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’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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4 Responses to Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 1-Christopher Vogler

  1. Pingback: Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 2 | Steel City Writers

  2. Craig Hallam says:

    Sorry I’m coming in on this a little late. Vogler has some excellent points. His character archetypes are unervingly accurate and have the ability to make any writer feel utterly unoriginal. My main problem with his approach to writing is that I think it has the potential to encourage a lack of autonomy in the writer if they read Vogler at an early stage. He’s so accurate that he could quite easily take over the natural creative instinct. We all love order, after all. But if you’re coming at his work from the other end, where you’ve already tinkered with your work and you want to understand it more, then sure, he’s a little slice of genius.

    Looking forward to reading the other posts in this series, Andy!

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