Saturday, December 20, 2014

Three Words to Grow a Picture Book Plot


Want to know what separates a story from a picture book? Three words—hook, heart, and action.

HOOK—A picture book must capture attention immediately. The first page, first image, and first words have to do the work of an entire first chapter in a novel. The reader (be it an editor, agent, book buyer, or child) must be immediately engaged, inspired, interested, and/or inquisitive. Get straight to the hook—avoid back story, the overuse of description, and unneeded characters.

HEART—The main character of your picture book has to have heart. That comes from being relatable, intriguing, funny, childlike, engaging, multi-layered, and someone a kid wants to spend time with again and again. To have heart, the main character has to have a wanna-be-likeable quality. In other words, a character with heart is one that the child would like to be.

ACTION—A picture book has to be action-packed. When editors say a story is “too quiet” they usually mean nothing seems to be happening, or that the story is lacking action. Action doesn’t mean exploding chickens on every page, but that a character has to be engaged in solving a problem, the action has to rise and fall, the story has to move from one place to another, and the action has to keep the reader interested and engaged.

There you have it! Plot in three words. Go forth and conquer!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Character Names to Bark About!

Looking for a name for that pet in your picture book manuscript? has just released a list of the most popular dog names for 2014. Could the next best-selling picture book character be among the list?

FEMALE                        MALE
10.Chloe                          10.Toby
9. Luna                            9. Bentley
8. Zoey                            8. Zeus
7. Sophie                         7. Bear
6. Lola                             6. Duke
5. Molly                           5. Cooper
4. Sadie                            4. Buddy
3. Lucy                            3. Rocky
2. Daisy                           2. Charlie
1. Bella                            1. Max


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Come Learn with Us!

A Picture Book Boot Camp
with Rob Sanders
Sponsored by SCBWI Florida

Saturday, September 27th, 2014 – 9 AM to 4 PM

Marco Island Center for the Arts
1010 Winterberry Drive
Marco Island, Florida 34145
(239) 394-4221
Whether you’ve never written a picture book, or you have a drawer full of manuscripts, this boot camp is for you. Rob Sanders—a former editor, and now a writing teacher and picture book author—will lead the session. Since Rob began his picture book journey six years ago, he has sold four picture books to three major houses, landed an agent, and achieved great riches and fame. Okay, that last part isn’t true, but you'll still enjoy this lively session with Rob. You will learn about creating a concept, picture book plot, character development, beginnings and endings, formatting, and much, much more. Come blastoff to your picture book dreams! Limit: 40 participants
Required Gear: Bring your laptop or favorite supplies for writing and note-taking. Outlets are limited. Bring one (or more) of your picture book manuscripts. If you don’t have a work-in-progress, no worries! We will have lunch at a local restaurant, but you are welcome to bring your lunch, snacks, coffee, etc.
ROB SANDERS does not work as a loading dock worker, a trophy engraver, or an editor. But he used to. Rob is not a cowboy, an alien, or a ballerina. But he writes about them. He is a picture book author, a writing teacher, and a great uncle. A native of Springfield, Missouri, Rob now lives in Brandon, Florida. He is a frequent blogger, critiquer, and writing coach. Rob Sanders—an author whose books will tickle your funny bone and touch your heart.

SCBWI Members: $75.00
Non-SCBWI Members: $85.00
Note: The registration fee does not include lunch.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Crazy Inspiration

Here’s another inspirational sign I discovered at a beach shop. (I don’t buy these, just take pics.) But this is a good one. (Sorry for the blurry image, but you can get the idea.)
Are you crazy enough to dream?
Crazy enough to believe?
Crazy enough to act as-if, until the “if” is reality?

Be crazy!
Be creative!
Be a believer!
I think I can!
I think you can!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Butt in Seat

Is the Universe Trying to Tell Me Something?
I caught a rerun of Anne Lamott’s interview on Oprah’s “Soul Sunday” yesterday. Of course, I immediately thought of Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life (which, by the way, was not the topic of the interview). I plan to reread the book next week at the beach, and I encourage you to read it, too.
Lamott is famous for giving writers permission to write “shitty first drafts.” During the interview she talked about the importance of putting your butt in your seat for whatever you are doing, to show up, and to get busy doing the work at hand. Her words resonated with me. Then today, I saw the sign below at a local store.

