Has it been that long?

Pete Denton

I stepped away for what seemed like a moment and now it’s 2015!

I haven’t finished my blogging journey. I haven’t abandoned my writing dream, they are just on hold for a while.

The birth of a new year, hopefully, brings with it a fresh start. You might have noticed me stopping by a few blogs over the last few months and I hope to return to the writing the odd blog post in the near future. I’ve even started editing that bloody novel again.

In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy New Year.

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‘E’rotic fiction

I’m sure you can’t have a love of books and not notice the massive hype around the best selling ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy. I haven’t managed to start readingit, although I do love a bit of cheeky literature, however I am being patient in waiting for a good review.

The author is a screen writer apparently, funny that, maybe the film rights came first? I would be tempted to comment on the frustration that poorly written work can succeed where brilliantly written pieces lay unread in publishers in trays, but Harry Potter is not the best written. I still love the books, damn.

I love book stores, and upon discussion with the staff was surprised at their enthusiasm for the ‘Grey’ ness of current sales. They hope for a similar success on at least an annual basis as it keeps the customers coming in, and the sales figures up.

Upon reading a recent overview of ‘Grey’ I noticed it has the same plot as a novel I read years ago called something like Mr King, I hope someone got a credit for that similarity, I guess financial success allows such ‘borrowing’ without shame, says she hinting again at the HP story and characters.

I am torn, I love books and believe firmly in the power of literature and reading. The David Beckham book got boys in bookstores for the first time, ‘Grey’ succeeds and brings a whole new market of readers so it must be credited for it. If bookstores survive a year longer on it’s back then all power to it, but please editors and publishers don’t overlook some really good works that may be sat in your in tray.

‘E’rotic literature is a genre succeeding due to the Kindle and other generic e-readers, hopefully other genres will cash in on this anonymity. Goths can read Katie Price, guys can read chick lit and tories can read a Danny Boyle biog without embarrassment (subtle topical reference to the Olympics and tory MP comments) Good luck to all writers, and all power to your pen, be it nibbed or electronic.

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Research is your friend

It strikes me that I don’t talk about my writing process very much and, contrary to popular belief, I do have one. While I do most of my plotting in my head, only setting it down in notes when it’s exceptionally vivid to me, the rest of the idea-to-page process is pretty normal. One of the things I think are incredibly important, possibly beyond all others and especially for writers of Speculative Fiction in all its glorious forms, is research.

If you’re going to make your story/novel/flash fiction/novella as realistic as it can be (and by realistic, I mean believable despite the wierdness) then research is where it’s at. As an example let’s use my current WIP, The Adventures of Alan Shaw. This is a very different beast to Greaveburn. Alan Shaw is an Alternate History/Steampunk novel based in the very real Victorian era of England, albeit with some technological flights of fancy. But in order to make my Neo-Victorian elements work, I had to understand what the victorian era was really like. If I had a motto, it’d be:

Learn the rules before you break them.

And so I do research. A lot. Of course, the internet is your friend. There are sites or wikis on every subject known to humankind somewhere in the unending virtual vaults. But call me old fashioned, I still like my books now and again.

Here’s what I used for Alan Shaw so far.

As you can see, there’s quite a mix in there. Let’s break down what I think is important about researchas the groundwork for your writing:

1. Know your genre

When writing Greavburn, I had no idea that I was actually working on a Steampunk novel. I was aware of the Gothic literature sub-genre and loved its aesthetic. Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake is one of my favourite books, and that was the kind of grand darkness I wanted to instill in Greaveburn. But Steampunk wasn’t even on my radar. And so, when I discovered that it existed, and that Greaveburn fit the bill, I panicked. What if someone had already done what I had? How restrictive to Greaveburn’s reception would that be?

I learnt my lesson for working on Alan Shaw. I’ve read James Blaylock’s Homunculus, J.W. Jeter’s Infenal Devices and pretty much memorised The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer and co. And now I can confidently say that I know what to do and what not to do, what’s old hat and what’s relatively new (hey, that rhymes. I should write that down). Knowing your genre makes sure that you hit your demographic while avoiding any “it’s all been done” style comments.

