The Writer’s Journey: Start Here

Have you read this book?

              

You might not recognize the cover. I didn’t at first, because it doesn’t match my copy. Of course, mine is only the second edition. This one’s the THIRD edition. Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey is like the energizer bunny–it keeps getting printed and printed and printed…

There are plenty of reasons why. First, Vogler has a lot of important things to say. His book is based on Joseph Campbell’s ideas about the hero’s journey, the common storyline in so many myths. Vogler does NOT, as some people seem to fear, advocate writing from a template, a formula. What he does instead is analyze the common elements of all stories, in a way that makes us recognize the patterns and layers we’re all struggling to find in our books and bring to the surface. I have a very specific criteria for a “good” writing book, that I find myself putting it down before I reach the end and rushing back to my story to get all the new ideas onto the page. The Writer’s Journey more than qualifies.

The other big reason is more practical. Basically, if you want to have a discussion about plot, or character, this is your starting point. As an editor, when I talked with a client about what their hero was doing, what the other characters were up to, I’d inevitably find myself talking about Vogler’s book. I’d suggest that, even before they looked at my critique, they should probably pick up a copy of The Writer’s Journey and read it through. This book is also the basis of so many brainstorming sessions I have with my critique groups, whenever we get deep into what our hero is (or isn’t!) doing.  Teachers in writing classes point to Vogler’s book, and The Writer’s Journey is referenced in more other writing books than I have time to count. You need to know what all these people are talking about.

I’ll admit that Vogler hasn’t solved the problem of the story middle for me. And, these days, I’m also pushing Les Edgerton’s book Hooked as a must-read companion to The Writer’s Journey.  Edgerton builds on Vogler’s ideas, and really hits on the kinds of beginnings we need to be writing today. Still, I find myself going back to Vogler’s book time and time again, when I’m stuck, when I’m trying to figure out WHO my hero is and needs to be, when I’m just trying to get a closer look at the layers of my story.

Whether you’re just starting on your writing path, or you’re already treading strongly along it, I recommend dropping this book into your traveling pack.

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8 thoughts on “The Writer’s Journey: Start Here

  1. Thanks Becky. I’m following you on Facebook. I love Vogler’s book, and find his ideas so clear and accessible. Once you embrace the concept, it’s relatively easy to start seeing how the ideas apply to other favorite stories. As for the middle, our choir had a lesson from a singing teacher who handed us all a big rubber band and showed us that sustaining notes was more compelling and convincing if we sang while pulling on the band. Try that image. Hold the dramatic tension in mind (character arc, goal seeking, overcoming obstacles) and pull on these tensions to propel that energy through the long middle. Thanks for the suggestion about Hooked. I’ll give it a try.

    Best wishes,
    Jerry Waxler
    Memory Writers Network

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  2. beckylevine says:

    Thanks, Jerry–yes, the only way I’ve found to get through the middle (so far!) is through focusing on scene goals. Not sure that Vogler talks that much about it. 🙂 I try to lay out the character threads I have so far and think about where each one needs to go next. Tricky, but every now and then there’s an Aha! moment.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. beckylevine says:

    Oh, I didn’t know you were supposed to bringing us lattes to the critique group! Oh, wait…YOUR lattes! 🙂

    Yes, I agree. Having you guys push me along is the biggest help.

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  4. Becky, it’s Vogler! Thanks for your kind words about my book. I’m so glad people are using it. I’m all about being useful — it seems to be what motivates me. GREAT that you find it practical! After all, I called the memo that formed the foundation of the book “A Practical Guide to the Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

    Ah, the long desert crossing of the second act! The Rhub al Khali, the Empty Quarter, the Sun’s Anvil, the Belly of the Beast! I’ll just say that it’s so long that it needs to be broken down into at least two parts, both so the audience can digest it and so the writer can handle it in bite-sized pieces. Put another way, it’s about punctuation. It can be like a long run-on sentence unless you punctuate it with a comma, semi-colon, period, exclamation point or question mark. I also like the analogy of the circus tent. It may need a big tent-pole event right in the middle to keep the long stretch between the first act and the last act from sagging in the middle.

    Keep going, I’m enjoying your sharing of your thought process and work process!

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    • beckylevine says:

      Wow! Thanks for stopping by! My best ploy for working on that middle is going to all the character threads I’ve (hopefully!) set up in the opening chapters and following them through–coming up with something, ANYTHING for a first draft) that that character can do to cause a problem. 🙂

      There’s a reason so many writers mumble against the middle, I think. 🙂

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