This post is part of a series of posts sponsored by SCBWI Florida Tampa Bay area writers. We invite you to join us in this online book study of THE WRITER’S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR WRITERS, Third Edition by Christopher Vogler.
Book 2, Pages 117-141
Contributor: Fred Koehler
“Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep.” ~Yoda
As our hero continues on his or her quest, it is the writer's job to really put the screws to said protagonist. If it wasn't hard, there wouldn't be a story. And according to Vogler, the character of the Mentor appears to fill a gap in the hero's life, a missing piece without which failure would be certain. Vogler also tells us that the Mentor doesn’t have to be an actual character–our hero can gain wisdom through other sources like an ancient scroll or mountaintop experience. The key is that he or she adopts the humility to seek wisdom.
Mentor Conflicts & Cliches
The hero needs direction and development to succeed, but he or she isn’t always going to accept it easily. There’s great opportunity for conflict as the hero tries and fails, with the mentor standing by shaking his or her head.
Harry Potter has Dumbledore and Bilbo has Gandalf and Arthur has Merlin. And yet we are warned by Vogler to be careful when considering the archetypal white-bearded wizard mentors. I totally get it. It makes sense to turn the archetype on its head and make the mentor a life-long jailbird or a transient vagrant. But I also see where the archetype has worked stupendously well.
For extra fun, consider a character who’s parading as a mentor. Or one who dislikes the hero so much he or she changes his or her mind about helping out. Oh, and total spoiler alert–a lot of times the aged hero becomes the next mentor. The student becoming the master and all that jazz.
Crossing the First Threshold
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—he story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” ~Morpheus
According to Vogler, there’s a moment in every hero’s story where they’ve committed to the adventure with no option to turn back. It makes them stuck in the story and gives the reader incentive to cheer them on, hope for their success, and hang on the edge of their seats at every seemingly unsurmountable challenge.
Pushing the Hero across the Threshold
Oh, man. There are a million twisted ways to make that poor hero get stuck in his/her adventure. Vogler mentions a lot of examples of death. I’d add to the list personal tragedy, opportunities too good to pass up, love, and zombie apocalypses.
But wait. We can’t make it too easy for our hero to dive off the ship and watch it sail away. Vogler invokes an archetype called the Threshold Guardian, who tends to show up anytime the hero is about to jump. It could be the best friend urging him/her to stay on the ship. Or maybe it’s the just the troll demanding that his toll be paid before the hero can cross the bridge.
The good news is that once we cross that threshold, it’s all smooth sailing and success is very nearly achieved. Oh, wait, never mind. That’s not what Vogler said at all. We just had our hero leap from the burning wreckage of the Titanic into the icy waters of the Atlantic. Now the real struggle for survival begins.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
“Halt! Who goes there?! Friend or foe?!”
Did you get it? If you don’t answer friend or foe it becomes a test of wisdom and discernment. Not too shabby, Mr. Python. Vogler identifies an entire stage of the journey called Testing, where our heroes are put into worlds that sharply contrast the ones they’re accustomed to. In this new world, they’ve got to hone their wits and abilities to adapt in order to survive.
And in this new struggle to survive, says Vogler, our hero is going to encounter not only unfamiliar characters, but unfamiliar types of characters. Harry Potter had never spent time with a half-giant magical gamekeeper before he met Hagrid. Nor had he met the son of a rich, ruthless servant of Voldemort (the ultimate evil).
And yet our hero must decide who they’re going to trust, which alliances they’re going to accept or reject, and how much they’re willing to risk to secure the ones they’ve chosen. Get one ally and you either get a sidekick or become one; get a bunch of allies with a common goal and you’ve got a Team. Go Team!
Both allies and enemies can help the hero learn the rules of this new world. And the tougher we make it for the hero to thrive, the more our readers will be biting their nails to see whether or not our characters survive.
Meet Today’s Contributor—Fred Koehler
Fred Koehler wrote and illustrated his first book at age seven titled SAMMY THE SHOESTRING. It went on to win a shiny gold star sticker and an iced cinnamon bun from the vending machine in the teachers’ lounge. From that point on, Fred has never stopped doodling or writing stories (except when he tried to be a grown-up for a few years, which didn’t really work out). Fred is the author and illustrator of HOW TO CHEER UP DAD, a critically acclaimed debut from Penguin USA. He lives, works, and plays in Lakeland, Florida.