2. Go simple

Finding reference books that are quick to read, while still being representative of the subject you’re researching, can be a real struggle. People love to bash on about their expert subject to the point of mind-numbing boredom. But you dont need a huge tome, reaching 3000 pages across four volumes about Victorian London by Lord Cyril Fanthorpe the 3rd esp. to know your stuff. In order to make your story realistic, all you need are the little touches. Those little details make the difference between just some woman in a dress and a young governess wearing a crinoline pinofore. You never have to mention it again, but that’s the kind of period detail that shows you’ve put the effort in.

But as I was saying, there’s an easy way to find those things out. Go for children’s books. They’re brilliant! They have pictures to help get the right feel in your prose, they hit only the important topics and give you great overview of any subject. The Eyewitness series is brilliant for historical stuff, if you’re interested in that stuff.

3. Get your facts right

If you’re writing about a certain place, be it a city or town or foreign country, get your facts right. Never forget that your readers know their stuff. Don’t think you can flim-flam them with sweeping references to places. With Alan Shaw, I have to evoke an image of Victorian London that rings true to someone who’s never been to London and someone who walks its streets every day. Google Maps can take you anywhere you need to go, and even tell you the quickest way for your character to walk/drive around their environment. You dont have to give an itemised list of corners turned between your Detective’s home and the mortuary, but it helps if you know how long it would take and what’s in between so you can describe it if need be.

While Google Maps is great for the present day, historical settings pose a little more of a problem. And so I got myself some maps:

Victorian London, imprisoned in plastic.

They came in four pieces, originally, but with a little industrious folding and one of those frameless plastic frames (contradictory, I know) I now have an easily accessible map of Victorian London. What’s better than that, with the plastic covering, if you get some dry-wipe markers, you can plot routes, circle areas or points of interest to your heart’s content without ruining the source material for later use! (This is an Art Attack!)

My doodles marking Covent Garden Market, and routes for Alan to take around London.
4. The Counter-argument

Just remember: There’s another side to research. Don’t get too bogged down with it. Learn what you need and move on. It’s a tool to help you write, it’s not words on the page.

Well, folks, that’s it for now. I hope this post has been as useful to you as my researching endeavours have been to me. If you have any researching tips of your own, then feel free to share. I’m always looking for new ways to do what we do.

Thanks for reading!

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Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 4

As promised in my last post, here are stages 8 and 9 from the Writer’s Journey.

8. The Ordeal

Vogler identifies this as a halfway point in a film or story, though he also points out that the ordeal can be delayed to later in the story. I see this as there being, often, a series of ordeals that the heroine has to overcome. However, there is generally a major ordeal, in which the hero appears to die and is reborn in some way.

In Finding Nemo, this is Marlin saving Dory from the jellyfish – as he succeeds and fights his own fears and makes a supreme effort to save his friend, he risks all and then the screen fades as if he is dying – we even see a shadow coming towards him, which offers hope, but also could be the shadow of death.  Nemo also disappears from the meeting of the other fish and goes and blocks the pump. His ordeal is much quicker than Marlin’s and is also played out of sight, possibly to allow for the dual threads of the story.

In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is pulled under the water in the trash compactor, then released when we are certain he has drowned. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is apparently killed by the troll, but survives. In the Matrix, this could be where the plug is about to be pulled on Neo.

I can see the merit of there being a point where the heroine has to overcome herself, since typically  the hero is an obstacle to his own achievement. This is where the character advances and improves themselves in some way. By changing themselves from the inside, they become a different person. In film, this is best symbolised, and seen, with actions that mirror the change. The audience needs to see and feel that there is real change. Showing, not telling, is the key here, since we can, as writers, reinforce the change that has taken place.

It’s interesting to see how films take different routes from the ordeal. Finding Nemo has Marlin given a breather, with a nice interlude as he travels with the turtles, being given a free lift towards his destination, his ultimate goal. But Star Wars has very little let up, the action continues and rises to the point where Obi Wan is killed and the action continues to rise afterwards. In fact, Str Wars only has a breather when the plans are being discussed before attacking the Death Star. This mirrors the preparation that exists on the approach to the inner cave.

