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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5 Responses to Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 2

  1. Interesting. Does this mentor thing really just apply to adventure/fantasy/sci-fi type novels, or is it implied that this can be generalised to all fiction?

    And yes, please keep going with the next stages!

  2. Hi Vanessa

    You’ve identified the thing I am really trying to discover from the Writer’s Journey. I personally don’t believe that all writing can be covered by the ‘forms’ that Vogler lists. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have value and shouldn’t be considered.

    It reminds me of a pottery teacher, who said that it wasn’t necessary to produce perfectly circular pottery – in fact, he said it was better not to – otherwise you might as well get a machine to do it. Though I agreed with him, I also disagreed. The problem, was that I wasn’t choosing to produce imperfect pottery. I just wasn’t skilled enough to do any thing else.

    I think this fits with the Writer’s Journey. It isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a limit to what and how you produce your work. But if you have considered and understood what has gone before, then it should enrich and improve your own writing. By understanding the ideas behind myths, you can then choose when to break with the ‘tradition’. I guess that an example would be George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones, where he deliberately sets up the expected events and then breaks your expectations.

    Vogler seems to be saying that mythological themes, archetypes, etc., can be applied to other genres, including romance, comedy, mystery…

    My concern would be that tough it is possible to ‘retrofit’ literature to the myth ‘templates’, that doesn’t mean that understanding myth will, necessarily, help produce better literature/writing.

    This is really the aim of my posting – to discover how useful Vogler is when writing outside of the area of modern myth.

    I hope this makes some sense

    Best wishes

  3. Pingback: Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 3 | Steel City Writers

  4. Pingback: Reading the Writer’s Journey Part 1-Christopher Vogler | Steel City Writers

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