Jasmine's pond of dreams

Jasmine's pond of dreams

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why didn't you ask for directions? The hero's journey Storyteller's Log 12-6-2012

DISCLAIMER: I am presenting parody of Joseph Campbell's Hero's journey to make a point. While it's meant in good fun, I don't want to diminish his valuable work. It has informed my owning thinking on the subject.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces written by Joseph Campbell describes an archetypal pattern that he discovered which underlies all stories across all cultures and time periods. The most famous application of this theory is, of course, Star Wars.

Hollywood has been in a continual quest to find ways to make creating good stories easier. At one time there were two story paradigms in Hollywood. One was a fish out of water and the other was an unholy alliance. Beverly Hills Cop would be an example of a fish out of water and 48 Hours would be an example of an unholy alliance. From what I heard, if your script didn't fit either of these moulds then it would be deep-sixed.

It was Chris Volger who brought the hero's journey to the attention of Hollywood with a memo he wrote. I was fortunate to take a class at UCLA with Chris right before he published the Writer's Journey. I think that his key insight was that the writer, him or herself actually goes on the hero's journey when they write a story. I experientially believe this to be true.

I recommend his book. The Writers Journey

Now, I believe that any story structure theory should be easy to apply and easy to remember. So I am going to go off my memory of the hero's journey trusting that I remembered the important points. The hero's journey is setup like a counter clockwise journey. It maps time around a circle. Why it's counter clockwise I have no idea.
The hero starts in their ordinary world and is awakened to a call to adventure. They refuse the call only to go on the journey after all. If they didn't go there wouldn't be any story, would there? Next they meet a mentor.

The next step is they have to cross a threshold into an underworld. So they have to deal with the threshold guardians. From the beginning until they cross the threshold is ACT 1. The underworld is ACT 2. The return is ACT 3.

So far, so good. This is helpful. Let's look at the rest of the journey with the help of some visual aids.

Here is our here awakened by a call to adventure, or maybe the neighbor's dog was barking all night.

The first thing they do is to refuse the call.

Next they meet the mentor, who archetypically looks kind of like Mr. Natural. 

Next up, they cross the threshold into the hellish underworld and the tests begin. It's not multiple choice.

Anybody got a flashlight. This is where I get lost. Are we in the belly of the whale? Maybe it's the belly of a dragon? Oh, we're in the trash compactor.

In the underworld, the hero meets the goddess. If it's the heroine's journey, do they meet God???

Then they have a supreme ordeal, which is really scary as the name implies.

Finally, they cross the threshold, only after seizing the sword and return to the ordinary world.

They return with the elixir and the world is transformed.

The end.

The setup and end parts are helpful but what goes on in the middle? This was about as much as I can remember about the hero's journey and I've actively tried to use it on many stories. Obviously a lot of it didn't take in my memory. 

I think there is a difference between post analysis and prescription. The hero's journey is a great tool to analyze movies. For Chris's class, I analyzed the hero's journey for the Fisher King. It yielded interesting insights. For example, the underworld for that film was metaphorically represented by a video store- a world of celluoid dreams. All four main characters went on their own heroes' journeys.

Could I have written the Fisher King using the hero's journey as my guide? Did the writer's of the Fisher King actively write their script using the hero's journey? I don't think the hero's journey is as useful for prescription in the sense of guiding you as to what to write. This is what I want help with and many struggling writers that I know want help with. How do I not get lost in the underworld?

When I get lost, I'm not afraid to buy a map, get a GPS or ask for directions. Or explore and map my own territory. Now, I'm ready to explore, can someone point me towards north?

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