I can’t help feeling that there is a cycle, repetition, here. The approach to an ordeal may, or may not, be preceded by an opportunity to prepare, to allow the audience to catch up with the action and the emotions of the characters. The ordeal itself, then allows the hero to be tested, much as earlier stages allow him to be tested. However, as the story moves forward, the testing becomes more important, the stakes are heightened and maybe the life of the heroine is at risk. Psychologically, this means that she is affected by the ordeal and gains experience. Eventually, there is so much at stake, so much has been changed, that the hero is changed by the ordeal, reborn as a different person. Once this has happened, there is no going back, things are never the same again and a threshold has been crossed. I think this is when the stage finishes, at the point when the heroine has changed and to introduce more change would only confuse the story.

9. Reward

I seem to have merged my understanding of the previous stage with this stage. Vogler identifies this stage, the ‘Seizing of the Sword’, as the point where the heroine gains the object, physical or not, that she has been striving for. In Star Wars, this is Luke rescuing Leia from the Death Star, even though Obi Wan is lost.

This may be an internal reward, i.e. the hero overcomes their own fears or insecurities, which points out the reason why it is common to have heroines who have character faults, so that she can overcome them.

I see this mirrored in different ways at different times. Luke overcomes his own immaturity when grieving for Obi Wan when he jumps backs into the battle with the tie fighters – ‘it ain’t over yet kid’. This is similar to the kick up the pants that the mentor may give the hero in earlier stages. But Han Solo is on his own story and he changes when he comes back to save Luke, even though he sacrifices his own safety to do so by angering Jaba the Hutt. Princess Leia gets sidelined for the moment, her story is put on hold, possibly because she is the reward at the moment.

In Lord of the Rings, this seems to be repeated at several points, e.g.  when Frodo makes it to Rivendell, when the fellowship get into Moria, when they get out the other side of the mountain, etc. There seem to, again, be many ordeals. I’m not sure how useful it is for Vogler to identify a specific ordeal. This seems to imply that one of them is the most important. I feel that this is where films often fail, where they are just playing for time, waiting for the main event to arrive.

Maybe the definition of the ordeal is a backward identification, i.e. it happens at the point just before the reward is won. This makes a lot of sense to me and from a writing point of view it, it nicely identifies how a plot should progress towards some form of change/reward.

Vogler identifies the importance of the change within the hero. Before the Reward, the protagonist has been a trainee, but afterwards, the heroine is a true heroine and stands apart from most of her own people and has become a ‘special’ person. Vogler also identifies a moment of clarity for the hero, who can now see himself to have been stubborn, or afraid, or possessing of character flaws that he couldn’t see before. Vogler does point out that this clarity may be momentary. It does not, result in, necessarily, and improvement in the overall character of the heroine, but it does allow her to see herself clearly for a while.

Hopefully this makes some sense of Vogler, who is nothing if not extensive in his book. My own analysis is only scratching at the surface of his work.

Next time I hope to cover stage 10 and 11.

Best wishes and happy writing

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Sizzling Beef

Memories are what makes us. I love nothing more than a bit of escapism in front of CSI or some such drama and can say that most of those who commit the crimes have been deeply affected by their memories, usually of childhood. I know it’s only TV but whole tranches of psychologists and such like earn their crust through bringing back memories, or providing therapy to those who need to deal with ugly memories. This is the dark side, but the reason for my post is to encourage you to embrace your memories and if you are a writer, use them. I recall being advised if that is too uncomfortable then change the era, or the sex of the character, or the physical location of the tale. It can be a quick glimpse through a minor event in a novel, through to a fully blown memoir, whatever your chosen form of communication and literary challenge.

Use a note book, if you dream scribble it down. I am a firm believer in that one as I dream constantly, and last night had a great idea but didn’t write it down, convinced it was that brilliant I wouldn’t forget it, and guess what…yep…gone! The old memory trick failed me, and regularly does…WRITE IT DOWN…it isn’t stereotypical advice for no reason.

