Monday, July 6, 2009

Journey to the Navel of the Story – The Writer’s Journey

As I’ve mentioned I’ve been a big fan of mythology since my early years. Maybe “Clash of the Titans” had something to do with it, but I suspect it was because of my love of “Star Wars”, which is more of a fantasy story with mythic elements than a true science fiction story. Either way, at some point in elementary school I became fascinated with mythology.

Of course this eventually lead me to the work of Joseph Campbell and is book, “Hero with a Thousand Faces”. His exploration of myths and storytelling is fascinating. Most of the points in his book are also covered in “The Power of Myth” a conversational examination of how myths and storytelling play a large part in our lives – by uncovering truths and presenting them in ways that resonate with just about anyone who encounters them.

Well this is all well and good, but how does it help a writer? Well obviously Campbell’s study of myth presents a writer with the basic building blocks of creating a story that will resonate with an audience – or at least that is the theory. Christopher Vogler steps up with his book “The Writer’s Journey – Mythic Structure For Writers” and uses Campbells ideas to illustrate how a writer can use mythic elements to create a better story.

Now, I know several writers who dislike Campbell’s work. They feel that stories should not be tied to any set pattern or have elements dissected and examined. A story is a living breathing thing, not a corpse in a morgue. In a way, I understand this. For me writing is a combination of the logical mind and the creative mind. The creative part is the force that flows and runs free. The logical part is the one that examines the story with an arched eyebrow and a red pen. Both need to work together.

You see, you can break the rules of Campbell’s pattern. I’ve seen it done and it can work. However, I’m a firm believer in knowing the rules before you break them, and that is where this book comes in.

Vogler provides the writer with a basic breakdown of the key parts of mythic storytelling. These include covering the archetypes of the story like the hero, the mentor, the ally, the trickster. He then goes into each stage of the hero’s journey from the humble beginnings in the normal world all the way to the hero’s return to his home with the secret of the ages (or magic elixir).

The final sections of the book deal with using fairly popular films and showing how the hero’s journey fits into these. Films range from “Titanic” to “The Lion King” to “Pulp Fiction” and “The Full Monty”. He even delves into all six films of the “Star Wars” saga.

What makes this book valuable is that Vogler is focused on writing and relating Campbell’s ideas to creating stories. Much of this is actually very intuitive, but it’s nice to have it articulated and even presented in a way that makes sense to a writer. And as I said, he offers points on why a story may work better because it follows the pattern or because it breaks it in a creative way. His examination of “Titanic” was actually pretty enlightening. I’m not a huge fan of the film, but Vogler shows how the script structure works exceedingly well to appeal to a large audience and really strike chords.

I definitely recommend the book to anyone who isn’t too familiar with Campbell or The Hero’s Journey. Vogler really presents the ideas in some of the most writer friendly ways I’ve seen. If you are already familiar with Campbell’s idea, you wont’ find too much new here, but there is enough to at least warrant a check out from the Library and see if it works better than some other books out there.

Oh and one minor note, skip the introductions. Unfortunately Vogler comes off a bit conceited in the intro and I was dreading reading any more. Once you get into the book proper, he drops the holier than thou attitude.

Are you familiar with the concept of The Hero’s Journey? Do you think it’s a valid story telling aid, or is it something that causes all stories to become cookie cutter? Have you read Vogler’s book? If so, what did you think of it? What did you think of “Titanic”? Did the storytelling affect how you felt about it, or did you just like watching the boat sink?

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