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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The title refers to the book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. The book is a more accessable take on Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

It's been recommended several times on here, and I'm finally getting around to reading it. I'm halfway through and it's opened my eyes to aspects of novel writing I haven't considered before.

Basically, it covers The Hero's Journey, which is a universal story structure that's been used since ancient times. The structure is so ubiquitous, it not only appears in disparate ancient cultures, but also is in use today by writers of books and Hollywood movies.

What I find fascinating about it, is its familiarity. So much so, I've discovered I had been using parts of it without even being aware of what it was.

I've been having problems completing the plot for my current novel, and this book has made me look at it from a different point of view. Before, I was trying to think of "what would be cool and exciting to happen at this point in the story?" This book has made me step back and think of the overall book and what it means, and to think more about why my characters are doing these things.

Another fascinating aspect of it, is it gives you insight into the books and movies of today. Harry Potter gets on the Hogwart's Express? Oh, that's the Crossing of the First Threshold. Harry meets Dumbledore? That's the Meeting of the Mentor.

Anyone else here have some experience with this book? Has it helped your writing? Or have you studied its concepts and decided they weren't for you?
 

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I read The Writer's Journey a few years ago when one of my friends who is a screenwriter recommended it. I'd already studied Joseph Campbell's 'Hero with A Thousand Faces' years before that. So it wasn't hard for me to digest anything he was saying. After George Lucas released Star Wars, he single-handedly introduced the world to Campbell's belief that all cultures throughout the world share a common way of telling stories. But Volger took the ball and ran with it by distilling the information from Campbell's book for modern writers. As you say, most of the stuff he explains in the book is stuff storytellers pick up naturally such as 'Meeting the Mentor' or 'Journeying to the Special World'. But the way he codifies it makes it accessible to writers of any level. Heck, even Disney/Pixar uses this book as its unofficial Bible. It's why movies like Toy Story Aladdin, The Lion King, and Tarzan all have the same underlying themes running through them. I think they owe Volger a royalty check.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
So, how do you use it when writing? Do you just generally keep it in mind, or do you have a checklist and go down through it. Do you use it to help you plot?

And Vogler did work for Disney as a story consultant and analyst. It was there he wrote a memo called "A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces," which eventually was expanded to The Writer's Journey. That memo became required reading for all Disney development executives.
 

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I've read it, and I thought it was helpful in understanding how characters change throughout a story and how people expect main characters to behave. I don't follow the exact path or anything, but I do keep it in mind when I'm designing my character arcs. I also break those particular "rules" on purpose quite often because as much as books like this claim that everyone likes their stories formulaic, I just don't agree. It does help to know what people expect from a hero though before you start messing with it.
 

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I read Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces years ago, and Vogler's The Writer's Journey just a few years back. Along with about one billion books on writing fiction.

At the end of all that, I think it's a bad idea to write by carefully sticking to some formula or strictly according to some set of "rules." I found that I had internalized a lot of the lessons of these books, and that when I was actually writing, my subconscious automatically incorporated many of them. But while writing, I think it's a mistake to try to shape the story and characters consciously to fit into archetypes and rules.

For example, I have two major characters in the story, in conflict. When I was thinking about "The Call to Action," I found that each of them had a different "call" that motivated them into the story. There are two precipitating events, one for each character. Now, I worried about this for a little while. But I found that if I tried to structure the drama to begin the book with a single call to action, I would have driven myself nuts and wrecked the story, which involves how two apparently unrelated storylines intersect.

For me, the lesson learned was: By all means, draw upon all these how-to books. But when writing, trust your subconscious to draw upon what you've read. Don't try to consciously stretch, cut, and shape your story to fit The Rules, like some literary Procrustes. Let the story arise organically from the characters and their conflicts, and allow the "archetypes" and "stages of the journey" to emerge naturally.
 

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swolf said:
So, how do you use it when writing? Do you just generally keep it in mind, or do you have a checklist and go down through it. Do you use it to help you plot?
I'm one of those writers who likes to break the rules when I have good reason to (something about blazing new trails or something like that ;)). But I think a rudimentary understanding of the mythic structure really gives an author more tools to use in the process of writing books. For instance, in one of the new books I'm writing, I realized early on in the writing process that the protagonist accepted her quest far too easily. So remembering what I learned from Volger and Campbell ('Refusal of the Call'), I retooled the sequence of events at the inception of the story to make my character reluctant to go on her journey. That little shift in the story created far more conflict than any large scale battle (at least at that point in the story) could ever match. It's techniques like those which I picked up from Volger that helped to make my story more dramatic and convincing.