Memories can be triggered by such diverse things, such minute detail we don’t even recall it the first time round but it’s there, deep within. Trauma seemingly even deeper, apparently phobias, or now seemingly called anxieties, grow from a fertile age around 8 so if you got surprised by a burst balloon at that age it’s perfectly reasonable to be scared of them. I assume I met a clown in my 8th year as they don’t impress me AT ALL!

I have a rubbish memory of my childhood, my partner remembers everything, so don’t be worried whether it’s near the surface or not, we both had happy childhoods. You may find your memories lie deep within and require coaxing, music will do that one, or triggered by the smallest thing; the sound of a wood pigeon always takes me back to our childhood camp site.

I hope you will use this advice carefully. I would hate to bring more bad memories, if so talk to someone, but hopefully you can get a pad and a pen, switch on an old CD or pull on an old sweater and write down some thoughts. They will come in useful one day, maybe sooner than you think.

Sizzling beef? I can’t deny that when ever I get served sizzling beef in a restaurant it reminds me of washing! I know, explanation required…Monday was wash day in our home, Mum got out the twin tub and the wringer (remember getting the blooming bedding tangled so it went round and round and round, so you had to grab it with the wooden tong things and pull it away from the boiling water and it splashed over?) As she was busy, and we didn’t waste food (you didn’t in those days) we had left over meat from the Sunday roast cut into strips (hence the similarity to sizzling beef) and fried with the left over potatoes, cabbage (bubble and squeak) and gravy. So I ate beef whilst the steam from the washing and the smell of the washing powder infiltrated my bones and memory bank.

Share a memory with me, especially if it’s triggered by food…

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Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 3

In my last post, I planned to ‘discuss stages 6 and 7, which take the story to the middle of Act 2 and the first major crisis’.  I will be looking at stages 6 and 7, but I’m not so sure about the ‘standard’ 3 act structure. Also, the first major crisis seems to fit in with stage 8, so won’t be covered in this posting.

I’ve always had a concern about simplifying stories (and film) into – basically – the beginning, the middle and the end. I found a (hard to read, because he writes completely in CAPITALS) posting by the ‘HULK’ – the myth of the 3 act structure. I don’t agree with everything he says, or with the way he puts it, but he does have a point of view that is worth considering.

My understanding of Hulk’s posting, is that film has been simplified as 3 acts. In fact, he says it is actually usually 5, 7 or 9. He seems to be saying that acts finish when the hero/heroine takes a step forward that can’t be turned back.

However, Vogler does often seem to cover variations in the actual text of his book, rather than the (often shown) summary of the 12 stages – which are generally more appealing to read than a 370 page book. So, I may uncover more detail as I read further…

So, my slight rant over with, on to the next stages:

6. Test, Allies and Enemies.

Once the heroine has crossed into the other world, she will come across tests/challenges. This make complete sense to me, because the hero is now in a new environment and has to decide how he will cope with these changes – which may be by fighting or by avoiding the new challenges.

Interestingly, Vogler identifies saloons and bars as being common areas for test/challenges, which fits neatly with the Cantina in Moss Eisley, where Luke first comes across a very different world to the one he is used to. This is where Luke gets to see how Han Solo responds to challenges (though we as viewers see that his posturing is hopeful bluff). Luke also gets to see that Obi Wan is not just an old man, but has skill and experience of using his light sabre when necessary.

However, I don’t really see these as being particular tests of Luke, in the sense that he doesn’t get to take action himself.  This makes sense with his character and background. The test is there. He doesn’t step up to it, since he is inexperienced and trying to avoid trouble.  This shows how the heroine can fail the tests at first, and be saved by allies/mentors against the enemies.  Luke is also allowed to prepare himself, when Obi Wan gives him tests of his awareness of the force – i.e. when he wears the blast helmet to reflect the laser shots against him.

In Finding Nemo, after Nemo crossed the threshold (by touching the ‘butt’ against his father’s command and then being fished out of the sea), he drops into the other world of the aquarium and finds his new allies, including a mentor – Gil. He then has to face the challenges set by his allies, including the ceremony and later the swimming through the water pump to block the filter. He fails this test the first time, but passes it the second time, only to be thwarted by a new tank cleaner.