Do you think the universe is trying to tell me something? Is the universe whispering the same message to you?
I don’t need more reminding today. I’m off to write!

Thursday, July 3, 2014


As we celebrate the 4th of July and continue on our writing journeys, let the words of Dave Eggers inspire us all:

“Be strong, be brave, be true. Endure.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Study Debriefing

One Last Book Study Post!

Some of Tampa Bay’s finest children’s writers gathered on Saturday, June 28, to debrief our online book study of Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. During the session, I shared a post from Vogler’s blog that gives a shortened version of the Hero’s Journey. Vogler’s intent was to answer an email inquiry about how to use the Hero’s Journey in short pieces such as commercials and online presentations. I think Vogler’s advance will also have meaning for those of us who write children’s books, especially picture books. You can read Vogler’s entire post at He provides the following summary at the end of the post:

“SO…the absolute bare minimum, I would venture, is
1. An implied Ordinary World,
2. An efficient Call to Adventure,
3. A distinct Threshold Crossing,
4. A death-and-rebirth Ordeal(or Resurrection)  and
5. A Reward (or Return with the Elixir).
“In reality, almost always the other pieces are either implied or present in truncated form, and the audience will labor mightily to fill in any blanks you leave.  For example, the audience will fill in a wild night of partying if you just show a teenager sneaking into the house at 4 in the morning.”

Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Study--Post #12

This is the final post in a series sponsored by SCBWI Florida Tampa Bay area writers. Thank you for joining us in this online book study of THE WRITER’S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR WRITERS, Third Edition by Christopher Vogler.

POST #12
Contributor: Lorin Oberweger

“If two or more organs of the body are not squirting fluids, the story's no good!” – Christopher Vogler

Though this idea was captured much more elegantly in Susan Banghart’s first post of this awesome series, I much prefer this more idiomatic, more “visceral” version of it. Somehow, squirting organs speak to me. J (Not literally; that would be terrifying.)

I’m so fortunate in that I get to sit at the foot of the master (several masters, in fact) once a year, and hear Christopher Vogler lay out his thoughts on both the Hero’s Journey and on his evolving relationship to what he first set forth decades ago.

For me, that’s the real crux of it—the idea of EVOLUTION. While the structure itself speaks of evolution and transformation in a character or characters, it’s important to note, I think, that the USE of such a structure should most definitely be approached in that way.

It’s also important to understand that as Vogler sets it down, the Hero’s Journey is, first and foremost, a screenwriting journey. It relies on things that can be conveyed on a visual basis first and foremost. Its archetypes touch our eyes and ears first and then penetrate our other senses, eventually making our organs squirt.

But the beauty of what we do as novelists and picture book authors is to deal with the visceral and the internal FIRST, to build OUT from a character’s motivations and desires, from who they are on a psychological and personal level to what motivates them toward their goal—or elixir.

As authors, we’ve got a much better opportunity to make those organs squirt, because we involve the reader’s entire body in our storytelling. We communicate how fear FEELS, for example, not just what it looks and sounds like. We communicate an inner landscape via interiority and exposition that can’t be conveyed on the screen without clunky devices like voiceover.

So, the hero’s journey for a novel’s protagonist may not fit into this classical mode—as Shannon Hitchcock pointed out and as Vogler affirms. These archetypal elements are there to inform us, to give some shape to our own hero’s and heroine’s journeys, but they can also serve as a chart of a character’s internal journey—with the Mentor, the Shadow, the Shapeshifter all being aspects of the SELF.

What I love about this structure is not necessarily its use as a literal road map for my story but its symbolic and emotional power. I love to see where these ideas intersect with my vision for the story, where they might bolster it, and where my ideas stray from these classical definitions.

For example, in much young adult literature mentors are often not the wise old sages of the archetypes but peers of the protagonist. A slightly older friend or sibling whose wisdom may or may not be of much value.  Or if the mentor is older, he or she may not be wiser at all—think Haymitch in THE HUNGER GAMES.

The reason for that is that the contemporary world is not the world of the ancients. Contemporary stories deal with contemporary mores, some of which still correspond beautifully with Campbell’s works and some of which—like the idea of a mentor or the structure of a community—have blossomed in ways Campbell and even Vogler never imagined.

And yet, there’s so much power in these ideas, so much resonance, that I find myself coming back to them time and again as both author and editor. I also love the archetypes set forth in companion books like THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY and FROM GIRL TO GODDESS, both of which I also recommend.

