind, good hearted, person. Show that they are liked by the other characters in your story.

This is probably the most common way writers attempt to get their readers to identify with their main character(s) and it works!

Example: Tom Hanks in practically every movie he's been in.

4. Put your character in jeopardy

We identify with people we worry about. Put your character in danger of losing something of vital importance to them.

Example: Pulp Fiction. Butch Coolidge (played by Bruce Willis) and his father's watch.

5. Make your character powerful

Make your character very good at what they do. For instance, make them a superhero or an Indiana Jones type character

Example: Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) in Moneyball.

Getting Your Readers To Identify With Your Character: The Secret

Here's the secret to creating a character your readers can identify with:
Employ AT LEAST TWO of the above five elements when you introduce your main character.
For instance in The Firm, when Mitch McDeere (played by Tom Cruise) is first introduced, we learn that he is getting top marks in university despite working as a waiter (sympathetic). We also find out that he and his wife are passionately in love (sympathetic & likable).

#  #  # 

What do you think? Do readers truly need to identify with the main character of a story in order to become emotionally involved?

I'd like to thank John Ward for his post on how to make characters likable.

Other articles you might like:

- More Writing Advice From Jim Butcher
- Amazon Reviews Are Disappearing
- How To Write 10,000 Words A Day

Photo credit: "Victorian Robo Detective and Dr WATTson" by V&A Steamworks under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, November 14

Story structure: What is it and why should I care?

I started this post intending to write about Kristen Lamb's article Structure Part 7–Genre Matters. Kristen's posts are always marvelous, but it got me thinking about the importance of story structure and I decided to talk about that instead.

In my opinion, one of the best books on story structure is The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. Vogler tells a story about about how, when he worked for Disney, he wrote a memo that became wildly popular. He had no idea his memo had been attracting a lot of attention until people from other studios called him up to request a copy! This memo eventually became The Writer's Journey.

Why was Vogler's memo so popular? He says he was able to identify "a set of principles that govern the conduct of life and the world of storytelling like physics and chemistry govern the physical world. (The Writer's Journey, ix)" Be that as it may, it clearly worked for many people, and it's something that I try to use in my own writing. I find it especially helpful when I'm stuck, or I feel that my story has gone off the rails.

What is Vogler's formula? He insists that it's a form not a formula, but, that said, here are the basics:

Vogler divides all stories into three acts: Act 1, Act 2 part one, Act 2 part two, Act three. Act one involves the hero's (when I say "hero" I mean someone either male or female; the hero is basically the protagonist of the story) ordinary world, their call to adventure, and their accepting that call. Act two shows the hero in a new world, one where he is tested, where he meets both allies and enemies. The hero goes through an ordeal and seizes a reward; in fairytales this is often depicted as an elixir. In act three the hero is shown back in the ordinary world, having returned with his reward/the elixir. Commonly, the hero's victory isn't just a personal victory, it is a victory for the tribe as well.

That's the outline. Perhaps I've played fast and loose with Vogler's account and the outline certainly doesn't do justice to the complexity of Vogler's book, but hopefully I've captured the gist.

For my next post in this series, I plan to go into more detail about Vogler's system, and perhaps talk more about other kinds of story structures and how they compare to one another.

The story structures I'm most familiar with are those used by Christopher Vogler, Michael Hauge and Dan Wells. If anyone can add to this list, please let me know in a comment! :-)

Interesting Links:
- Writing and the Archetypes: Are They the Best for Developing Characters?—Part 1
- Story Structure, because even a three ring circus is organized. I think the pdf is from

Monday, May 16

Michael Hauge and Write on Vancouver 2011

I've just come back from a weekend writing conference, Write on Vancouver, sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. This year their guest speaker was Michael Hauge. When I told my writing friends who our speaker was I was expecting their response to be along the lines of 'Oh my gosh, really, you got Michael Hauge!' but instead I received looks of bafflement. "Who is Michael Hauge?" they asked.

I was looking for a topic to blog about and thought, great! I've got my topic, but I'm finding that it isn't as easy to describe who Michael Hauge is as I thought it would be.

Michael Hauge is, among other things, a story coach. I think of him as being like an emergency surgeon for your screenplay or manuscript. He breaks up a story into six stages: Setup, New Situation, Progress, Complications and Higher Stakes, Final Push and Aftermath. Between each stage is a turning point. Stage One and Stage Two comprise Act One, Stages Three and Four comprise Act Two and Stage Five and Six make up Act Three.

Sometimes when I talk about plot structure someone will make the comment that it is formulaic. Eileen Cook mentioned that typically a face has two eyes a nose and a mouth but most of us manage to look different from one another. Just because a manuscript follows a structure doesn't mean it is going to be like every other manuscript that has followed that structure. (I love Eileen, she is witty. I don't know her personally, but if you ever get the chance to hear her speak I would encourage you to; her books are good too!)

Anyone who is interested in Michael Hauge and his ideas on story structure might like to visit his new website,