Tag Archives: hero’s journey

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.

David Kudler on The Hero’s Journey® in Sacramento

CWC SacramentoStillpoint author and publisher David Kudler will be giving a talk this Saturday at the California Writers Club Sacramento on the subject of “The Enduring Hero’s Journey®: How to Make your Writing Compelling and Memorable.”

Kudler, who has worked with Joseph Campbell Foundation since 1999, will talk about Campbell’s concept of The Hero’s Journey®, as it was laid out in his seminal book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Kudler edited the 2008 edition of the book. He will look at the ways in which the Hero Journey can serve as a blueprint for creating an enduring, transformative story.

Location: Cattlemens Restaurant, 12409 Folsom Blvd., Rancho Cordova, CA
Date/Time: Saturday May 20, 2017, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Website: http://www.cwcsacramentowriters.org/2017/luncheon-david-kudler/

“The Hero’s Journey®” is a registered trademark of Joseph Campbell Foundation (JCF.org) and is used with permission

The Power of Where: Setting, Place, and the Hero’s Adventure

I’m going to be running a workshop as part of Redwood Writers 2017 Academy on Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero Journey as it applies to exploring setting for writers!

Every story explores a hero’s journey along a path toward discovery. It’s easy to focus on the hero or on the goal, but what about the path? With David Kudler (author, publisher, and editor for the Joseph Campbell Foundation), explore the ways in which you can enrich your settings using the hero cycle explored by Campbell in his classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The Workshop will be Saturday, March 25 from 9:30 to 12:30 in Santa Rosa.

If you sign up for all three monthly workshops, you’ll get a discount; space is limited, so register now! Continue reading The Power of Where: Setting, Place, and the Hero’s Adventure

Inauguration Week: Ritual and Renewal

Here’s a thought that first occurred to me on the third weekend of January some years back, and that feels all the truer to me now:

I love that presidential inaugurations now take place the week of MLK Day. Not only does it make  for a lovely extended holiday for some schools (most years), but we have created a secular ritual of loss and rebirth that satisfies my mythically-oriented but ultimately agnostic soul.

Think about it: every third Monday of January, we here in the US celebrate the life of man who called to the better angels of our nature, and who died in the struggle to get our nation to live out its creed—that all men are created equal. Every Martin Luther King Day, I listen to King’s speeches—the “I have a dream” behemoth, the “I have seen the Promised Land; I may not get there with you” Pisgah sight—and they fill me with both great hope and a great sense of loss. I cry. Every damned time. It’s pathetic. Only it’s not.

Then, every fourth year, on twentieth of January, we indulge in the audacity of our on-going revolution, an exercise that embraces the idea that not only are we all one nation together (whatever our differences), but that we can, will, and do work continuously to make ours a more perfect union. Continue reading Inauguration Week: Ritual and Renewal

The (Other) Little Death

Painting by Helene Steele © Helen Steele
Painting © Helene Steele

My fourteen-year-old interviewed an artist yesterday for Fastforward, the local kids’ newspaper: a wonderful painter by the name of Helen Steele. I went along as chauffeur and photographer.

Julia asked some great questions, which got Ms. Steele talking eloquently about the most interesting thing of all: her process as an artist. She talked about how she starts a painting–not the way that I’d have thought, with an image in mind, but by working with texture and color until she sees something on the canvas and then begins to work to bring it out. Fascinating.

“There comes a point in every painting, though,” Steele said, “where I have to take what I thought I was doing–the thing that I’ve been so focused on–and kill it off, let it die. And that’s usually when the painting really takes off.”

Her comment hit me between the eyes like one of the diamond pickaxes from the games of Minecraft that Julia’s friends are always talking about.

I realized that the same thing was true of just about every writing or editing project that I’ve been involved with: that at some point, I have to take the part of the book that I’ve been fussing at and obsessing over for hours or weeks or months (or, in the case of a book I finished writing recently, for four years) and kill it. Let it die.

And that made me think of the schema of the Hero’s Journey mapped out in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. There’s a point in most hero tales where the hero (or heroine) has to face a death–either real or metaphoric. Harry Potter allows himself to be killed. Luke Skywalker cuts off his own head (though he thinks it’s Darth Vader’s at the time). Odysseus goes down with his ship before washing up naked on the beach to be found by Nausicaa.

It’s only after this death that the hero can reach his or her potential–can become truly a hero. The old self has to perish in order for the true self to be born.

In every creative project, there’s that moment: the pinnacle of frustration and the abyss of despair. And it’s only by letting go of the thing that we think is so important–the sequence or passage or sentence or character or scene or chapter that we’ve been banging up against that we can discover what the heart of the piece we’re working on truly is.

So, hard as it is, we have to learn to welcome that little death and learn to see it as the narrow, dark passage to the unknown, glorious fulfillment of our own creative work.

Let the Wild Rumpus Start

Maurice Sendak, Author of Where the Wild Things Are, Dies at 83


Image © copyright 1963, Maurice Sendak

If you were to ask me what piece of literature has had the most profound impact on me, I wouldn’t have to think at all. It was Maurice Sendak’s picture-book masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are.

Continue reading Let the Wild Rumpus Start