Again, it’s not so much that these create a rope to pull me along in my story, but instead, they serve as bright lights, flashing on to illuminate important emotional and thematic ideas, to bolster the story so that it can be more keenly felt—with all possible organs. And then they wink off when they’re not needed, and I continue on my way.

Meet Today’s Contributor—Lorin Oberweger
Lorin Oberweger is a Tampa-based author, editor, and story development coach. Her novel BOOMERANG (Harper/William Morrow), written with Veronica Rossi under the pen name Noelle August, debuts on July 8.  As program director for the Free Expressions Seminars and Literary Services, she puts on the internationally acclaimed Breakout Novel Intensive and Story Masters workshops, the last with Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, and the one and only Christopher Vogler. Visit for more. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book Study--Post #11

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.

Post #11
Appendices, pages 341-365
Contributor: JC Kato

Though referenced throughout The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler dedicates this chapter to the critical concept of catharsis, which for effective storytelling should pop, snag, and twist readers into the journey of the hero.

Medically, catharsis could be as simple as a sneeze—expunging impurities from the body. In drama, Vogler uses the contemporary meaning of the word as “a sudden release of emotion.”

Born of ritual, drama leaps out at us off the walls of ancient caves, flickering rituals of unknown Heroes who stepped out of endless darkness with the help of one single flame.

Vogler links the swoon and song of ritual—the  world of people connecting with the world of Gods—to early texts of plays that were intended to evoke emotion through religious experiences.  From the cave, the author evolves the ritual to “intimate groves of trees”, Mt. Olympus’s sacred wells, temple pyramids, and on up to the drama born of Mesopotamia’s emphasis of time and stars, and seasons.
Drama and Seasons
Vogler borrows from the scholar Theodor Gaster who described four types of ritual in the ancient world—Mortification, Purgation, Invigoration, and Jubilation. The coinciding of these rituals with winter, spring, summer, and fall prove practical ways to engage society in catharsis.
·      Mortification:  Tragedy. Point of death. Like entering the cave, there’s a need for society to shut down after a strenuous season of work at the end of the year.

·      Purgation:  Cleansing the body. The shedding of skin and ridding oneself  of sour feelings. This season honors the death and rebirth of the god-king.

·      Invigoration:  Comedy. Fizz and giggle and erotic merriment vividly contrasts the tragic catharsis of the previous season. Vogler quotes vaudeville, “Always leave ’em laughing.”

·      Jubilation:  Return of the light. Our hero emerges from the cave with final reward, fortified for the return of yet another season.

The Wisdom of the Body
Joseph Campbell brought to our attention that the archetypes in our stories “speak to us directly through the organs.” Vogler qualifies this with a contemporary translation: “Emotions are complex processes, but on one level they are simple chemical reactions to stimuli . . .” Certain images illicit primal, intuitive, and maybe even animalistic levels of emotion.  

·      From tableau: These are emotionally charged depictions of images brought on by long ritualistic tradition. Vogler mentions the image of Egyptian goddess Hathor nursing her child, the dismembered body of Osiris being gathered by Isis, and The Last Supper.

·      From the stage: Greek dramas startled their audience with visceral stage effects and bold language.

·      From the arena: Romans escalated the body’s responses with the bloodied mangling of gladiators. 

·      From puppet play: Vogler interestingly credits the brash and violent puppet character of Guignol from the 1700’s for triggering a new wave of thriller plays.

·      From movies: Throughout The Writer’s Journey, Vogler references the hero’s journey as depicted in films. And here, close to the end of the book, he takes us from the French puppet plays to the riveting impact of moving pictures. In the 50’s and 60’s, Alfred Hitchcock “employ(ed) everything in the toolbox—story, character, editing, lighting, costumes, music, set design, action, special effects and psychology—to bring about physical responses . . .”  To represent the 70’s, Vogler chose Irwin Allen films like Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno to show how films played to the body. Later, movies by Spielberg and Lucas seduced the eye with the arrival of special effects and today we have 3D, IMAX and buzzers in our theater seats.

The Body as a Guide to Critiquing
In his many years as an evaluator of stories, Vogler depends on his body to guide him. The more emotional and physical responses he has, the better the story. Traveling the body with the seven chakras system, and their corresponding organs, he explains how their healthy opening can be brought about in a story with vibrations of sound, emotional breakthroughs, and enhanced climaxes of action.