In Lord of the Rings, there are many tests set after Frodo takes on the burden of the ring.  He also encounters allies, including Boromir, who saves his life, but ultimately fails in his own tests. Again, it seems that Frodo is mostly passive and helped a great deal by his allies. In fact, if the crossing into the other world is seen as happening earlier – when he leaves the shire, then the putting on of the ring in the pub (ah – another bar) and the fight on the barrow, can both be seen as Frodo failing tests of his wisdom and resistance to the ring.

This seems to me to be one of the difficulties with Vogler’s stages. It is not easy to find consistent stages within works that you might know. This surely means that his stages need to be viewed is some way as being iterative, i.e. repeating themselves. This implies that the crossing into the other world is not taken in one step, but is taken in many, successive steps. Each step may then make it  increasingly difficult to return to the previous world. This fits quite nicely with the Hulk’s posting.

I guess this comes down to the reader. For some readers, Frodo will be seen to be committed when he first takes the ring from Gandalf. For others, his commitment is certain when he takes on the role of ring bearer.

I think this does offer a useful hint/tip/guide towards writing. It means that (and Vogler does say that the stages can be reordered) not only does the hero meet allies before crossing the threshold, but also that tests/challenges are given (and likely failed) before the threshold is crossed. Oh, and enemies can turn up at any time…

This seems to me to mean that you should introduce your allies around the same time as your mentors – i.e. the reader should encounter the heroine first, then the mentor and/or allies. Enemies can also be met at the same time, though they may be ‘shapeshifter’ archetypes in Voglers language.  (I hope to discuss Archetypes later).

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave.

This is probably where I find myself in the least agreement with Vogler. He identifies this stage as being the approach itself, to the most deadly place, often underground, where the quest object is held.

In Star Wars, this is the Death Star, including the prisoner block where Princess Leia is held, which really does mirror a dungeon in many ways.  The approach to the Death Star itself does seem to be a descent, even though there is no up or down in space.

In the Matrix, Nemo gets the opportunity to train and prepare before he approaches the cave. This is after his tests with Morpheus. The threshold he crosses can be seen as taking the blue pill, or possibly when he arms up and heads in to take on the agents and rescue Morpheus.

Vogler mentions that the approach is often characterised by the heroine defeating the guards to the cave. This fits nicely with Han getting everyone to hide under the floor and then dress up as storm troopers. In the Matrix, there is a full on assault with (the, to me, increasingly irritating) Trinity. In Lord of the Rings, this is the fellowship defeating the guardian to Moria and then entering in, and also  the fight with the goblins and the troll. The Lord of the Rings films don’t quite fit these stages as well, since the first film ends with two more yet to come. This isn’t the same as Star Wars or The Matrix, where they may have been more films (dreadful and best forgotten for the Matrix), but the first films do stand in their own right.

This stage is hard to work out for Finding Nemo and, I am sure, many other films/books.  I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but that I’m not sure where the approach really happens. Blocking the filter feels more like a test, so the approach isn’t heading into the pipe – in fact, second time around, this scene isn’t even seen. It feels more to me as if the approach fits Marlin’s journey more, where he is approaching Nemo to rescue him. But if this is true, then the whole of Marlin’s journey is the approach.

Possibly this is because a good work will have many interleaved quests that are happening at once. Often, these will be resolved at the end, together, since that, apparently, makes for a more satisfying story. However, with many interleaved stories, it can be hard to decide which one to follow and therefore which is the approach.

I find that, more recent, films are increasingly likely to follow more than one character at a time. Finding Nemo is a good example of this. So are the later films in Lord of the Rings and also Star Wars. Personally, I remember finding the latter books of Lord of the Rings became more irritating as I was pulled away from following Frodo and Sam, who I liked, either to wishy washy, too good to be true, Aragorn or to annoying Merry and Pippin. Though I did like the Ents…

I think this is the real danger of splitting the story – that the reader will have identified with one character over the others and will resent being moved on to other, less interesting to them, characters.

Anyway, this post has now become too long and I should finish for now.  So next time, I cover stages 8 and 9.

