I recently posted an entry that practically said, “Hey, I just wrote a story without doing any planning and it was awesome!” and now I’m here to say, “Hey, I’m planning like crazy and it’s awesome! (And also, there’s no one way to do a thing, try different stuff!)”
I tend to get carried away when outlining, I’ll go off on a tangent or into too much detail, and subsequently lose steam and scratch the whole thing, but I’ve recently found a way to stay on track, and thought I’d share my experiences and thoughts. This isn’t a how-to post; despite the silly heading, you won’t find the twelve steps listed here (though you will find a link to them).
I don’t particularly like the idea of writing to a formula, but I’ve been using Christopher Vogler’s version of The Hero’s Journey (the twelve steps are there!), and Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth (seventeen steps are there!), as a basic blueprint for the outline of my latest novel. This has provided much inspiration, and freed up some of my brainpower for problem solving rather than blank-slate plot generation.
“The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.” – Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey
So the basic premise here is that Vogler’s hero’s journey has twelve stages and each stage can be seen as a significant event in the story. By using his stages as indicators of possible major plot points, I have a vocabulary that I can use to describe the narrative structure of the story. But the reason the monomyth is so significant is not because it creates a blueprint from nothing, it’s because it has unearthed a blueprint which we subconsciously already know. If I was not using the monomyth to help me outline, I would subconsciously be seeking to use many of the same stages it discusses, simply because they make sense. The stages come out of us, they are a reflection on the struggles of human life.
Since the blank page is relatively uninspiring, I chose to copy all twelve steps into a document and fill my stuff in beneath each of the headings. It’s actually quite inspiring. Granted I had a lot of the ideas for this story before sitting down with the monomyth structure, but it’s neat to be able to plug things in and be inspired by the prompts that each stage provides.
As I said at the top, I’m no fan of formulas, and I don’t believe we should ever adhere to a given rule without questioning it. I think the significance of the hero’s journey is that the stages of the journey are already kind of known to us inherently, and that having a list of each stage can be helpful when trying to figure out the shape of your novel. However, I think that there are probably more stages to the journey than the monomyth discusses, and I’d be curious to see an epic story that turned the journey on its head, or an example of the journey gone awry/done out of order/not done at all.