In closing, he reiterates the value of catharsis being the “biggest emotional and physical trigger of them all.” If we read the stories we’re working on and they make us choke and sweat and laugh, we’ve perhaps popped open a chakra or two. If we haven’t, we may need to re-read The Writer’s Journey.

Meeting Today’s Contributor—JC Kato
JC Kato segued from singing to writing and produced three audio storybook  CDs.. Like many first attempts at writing, the three audio storybooks that she wrote and produced (complete with ear-perking sound effects) now sit in a cherished place on a shelf. But it was a start. Poetry helped her with economy of words and she served five years as Anthology Editor for the Florida State Poets Association. Now she finds her voice in middle grade historical fiction. JC acknowledges the support of SCBWI, her critique groups, the awesome generosity of Rob Sanders to the SCBWI Florida Tampa Bay Area Writers, and the illuminating, magical workshops of Joyce Sweeney. You can contact JC at

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Study--Post #10

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.

Post #10
Appendices, pages 297-338
Contributor: Teddie Aggeles

Still Alive and Well
In the story of Frankenstein or Young Frankenstein, the heroes never doubt their creations will come to life. All writers should create with that conviction, because, according to Vogler, all stories are alive.

Unconvinced?  Take a look at his reasoning:
·      People connect with one another; they also relate to stories.
·      People stir your emotions, so can a story.
·      People teach lessons. Stories can, too.
·      People can be a catalyst for change. So can a powerful tale.

Writers know that readers slip into the role of the hero. He or she may be someone they admire, someone they’d like to be in real life, or maybe the hero has done all the wrong things and a reader sees that he/she is on the same doomed path.

Under the guise of entertainment using romance, action, drama, mystery, and comedy, stories send a message into the world. However subtle, a writer has a purpose for creating a tale.

But wait, there’s more. Vogler believes stories:
·      Are powerful and mysterious creations of the human mind
·      Have healing powers
·      Have survival value for the human race
·      Act as  metaphors by which readers measure/adjust their lives by comparing theirs to characters
·      Are like compasses and maps helping readers to feel oriented
·      Are conscious and purposeful

While the basic metaphor for stories is that of the journey, Vogler believes good stories show at least two journeys – the inner and outer

Wishing and Hoping
A hero’s journey often begins with a wish. Maybe the wish is to escape a tough situation. Maybe it’s a longing for love. The wish can be spoken or simply implied. But knowing what the hero wishes, orients readers in the story. And the wish sets the hero on his or her journey. Vogler follows the belief of Carl Jung, that spoken or not, when conditions are right, the story itself will call the adventure into being. In other words, the story is alive! And the story’s sneaky response to the hero’s wish is often to send in a messenger.

Sending Out an SOS
It’s a crap shoot whether a writer knows a messenger is coming or not. Sometimes, the door opens and there stands an old man. Or the hero walks outside and up jumps a frog, or fairy is swept in on a gust of wind. Surprise! That messenger is there as a direct response to the wish of the hero.

Remember, the story is alive. It knows things even the writer doesn’t. Sit back and feel the tingle, the story is just taking off.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
What a hero wants isn’t always what he or she needs. Roadblocks tossed out by the writer push the hero to take pause, succeed or fail. Because of those dilemmas, the hero will find a new state of awareness. Often it comes with the help of that messenger.

Powerful stories are tricky. Though obstacles pop up that may be life threatening, they are also life affirming. Those lessons learned aren’t random. Nope. Or should it be, NOBA! 

Vogler says, “Not only…but also, or NOBA,” is the ritual of obstacles that temporarily thwart a hero, but reinforce learning, It’s a universal teaching tool. NOBA helps the hero to gain awareness and through that experience the reader learns too.

Vogler uses these examples:
1.    A hero who might be distraught because of a disability, but that disability may lead to her ultimate victory.
2.    A character whose habits not only hold him back, but may ultimately destroy him.

A Change Is Gonna Come
Once a writer pushes the hero through so many obstacles that he or she now ditches the wishes. According to Vogler, that moment is when the hero becomes a willing participant in accomplishing the goal. Vogler defines will as a wish concentrated and focused into action.