Best wishes and happy writing

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Marketing Your Book: How I did it

Take a seat, and let the Wise Man kwell your fears…

With Greaveburn on its way Inspired Quill have seen fit to assign me my own Marketing Womble, as I like to call her. (Hi Lea! More from her soon!) And since we’ve been working together on our plans for world domination, it’s got me to wondering how I ever managed to do all this myself with Not Before Bed. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure. But, in an effort to help you lot do the same (while avoiding my mistakes) I thought I’d do a rundown of the steps I took in getting NBB to where it is today. So here we go:

1. Your writing persona
Whether we like it or not, our work as writers/artists/whatever-it-is-you-do isn’t just read/viewed in a vacuum. How you come across is vitally important to whether you’re accepted or not by readers, agents and publishers alike. With this in mind, we need to start thinking about your writing persona. By this, I don’t mean dressing in black, wearing a beret and dark glasses to all your public appearances (although, if that floats your boat…). What I mean is the image you generate; mostly online. We’ve all been bitten by a badly worded email or forum post before. Typing in capitals is shouting etc. And as writers, we REALLY have to be careful. Not only do people expect eloquence and perfect grammar, but think about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Humour, especially, is a mine field online with all kinds of interpretations going wrong with the simplest of statements. Be careful! Because these people don’t know you’re generally nice and generous and utterly wonderful. All they see is your words. And grudges are borne easily. Also, with this in mind, think about what you want people to know, and what people NEED to know. Do you want to be complaining about your unrelated day job to potential readers? Do they need to know about your cat’s bowel operation? Probably not, no. And that leads us on to…

2. Social Networking Sites
This is the true necessary evil of creating your writing persona. Your Twitter, Facebook and whatever-else are how people interact with you. Be tactile! Talk and tweet about subjects around your work, and people will find you. With that comes a simple suggestion: Dont just plug your book, over and over. No one likes a plugger 😀 The counter to my Pro-networking argument is that you are a writer, so don’t let social networking distract you from actually creating. It’s shiny, and interesting and enthralling. Don’t get sucked too far in!

3. Spread yourself around
Yes, you literary hussy, spread yourself around. If you’ve networked properly, you should now know lots of like-minded people. Be polite then…ask favours. Will they guest post on your blog? And don’t forget to offer to reciprocate. It’s this part that’s particularly important. Getting on other people’s sites and blogs gets you seen. Go for it!

4. Forums
This can be a real-time consumer, so picking a few forums and making a good impression is often more beneficial than just dipping in and out. People need to get to know you (or your persona) if they’re going to take an interest. The same stands as before. Don’t just plug your book. Pick threads that will discuss topics around your genre/content and insinuate yourself into them. Remember, if no-one’s talking to you, don’t fear. Forums can be cliquey. Dont be afraid to drop the forum and move elsewhere. Bonus Tip: Goodreads forums are generally full of very polite, nice folk who love to read. Start there!

5. Money, money, money
Do NOT pay for someone to do this lot for you. There are too many “pro” marketers on the net who actually work in Kwik Save as a shelf stacker (slight generalisation). This is nothing you can’t do yourself.

6. Beg, borrow, steal
That’s right. You’re an amateur writer. You need help to get your career into the big time. No author is an island, as they (don’t) say. So ask for help. Beg favours. Most people will be only too happy to help. Which leads us into…

7. Act like a Big Shot
Got your book out? Then hit the locals. Newspapers, radio shows, libraries. Make your own mini-tour in your local area. Local interest can go a long way toward helping you. Write horror? Do it at Halloween. Romance. Valentine’s Day is the time for your tour. Erotica? Well…anytime is good for that! ;D

8. Speculate to accumulate
It don’t have to spend much to make it look like you are. Vistaprint.com will sort you with professional-looking business cards, posters, leaflets etc. for your mini-tour. There are even banners and T-shirts if you really want to go for it. And a Goodreads giveaway is a great way of getting enthusiastic readers who you can be sure will review afterward. The giveaways are very easy to do with the website doing all of the hard work. All you have to do is turn up, and then distribute afterward.

