Category Archives: Musings

Toss them out the window! Using and forgetting the Hero’s Journey

This morning, I was giving a talk to a group of writers on Joseph Campbell and the Hero Journey or Monomyth (in this case, specifically with regards to setting, rather than plot or character). I ran the group through a basic overview of Campbell’s schema, and gave them a number of examples from movies (since visuals are always helpful) — including two movies that I know for a fact consciously used Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as inspiration: Star Wars: A New Hope and The Matrix. And I mentioned that, while I loved the first Matrix movie, I felt as if I could hear the pages of Campbell’s magnum opus turning as Neo’s journey progressed. Call to Adventure? Check. Crossing the Threshold? Check. Belly of the Beast? Double-check…

One of the participants asked, very reasonably, how to use and honor the Hero’s Journey schema without falling into the trap of writing a story that is formulaic.

When I was studying to be an actor, we had a wonderful master teacher named Archie Smith. Now in addition to being a terrific teacher, he was also (though in his late 60s) still an actor and a student of acting; he would sit in on many of our classes with other teachers and go through the exercises they had us work on, then apply them to his own work on stage and talk to us about what he’d learned.

One day, one of our classmates asked Archie how we could keep all of our acting fresh, even as we tried to apply all of these technical concepts that we were learning. Archie told us to learn all of the techniques that he and our other teachers were giving us, to internalize them… and then, he said with great glee, “Toss them out the window!”

Toss them out the window! by Roz Chast

When I’m writing, I try to think about the Monomyth cycle (and about all of the other skills and techniques I’ve picked up) as I’m researching, outlining, and note-taking. But then I put all of out of my mind as much as possible. I take Archie (and Binky) to heart, and… toss them out the window.

I almost always find that in my books (for example, Risuko), I’ve followed the schema — just not quite as slavishly (hopefully) as they did in The Matrix. 😉

I think Campbell would say that the story will tend to follow the pattern whether we want it to or not — it’s an expression of the structures of the unconscious mind, after all.

However, being conscious of those structures allows us to make choices about how we want to follow the pattern. Knowing that the setting of the world of supernatural wonder (“the forest adventurous,” “the land of adventure,” etc.) has to reflect an inversion of some sort to the world where we and the protagonist started out allows us to make choices about what exactly is going to change, so we can make notes, draw, collect pictures…

Then toss them out the window and write.

Review: Lethal White — Deadly Fun

Lethal White coverSince The Cuckoo’s CallingI’ve enjoyed the Cormoran Strike series, written by J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith. Each entry has been a mind-tickling, exciting mystery in the old-style gumshoe detective vein, with all of the flourishes that made Rowling’s Harry Potter books so enjoyable — memorable characters, sly humor, exciting plot, and a deft hand at shifting moods unexpectedly. The latest entry in the series, Lethal White, provides many of the delights of the earlier books while revealing increased skill on the author’s part — but also revealing a disappointing tendency toward formula. Continue reading Review: Lethal White — Deadly Fun

Weekly Roundup

With the summer solstice comes longer days. With longer days comes more time for reading! Here’s this week’s roundup of what we found interesting in the world of ePublishing.

Continue reading Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup — What’s new in digital publishing?

From a scandal that rocked the world of digital publishing to some nice, relaxing podcast recommendations, here’s our latest weekly roundup. Continue reading Weekly Roundup — What’s new in digital publishing?

Elements of Style: CSS for Ebooks

I originally published this post on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful resource for self-publishers, TheBookDesigner.com

If HTML is the blueprint, showing how an ebook (or a web page) should be laid out, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are the interior design, saying how everything should look. While that may sound superficial, in fact learning to use CSS can have a profound impact on your ebook.

This is a somewhat complicated topic, so I am going to take three posts to cover it. This time round, I’m going to show you what CSS is and how to apply it. In the second post, I’m going to look at some of the different properties that you can use to define how your ebook looks. And in the last post, I’m going to talk about how to know which rules take precedence when.

Continue reading Elements of Style: CSS for Ebooks

Weekly Roundup – 6 Fresh Topics in Ebook Publishing

Don’t call it a comeback! Here’s the second installment in our now weekly roundup of interesting articles in the world of eBook publishing.  Continue reading Weekly Roundup – 6 Fresh Topics in Ebook Publishing

Speaking in Code: Ebook HTML basics

This post originally appeared on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful site, TheBookDesigner.com.

If, as I keep saying, an ebook is just a website a box, then in order to know how to get in and edit your ebook, you’re going to want to know some HTML. However you choose to work on the file, knowing the basic building blocks is essential in creating a finished  product that presents your book to its best advantage.

 

When we talk about HTML, we’re actually talking about two separate things:

Continue reading Speaking in Code: Ebook HTML basics

Weekly Roundup: 7 Interesting Articles on eBook Publishing

As a matter of principal (both personal and professional) I spend quite a bit of my time keeping up to date with what’s new in the eBook publishing world. Having built up a relatively substantial feed to scroll through, it recently occurred to me that I’m not the only one who could benefit from a list of new ePublishing articles  to peruse while I’m going about my day.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to start publishing a weekly list of recent articles I think are important, interesting, innovative, etc. Here are this week’s choices:

Continue reading Weekly Roundup: 7 Interesting Articles on eBook Publishing

Two by Two: Happy Valentine’s Day!

It is interesting that St. Valentine’s Day, celebrated in the second month of the year, is the festival of romantic love in Western culture. Interesting for a couple of reasons — the first being that poor Valentine wasn’t really much of a lover himself, as nearly as we can tell (though he was martyred for marrying Christian couples). Of course, his symbol has become the stylized “heart” shape, and the heart has long been identified, both East and West, as the seat of love. And so where earlier Europeans identified May Day and Midsummer Night as the festivals most connected with passion, the Christian world focussed on the day of the saint of the pierced heart.

The other interesting thing about February 14th being the lovers’ holiday, it seems to me, has less to do with Valentine, and everything to do with when it occurs: smack dab in the middle of the second month. Continue reading Two by Two: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Inside the Box: The Anatomy of an Ebook

Over the next few posts, I’ll be showing you how ebooks are coded and formatted. We’ll look at the anatomy of an ebook, and what makes it tick.

You’ve heard me call an ebook a website in a box. This time we’re going to talk about what’s inside the box.

First thing’s first: let me share an ebook with you. It’s the ePub file for a short story of mine called White Robes.

You’re welcome to read it, obviously, but for the purposes of this post (and the next two), we’re going to be opening up the box and dissecting the ebook.

This is the actual production file that I’ve uploaded to Amazon, by the way — it includes all of the coding and formatting that I typically include in creating an ebook. It will be the model that I’ll be using over the next few posts in discussing an ebook’s innards.

Continue reading Inside the Box: The Anatomy of an Ebook