In the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin, the girl who promised her first born child to the little man who spun straw into gold and saved her life, had wished for a rescuer. When the little man eventually came for that child, the woman wished she didn’t have to turn the baby over to him. She had to protect her child. Only if she could utter the man’s name could she keep the baby. Her wish suddenly turned to will. She took action. Sent scouts to scour the countryside and learn the little man’s name. When he came knocking, she had what she wanted and needed.

Opposites Attract
From the start of a hero’s journey, the reality of what will take place has to be established. Writers make that happen through polarity, or by using opposites. Maybe the hero’s friend is against him. Maybe the hero is looking for a love he abandoned on their wedding day and now is ready for marriage. However the polarity is arranged, the story is about the journey for something to happen. Readers should see small changes as the plot and character arc advance. Maybe it’s a glimpse that the hero understand what he or she has done wrong. Or the hero wonders for a moment if the journey is really worth the struggle.  

A few examples of polarity in characters:
·      Sloppy –  Neat
·      Introvert – Extrovert
·      Controlling – Impulsive
·      High Strung – Low Key
·      Materialistic – Spiritual

Polarity whether in romance, comedy, mystery, or drama creates tension and ramps up suspense and that attracts the audience. Writers who create multilayer stories through opposing forces leave the door open for readers to feel emotional highs and lows. That connection means readers cry when the hero’s sad. They laugh when she laughs. Or shrieks when he shrieks! And when as part of the character arc the hero—even for a minute—shows a switch in that polarity, the audience notices.

Every Picture Tells a Story
Readers picture heroes one way when the story begins. Hopefully by the story’s end, the character is changed. Vogler says the power of a story can change readers’ minds and thoughts, too. The connection between the hero’s journey and the readers can be so strong that when the hero learns a lesson, readers may too. How’s that for entertainment?

Please Release Me
Vogler warns writers to not use polarity to oversimplify complex situations. He suggests showing nuances of changes in your characters’ behavior. Readers will feel a part of the universal polarities of good and evil, male and female, life and death. And when the hero changes, conquers fears, gets the boy, lands that job, finds his birth mother or saves a life, readers can find a healthy release. What readers often find woven into and worked out through that living, powerful story on the page is a little piece of their own lives.

Meet Today’s Contributor—Teddie Aggeles
Theodora “Teddie” Aggeles is a native of St. Petersburg and a freelance writer. She’s written for the past six years as a Tampa Bay Times correspondent. She also writes educational programs for nurses on how to recognize, care for and support victims of domestic violence and child abuse, and is the author of Answering the Call: Nurses of Post 122. She is happiest when she’s writing her YA novels as a member of Skywriters and her PBs as a member of Picture Books and Java (PB&J). Follow Teddie at:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Study--Post #9

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.

Post #9
Epilogue, pages 231-295
Contributor: CiCi Ramirez 

For any story to have an emotional impact and lasting power, elements from the Hero’s Journey need to be present and its structure needs to be defined based on the needs of the audience. Christopher Vogler analyzes the hero’s journey from four different movies to illustrate how form follows function, how metaphors can add more meaning to a story, and how using the Hero’s Journey as an outline can help you arrange the different elements of the journey to fit the universe you are trying to create.

Titanic—We all know the ending. It was one of the main reasons everyone thought this movie was going to fail. As a matter of fact, it had everything going against it from a commercial standpoint. It was a period piece (set before both World Wars), it was three hours too long, and uhm, the boat sinks! So how did elements of the Hero’s Journey help this sinking ship? (No pun intended.) Aside from the fact that the movie had broad appeal for the old, young, and the historians, it had the necessary elements from the Hero’s Journey to satisfy the universal wish for meaning. We were given a glimpse into the ORDINARY WORLD of the major characters. Then as they had to work through their own separate journeys that showed their responses to their CALL TO ADVENTURE, their INNER AND OUTER PROBLEMS, we watched their TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES create more conflict, and their ORDEALS seemingly get the best of them, do we get to experience the REWARD, which can result in their SACRIFICE or in their RESURRECTION.

If you combine any of these elements with how the movie wove all these elements together (synergy), the symbolism behind the ship (as applied from Greek mythology) and diamond, and the triangulated relationships created by the storyline, it was no wonder this movie became a love story of epic proportions. For the movie audience, it became an emotional experience felt from the point of view of the characters. Joseph Campbell wrote, “The purpose of ritual is to wear you out, to grind down your defenses so that you fall open to the transcendent experience.” And then only when true emotions have been exposed to their most vulnerable state, like anything in life, YOUR HEART WILL GO ON, and you will have a story one will never forget.

