Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Monomyth

I don't know if I've talked about his one the blog yet, but I've been sucked into something of a black hole while revising the beginning of my WIP. Or maybe it's not a black hole, but something more like Groundhog Day. I can't move onwards until I've got the beginning right, and the beginning isn't right yet. Four times and counting and the beginning is not anywhere near right. And not just "Well, this paragraph might be better over here" but more like "Why don't I just save myself the trouble, delete the first three chapters and start over again?"

But (I've found a silver lining) it is most excellent blog material! Bwa ha ha ha ha!!!

So, I've decided that as I struggle along with different parts of my story, I will do a little (ha!) post about Monomyth and the Hero's Journey since those are usually the terms in which I think of my plot structure.

Monomyth is the idea that every story (every good story that is. I know there are suckidudinous ones that don't) is at its core, the same story.

Now, you may be whimpering quietly that your story is nothing like . . . Well, like Twilight, for example. YOUR story has likable characters and plot development and conflict and stakes and men who have the decency not to sparkle. All I can say is: well, good. But under the surface, at its very core, if your story means anything at all, it DOES share some things with Twilight (Though, we pray, not the soulless, infatuated narrator or too-good-to-be-true, twinkling hero) and that is a good thing.


Edward Cullen Peacoat
I am amused by the Sullen Peacoat Picture.
Sue me.


I would say that the most famous student of the Monomyth or the Hero's Journey was Joseph Campbell. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (Is that not an awesome title?) In it he lays out a formula found in myths the world over. However, this is a not a formula like a plug-these-points-in-and-out-will-pop-a-novel-to-make-the-masses-weep sort of formula. It is a formula that underpins every good story, whether we realize it is there or not. I think it is because that is how we live our lives. We understand what makes a hero, even if it is not on a conscious level.

Here is the best picture I could find of it:



monomyth journey cycle
This is a compilation of several different systems of talking about Monomyth.
Joseph Campbell among them.
Also one called Women Who Run with the Wolves.
I got it for a birthday present.
Now, I'm getting in touch with my inner Wild Woman.
(source)

I know it sticks rather inelegantly over our side bar, but I really wanted you to be able to read all the wonderful little things on this chart.

If you care to follow along as I explain, this chart begins at the top, just to the right of the Fourth Threshold and moves clockwise. I'm just going to do the first two steps today.

1. The Call to Adventure
  • Your protagonists life is going along swimmingly (or it might be really awful), but either way things are as they have always been. Suddenly, your protagonist opens a wardrobe door and finds herself staring into a forest--aliens fall from the sky--pirates attack--the dragon egg hatches. A wonderful journey is just at her fingertips if only she has the courage to embrace it. She can of course refuse the call--shut the wardrobe door--ignore the aliens--hand the dragon egg to someone else and let the opportunity pass her by, but she'll regret it in the long run.
2. The Threshold
  • This step is not on the chart. It comes before the Mentor, before any Test and Trials and before what they are calling the First Threshold. The Threshold is the moment when the protagonist makes the decision to embrace the adventure. Often symbolized by stepping a threshold and locking the door behind you. It is the point of no return at which point there is no turning back no matter how uncomfortable the adventure might become. The wardrobe door is locked shut with the protagonist on the snowy side--the pirates drag our heroine kicking and screaming onto their ship--the dragon egg hatches.

I think the Threshold is the part I'm having trouble with. My Call to Adventure is doing just fine, thank you very much, but unfortunately I keep seeing ways that my heroine can wiggle out of her adventure after she has supposedly crossed the threshold. I just want to build a brick wall around her home. No, you may not go home again. Get out there and HAVE YOUR FRICKING ADVENTURE.

Maybe I'll burn the forest behind her.

I think most likely she (and therefore, I) have motivation issues of all sorts. That can be my project for the rest of the week: Get motivated.

13 comments:

  1. This reminds me of those inescapable plot maps from my English classes. While I think there is merit to trying to break a good story down into a formula that details its necessary parts, I also think that some of the best stories ever written have flouted these formulas. I think it really depends on the type of story you are writing.

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    1. I would argue that authors who write stories that don't at first seem to contain any of the archetypes of Monomyth, are deliberately deviating from them (whether they know that's what they are doing or not) for their own nefarious ends.

      Be careful or I'll share my thoughts on Modernism and Postmodernism with you.

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    2. Being rather firmly in the Modernist camp, I would love to hear them.

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    3. EEeep!

      Well, I guess we can still be blog friends. Just hang on a second while I find my holy water...

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  2. I love this! It's fascinating to me to see the ways in which all these type of stories are so similar. As someone working on a monomyth, these charts just help me check myself so that I don't forget an important element. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. First, that's a really beautiful threshold picture. I may have stared at it for a long time.

    One of my thresholds could use some strengthening, too... I used to think that waffling was necessary at that point, but then it was waffles topped with custard, possibly already having been soaked in a puddle of watery pudding, which...ew. So I suppose, if my character is going to waffle, it should be a main event later down the line--a big, crunchy, golden main-event waffle.

    That may have stopped making sense even to you, so I'll just say that I, too, may set a forest on fire behind my protagonist. Or perhaps I'll have him fan the flames.

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    1. The picture is from our favorite Pinterest Person.

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  4. Whoa, that is one amazing and complex diagram! On this whole threshold issue, I took the easy way out and had someone kidnap my mc, which kind of limited her choices in terms of avoiding the adventure. She wasn't happy about it. (And Sullen Cullen is very amusing in his peacoat. He looks like he's trying to lay an egg.)

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  5. One of the things I look for in a good story is the MC's motivation for embarking on the adventure. Without that, you have an adventure for the sake of it, which isn't nearly as powerful as an MC on a mission.

    That's not to say the "adventure on a whim" couldn't be made to work--as long as at some point, the MC reaches a point of no return, where the MC has to decide whether to go on or go home. And the MC's reasons for continuing must be compelling.

    So yes, I think you're right, Tyler-Rose. That threshold moment is critical to the success of the story. I hope you find a way past yours. May I encourage you to, perhaps, try something drastic and dramatic? Perhaps burn the house down, kill loved ones--anything just to put fire in your MC's belly and a desire to go on the journey you've prepared for her. You can always change it later, but who knows, it might work. Or it might inspire a different, better idea.

    Just a thought. :)

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    1. Thanks for your ideas, Colin! I already burned the house down. I'm still considering a brick wall. Hmmm... Maybe I can find someone to kill. Bwa ha ha.

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