But as an author who spent much of his early career scorning 'the rules', I have to agree with Robert, that it's better to do what's right by your story than try to stick to any rigid formula.
 

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I read The Writer's Journey a number of years ago, and I find the plot outline very useful. I've even gone so far as to write the inciting incident, the first turning point, the darkest moment and the end, before I begin to write. I don't like to outline, but I do like to have an idea of where my story is going--even if I decide to change direction.

For me, writing a novel is a journey, and I like having a map and signs along the way. Like any journey, there are always surprises, delays, changes.

I recommend the book.
 

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I love this book!! Like others mentioned it's a concise, easy to follow road map for a hero's journey. It can be twisted, rearranged, or used however one wants; it's not the be-all-end-all but it is a great start to standard storytelling, especially those about "coming of age" characters. It doesn't work for every genre but for those who want an introduction to plot formation it's a really good place to start! ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I agree with the concept of not sticking to it rigorously.  However, like you said, it can guide you when you're stuck.

For example, in my current novel, I felt like some things were missing.  After reading this book, I realized one of them was a mentor figure.  Not that every story has to have a mentor, but I saw that one would fit easily into my story, because the hero is just out there on his own for a while, and a mentor would speed things along.

And I'm also thinking of adding a 'refusal of the call' segment, which then prompts me to think of adding a new scene to spur the hero on to the journey (as Lucas did with burning down Luke's house and killing his family).
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
SuzanneTyrpak said:
I read The Writer's Journey a number of years ago, and I find the plot outline very useful. I've even gone so far as to write the inciting incident, the first turning point, the darkest moment and the end, before I begin to write. I don't like to outline, but I do like to have an idea of where my story is going--even if I decide to change direction.
I like that idea.
 

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Swolf -- those considerations are exactly where books such as Vogler's come in handy. They're great when something seems to be "off" in your story, and you're analyzing what and why. Vogler himself is a Hollywood script doctor. So, I think that in addition to providing good structural material for your subconscious to play with, his book, like Ingermanson's "Idiot's Guide," are very useful during the editing and revising stages.
 

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That book has had a huge impact on my writing. The first novel I drafted after reading it was the easiest one I'd ever done. I know some people can't figure out how to apply it to non-adventure or non-fantasy/sci-fi works, but to date, my publications aren't those, and I still use it.

Like others have said, I don't follow it rigorously, but if I'm at a part where things aren't gelling, it's been hugely useful to step back and think what the character's role is, what plot element might be missing, and so on. I had a huge breakthrough when I realized that my story needed a death/resurrection moment and what it would be. Same with mentor relationships and the like.

Another book that really helped (and kinda blew my mind when I first read it) is Bickham's Scene and Structure.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
The concept reminds me of music, and the patterns in the music that are inherent to cultures and cause the music to be familiar to the listener, even if it's the first time they've heard the song.

In the Western culture, there are patterns in the music that are different than what you would see in Chinese or Indian music.  That's why, unless you've been exposed to it for a length of time, music from those countries sounds foreign to your ear.  The notes that are combined to create chords and melodies have a set pattern in Western music, and because of that, there is a familiarity to it.  Without being aware of it, the listener anticipates the next sequence of notes. And when they occur, they create a sense of satisfaction.

It's the same way with story structure.  Without being aware of it, readers anticipate what's coming, and when it happens they enjoy it.  But even more importantly, when it doesn't happen, they sense something missing, and feel a sense of displeasure. 
 

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Great observations.

I think the reason that Campbell's mythological "hero's journey" arc works so well for fiction is that it describes, in essence, the "passages" of every individual's life, as he or she is born, matures, faces challenges, etc. We resonate with stories that present OUR "story" in compelling ways.

Which gives us clues about the appeal of the stories we write, and what elements ought to be present in order to resonate with readers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Just finished the book, and I'm convinced it's the best book I've ever read about writing.  While reading it, I had to stop and write down ideas that were cropping up concerning my current work in progress.  Just ordered my own copy from Amazon.

My advice: If you haven't yet, find a copy at your local library and read it.  You'll come away with a better understanding of the craft of storytelling, and you'll see at least some of the ideas behind the structure in practically every book and movie you experience.
 
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