The Lion King—This Disney cash cow, ahem, cash cub, used father/son relationships, Hamlet, and “stirrings of adulthood” as central themes in this animated story that appealed to people of all ages. Combined with comedy, animal animation, and the African motif, the elements of the Hero’s Journey follow the classic hero story. We are shown Simba’s ORDINARY WORLD, young, carefree and devoid of all responsibility (Hakuna Matata). His REFUSAL OF THE CALL to action from his father who demands that he grows up. After he blames himself for his father’s death, he then retreats into the INMOST CAVE, which was essential for his death and rebirth. It was through the advice and help of his MENTORS and SHAPESHIFTERS that he was able to pass his TESTS and ORDEALS, which gave him the confidence he needed to eventually overcome his fear and fight the evil SHADOW. In this way he wins the REWARD. When Simba accepted responsibility for his father’s death, it was the RESURRECTION moment of the story and proof that he had attained maturity through his ORDEAL. Growing up and taking your place in the world speaks of the universal truth behind the Hero’s Journey and that is what made this story so appealing to the audience, because in reality, everyone loves to see someone kicked around until they grow strong enough to stand on their own and fight back.

Pulp Fiction—This iconic bloodbath of a movie had nothing of the typical structure so often found in blockbuster hits. Post-modern themes also played a central role in this movie because there was no linear order to the scenes (arranged purely for emotional effect), the characters had skewed value systems that reflected a lack of a code of ethics and the relationships of the main characters used the ETERNAL TRIANGLE archetype like Titanic. The Hero’s Journey in this movie follows three different men. Each of their journeys show a glimpse into their ORDINARY WORLD, A SPECIAL WORLD, CALL TO ADVENTURE, how they CROSS A THRESHOLD and different conflicts arising from TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. From their RESURRECTION, do they receive the ELXICIR, which only the ones who made the “good” choices receive. The others are punished for their flaws in what could be considered divine punishment. The Hero’s Journey in this movie suggests that mastery in one area does not mean that it carries forth through everything else. So in effect, when someone fails, they are punished immediately and in the most violent ways possible.

The Full Monty—Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t . . . until you’ve seen The Full Monty. In this revealing (pun intended) portrayal of unemployed men in a once thriving industrial town, we see a glimpse of their ORDINARY WORLD. Gaz’s, the protagonist, OUTER PROBLEM and INNER challenge reflect his desire to provide for his family and earn his son’s respect. From his CALL TO ADVENTURE, to REFUSALS, to taking the advice of his MENTORS, he CROSSES THE FIRST THRESHOLD, creates a SPECIAL WORLD with his fellow strippers and with them enters the APPROACH phase of the story. Even though they are faced with conflicts, their hard work and exposure leads to a REWARD and eventually the RESURRECTION in which they are REBORN, and after they do their “show”, they RETURN WITH EXLICIR that touches upon all levels of their confidence and respect among their family and peers. By using elements of the Hero’s Journey in this story structure, it transformed this simple plot line into something an audience could relate to in a fun and memorable way.

Vogler also cites Star Wars as an epic story that follows elements of the Hero’s Journey and plays upon the innocence of George Lucas as a reflection of his youth when he wrote the initial episodes in the 70s, as well as to the darker episodes he wrote much later when he was more “world weary.” As with our own writing, our stories reflect the part of the journey we are on at the moment in subtle treatments of the character, setting, and structure. The Hero’s Journey and the Writer’s Journey is often the same, but lucky for us, the magic is there for us to use like the shamans before us. “Our stories have the power to heal, to make the world new again, and to give people metaphors by which they can better understand their own lives.”

Good luck on your writing journey. There is no right or wrong path, only magic.

Meet Today’s Contributor—CiCi Ramirez
CiCi Ramirez divides her time between Texas and Apollo Beach, Florida. She is an active, involved mom, a real estate agent, and a writer of edgy middle grade and young adult novels. Her quirky sense of humor permeates her writing, her life, her interactions with others, and even this blog post!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Study--Post #8

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.

