The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Hero's Journey

I consider Campbell's model of the Hero's Journey to be THE best writing tool ever created by the mind of man.  And Campbell didn't create it, he just  discovered it.  It was the result of the joint work, over thousands of years, of millions of individual storytellers.  The pattern is so persistent because it matches the actual course of our lives, and therefore creates a phenomenally powerful link between the external organization of events and the internal fashion in which we organize reality to attempt to make sense of chaos.  The pattern roughly goes like this:
1) The hero is confronted with a challenge.
2) Initially, they reject the challenge.
3) They are forced or allowed to accept the pattern.
4) They set out on the Road of Trials.
5) they meet allies and gain Powers
6) They have their initial confrontation with evil, and are defeated.
7) They enter the dark night of the soul
8) They take the Leap of Faith
9) They confront evil again, and are victorious
10) The Student becomes the Teacher.
This pattern is grade school.  It is the way you internalize your basics so that you can move on to more complex work.  It is analogous to juggling three oranges--if you want to juggle five chainsaws, you'd better have your basics down.  Far too often, I meet (unsuccessful) writers who don't have their basics, have never published a single short story, but want to leap directly to complicated novels.  In general, I know that these are the writers who will fail.  They refuse to understand that they haven't mastered their basics, and are riding on sheer chutzpah and ego.  It's a pity.
So, how do you use this?  Follow a combination of Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein's advice:
1) Write a story a week, or a story every other week.
2) finish what you write.
3) Put it in the mail, keep it in the mail until it sells.
4) Don't rewrite except to editorial request.
Stories should explore and express simple structure until you have mastered this (say, by selling 5-10 stories).  Then you can try longer form.  If you follow this advise, you'll be published within 2 years, guaranteed.


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