9. The Golden Tip
Your work is you. Be careful. Double check. Use Beta readers. Get your mum to read it, if you like. But don’t put out a sub par product. The excitement can carry you away, rush you. Don’t let it.

I hope this lot will help you out. It certainly did for me. Anyone else got any tips to share?

Thanks for reading.

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Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 2

After the last post, I thought this time I would write up stages 4 and 5, which take the story up to the end of ‘Act 1’.

  • Note: Vogler proposes that each myth is split into 3 acts – Act 1 and 3 are both 1/4 of the story. Act 2 takes the middle 1/2 of the story.

So,  to finish Act 1, we have two more stages of the journey:

4. Meeting with the Mentor

Mentors are common in many films, books and other stories. They are typically older and/or more experienced than the hero. They have valuable experience which they give to the heroine and they can also act to push the hero into the ‘other world’.

I hope it is obvious that Obi Wan Kenobi is Luke’s mentor. In The Matrix, it is Morpheus,  in Lord of the rings it is Gandalf and in Avatar it is Grace (Sigourney Weaver) – though the Colonel appears initially to be a mentor. In The Empire Strikes Back, it is Yoda.

The meeting with the mentor may also happen earlier, but it is important for the heroine to have a teacher, parental figure, god, doctor or whoever.

The mentor is there to help the hero prepare for the other world. The mentor may give advice or skills or physical items. In some cases the mentor will give the hero a kick to get them going.

This appears to be a very common theme. The Mentor can however, only go a short way with the heroine. This seems to me to be repeated in many films and stories. Harry Potter has several mentors at different times, Dumbledore is a constant, but also his uncle. Both of them are restricted from being with him and helping him past his various tests. In Star Wars, both Obi Wana and Yoda are prevented from journeying with him, so is Morpheus in the Matrix (though he survives).

Remember that Vogler is talking about myths, so not all stories need, or will have, a mentor.

From a writing point of view, I feel this is an opportunity to enrich the world, to show that there is history in it and make it a living, breathing place. There is also a good opportunity for some humour with the mentor, who will typically be able to ‘defeat’ the overconfident youngster with one arm (tentacle, fin, or leg) tied behind their back. The character of the hero can be shown by conflict with the mentor. The heroine can also learn much more about the current situation, educating the reader or viewer at the same time.

I’ve often found myself putting old, white haired, characters in my stories. Maybe this is a subconscious desire to add a mentor. But my characters pass the hero by quite quickly, so maybe I have been missing out on an opportunity for interaction and conflict. Of course, I have mostly been writing short stories, so length has been a limiting factor.

5. Crossing the first threshold

About a quarter of the way through the story, at the end of the first act, the hero accepts the journey into the other world and the story really starts. The heroine has decided to take action, to solve the problem, to right the wrong, to engage with the enemy.

This is Luke accepting his destiny and going with Obi Wan Kenobi after his uncle and aunt are dead (which is a kick in the pants to get him moving). Neo decides to take the blue pill. Frodo agrees to become the ring bearer.

This is the point where everything really gets going. Up to now, we have been setting the stage for the hero.

I have tended to find, as a writer, that I want to get things moving really quickly, but according to Vogler, the real ‘action’ starts about a quarter of the way through the story.

I see this as meaning that the story can still start in the middle of some action, something happening. But typically the action is not taking the heroine into the other world. If it was, then we would never know that it was another world in the first place. In a sense, the reader or viewer is waiting for the story to start and to be told that the important bit is coming up. Before this, we are scene setting, creating expectation, sowing seeds of mysteries and encouraging characterisation to be visible.


As I said last time, that’s probably enough for now – please let me know if you enjoyed this and/or found it useful.

Next time I continue with stages 6 and 7, which take the story to the middle of Act 2 and the first major crisis.

Best wishes and happy writing

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Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 1-Christopher Vogler

I’ve started reading the Writer’s Journey (third edition) partly out of interest in writing and also with an interest in film.

Critics of Vogler believe he is proposing a formula for writing, which I would also be against – I believe that it limits individual creativity by bringing the left side of the brain in too early into the writing process. However, Vogler also calls it a form, not a formula.

