Sunday, September 16, 2012


Writing is easier for some people than it is for others.  There are people who can naturally tell a story, it just slips from their lips in order and we laugh with them or cry with them, but whatever it is that they have, this magic ability, we are enrapt and cannot turn away from what they are telling us.  These people are just great story tellers!

But there is something, ingrained perhaps, or something they have picked up along the way that aids them in what they do.  Maybe they read constantly.  Maybe they watched people on television who could capture the crowd—certain stand up comedians come to mind—and they learned from these folks.  The story, related with expression and great timing, keeps our attention through the ups and downs to the very end.  We laugh at appropriate times, we cry if necessary, we feel triumph when the speaker finishes the tale.  We’ve been involved through some magic talent of theirs so that we are not listening to the story, we’re a part of the story.

There are rules to telling a good story.  They’ve been broken down by several learned people, Joseph Campbell in his Hero of a Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler who took directly from Campbell.  Each outlined the steps of the storyline, based on myths but applicable to any century’s stories, like yours, like mine.  The journey.  What the hero must pass through and accomplish to reach the good ending where his quest is fulfilled and he has done his job and accomplished what he or she set out to do.  Vogler listed 12 steps.  I don’t remember all of them, but then, I sort of use the steps naturally.

First, there is the call to adventure.  Okay, it could be hard (win a war) or relatively naïve and easy, like delivering a summons to a rich guy who has bodyguards and everybody else who has tried to serve this guy has failed miserably.  The character knows it’s difficult and probably impossible, so he/she hesitates and tries to put it off on someone else. They refuse to go, knowing in advance that they will fail.  Then something happens to force the character’s movement…gun to his head, loss of job to her if she doesn’t , or something far more dire…if you don’t do it, your family will suffer.  So the character goes.

Along the way to somewhere impossible, they gather allies and a mentor.  The mentor knows the way or knows how to accomplish the mission (holds a key to getting into that office or getting into Bin  Laden’s compound) and even might possess a magic weapon (or key or code word) to allow our hero or heroine access.  It isn’t easy, the road there is nearly impossible and impassible, fraught with danger at every turn, several times the h/h faces danger and death but manages to squeeze through.  Often there are consequences and the allies don’t make it…you can’t kill off your h/h, but members of the band might die…think LOTR where some of the fiercest die so that the others may go on.  Such devotion…red shirts on Star Trek who are nameless but give their all for the cause.

Okay, we’ve gone there, we’ve lost friends, now we are into the compound/office and think we might have smooth going until suddenly, the bad guy or giant or dragon or watchman or worse yet, the antagonist, the impossible guy, appears, fully armed and we must confront him, the danger, the enemy, the boss.  We use our wits, we use our magic weapons, somehow, we manage to defeat the villain and get what we want.  But, looking at what it cost us, sometimes an arm or a leg or a friend, and we wonder whether it was worth it.

We bring the magic elixir home to those who need it.  The plans are with our generals, the stolen jewels are back with the queen, the bad guy is either dead or in jail or somewhere where he/she cannot hurt anyone ever again.  We present the goods to whoever needed them and people rejoice and we are heroes.  We get the girl/guy/job/retirement/recognition and our story is over, unless it is a series and we get sent somewhere else to do the same thing only in a different time and place.

This is the hero’s journey.  This is the story, done.  These elements are usually always present, though the order might be changed and the dangers on and on, but these elements must be observed for the story to be worthwhile.  Even literary fiction has most of these elements while the ending might not be Happily Ever After, just because real life is not always that way at the end of a journey.

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