I feel that the Writer’s Journey can be useful to understand and it has, I hope, use within the editing stages of writing, particularly by helping with different ways of structuring pieces.

So far, I have read through the overview of the 12 stages, split into 3 acts. But there’s a lot more going on than the simple ‘timeline’. Even in the overview of the first three stages,  I have found something useful ,without going into the detail.

These are the first three stages:

  1. Ordinary World
    This is the ‘normal’ setting, which is shown to provide  a contrast to the later ‘adventure’  world. This is Luke Skywalker working on his uncle’s farm, Nemo going off to school with his dad, Harry Potter at home with his uncle and aunt, Alice in the real world before she goes down the rabbit hole.
    This doesn’t mean than nothing else happens or is shown. Other events are often shown, out of context, to keep the viewers interest. In Starwars,  this is Princess Leia being captured and the droids escaping. In Nemo, there is the scene of his mother and siblings being lost. In the Matrix, there is a (to my mind unnecessary) ‘supernatural’ scene with Trinity and the Agents. In Dark City, there is the (best unseen) explanation of what is going on.
    I feel this is a tricky area, because there is a need to show contrast, and encourage the feel of a ‘real, living, breathing world’, but also a desire to get on with the story.
  2. The Call to Adventure. This is where the protagonist (and in myth, there is usually only one main character/hero/heroine) finds out that there is something to do, fix, solve, whatever. Luke sees the hologram of Princess Leia, Neo is told about the White Rabbit, Alice sees the rabbit talking to himself, Frodo is given the ring and told to keep it safe.
    This is where the mystery or goal is shown to the reader/viewer. The expectations are set up and the heroine finds out there is another world (literally or otherwise) to ‘go into’.
  3. Refusal of the Call. This was the interesting one to me. This is where the hero decides not to bother, to keep her boring job, to live the ordinary life, to be un-heroic. Luke intends to brain wipe R2D2 and go to college. Neo climbs back in the window and gets ‘arrested’.
    This was a less obvious stage to me and one that shows the humanity of the heroine. It is easier to relate to someone who has the doubts that we have. The hero who goes in, guns blazing,  is less believable than the one who tries to avoid the responsibility.
    Even though the main story structure, and how it relates to the stages, is open to interpretation, this theme does turn up time and time again. Han Solo wants to return and pay off his debts, instead of fighting the empire.
    This stage is sometimes ignored and I think to the loss of the story. I don’t know where Harry Potter is supposed to refuse the call – unless it is in later books. Doctor Who rarely has these concerns. The same with Star Trek. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but that it  is a powerful idea that could be useful to consider – at the editing stage, if it works.

Ok – enough for now. If you fancy having a look at The Writer’s Journey, there’s a good overview at http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm, which is pretty much the same as the book overview.

Please let me know if you enjoyed this and would like more…

The next post is available here

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What do you want from a writing group?

Today we had another meeting of the Steel City Writers.

I’ve had a few discussions about writing groups recently. Some have had positive experiences and loved them. Others have struggled to cope with the rigid rules set out in their group and hated the experience and left.

Let me tell you about our group. We don’t bring along our work, read it out and let the others critique it. When we put together our e-book we did post our Flash Fiction on to our forum and offered our opinions on the stories. At the meetings, we don’t do bring our work.

We are more the type to get together and talk about writing. We are their to help each other, to encourage each other and try to make sure each of us is able to find what we want from our writing.

Each writing group gets to decide what they want from the meetings. What is good for us is not necessarily good for every group. Some might think that there is no point to meeting and not bringing some work to critique. That is the beauty of being part of a group. You get to decide what you want to do.

I think if we did bring our work to the meetings I wouldn’t want to go to them. It’s not that I don’t want the others to read my work or offer advice on my writing. That’s not what I want to get out of the meetings.

After today, I feel inspired to write again. I’ve written for the first time in a couple of weeks. I’ve downloaded a couple of books that we talked about and I had the idea for short story collection.

I scribbled a number of thoughts down in my notebook and I’m ready for the month ahead. That’s what I want from a writing group. I get that in spades every time we meet.

Find what works for you and go for it.

What helps pick you up when your writing life is down?

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