Post #8
Book 2, pages 187-229
Contributor: Jane Jeffries 

The Final Act
Today’s blog post focuses on the final three stages of the Hero’s Journey: The Road Back, Resurrection, and Return with the Elixir. These stages make up Act III.

After the lessons and ewards of the great Ordeal have been appreciated and assimilated, heroes must choose whether to stay in the Special World or head home to the Ordinary World. Most decide to take “The Road Back,” either returning to the starting point of the story or continuing on to a new destination. Here, the energy of the story surges once again. “This stage represents the resolve of the hero to return to the Ordinary World and implement the lessons learned in the Special World,” notes Vogler. The Road Back marks the passage from Act Two to Act Three, the point in the story where the hero recommits to the adventure, being pried from her comfort zone by either an outside force or something from within.

Fear of retaliation or pursuit is what typically motivates the hero to leave the Special World. If the hero has not completely defeated the opponent, the villain may rise up even stronger than before. The spouse or a friend of a defeated opponent may swear vengeance against the hero. Psychological opponents, such as flaws, habits, desires or addictions, can rear their ugly heads after the hero believed she had overcome her demons.

“In many cases, heroes leave the Special World only because they are running for their lives,” writes Vogler. While chases can appear anywhere in a story, the end of Act Two is where they most often occur. Chases have a way of revving up a story’s energy. Heroes are most commonly chased by villains, but they can be chased by admirers (who are told not to follow). Or heroes themselves can do the chasing, when a villain escapes and wreaks havoc again.

The Road Back provides a time to “acknowledge the hero’s resolve to finish” the journey, writes Vogler. It provides her with the “necessary motivation to return home with the elixir despite the temptations of the Special World and the trials that remain ahead.”

After “The Road Back” comes the “Resurrection,” the final exam of the journey. The central crisis or Supreme Ordeal is the midterm exam, Vogler explains. But every great story has a final exam. The hero must prove through Resurrection that she has not only retained what she learned in the Special World but can apply it at home in the Ordinary World.

Heroes have to go through a “final purging and purification before reentering the Ordinary World,” asserts Vogler. This comes in the form of the climax, the hero’s final and most perilous encounter with death. After the climax, the hero must change. This is where writers must find a way to demonstrate the change in their hero through behavior or appearance or both.

Resurrection can take the form of a final, decisive battle with the opponent. In Westerns, crime fiction, and action films, the Resurrection is the showdown or shootout. Typically, the villain is the one who dies. But even if the hero dies, she lives on in the memory of the survivors—and readers—who remember the lessons learned by the tragic hero, keeping her memory alive.

Resurrection can also take the form of a climactic decision that shows whether or not the hero has learned the lessons of change. She must show whether she’ll fall back on her old ways of reacting, or use what she’s learned to decide in a new and different way.

As the Resurrection typically marks the climax of the story, it also marks the point of greatest energy, the last big moment. Climaxes are usually explosive, loud, dramatic; however, “quiet climaxes” do exist. Vogler defines a quiet climax as the point in the story when “the knots of tension created in the body of the story come untied, perhaps after a gentle tug from a final realization.”

Stories can have a series of climaxes, or “rolling climaxes,” as individual subplots are resolved. Heroes can experience climaxes on different levels of awareness, through mind, body, and emotion. Regardless of form, however, the climax should provide a cathartic moment—“a purifying emotional release, or an emotional breakthrough.”

“A catharsis is the logical climax of a hero’s character arc,” writes Vogler. The character arc is the gradual stages of change a character experiences—with “gradual” being the operative word. Vogler believes the stages of the Hero’s Journey provide a good guide to use when creating the gradual steps needed to create a realistic character arc, as illustrated in the following table:

Character Arc In Relation To Hero’s Journey
Character Arc
Hero’s Journey
Limited Awareness of a Problem
Ordinary World
Increased Awareness
Call to Adventure
Reluctance to Change
Overcoming Reluctance
Meeting with the Mentor
Committing to Change
Crossing the Threshold
Experimenting with First Change
Test, Allies, Enemies
Preparing for Big Change
Approach to Inmost Cave
Attempting Big Change
Consequences of the Attempt
(Improvements and Setbacks)
(Seizing the Sword)
Rededication to Change
The Road Back
Final Attempt at Big Change
Final Mastery of the Problem
Return with the Elixir

The Resurrection marks the hero’s last attempt to dramatically change her attitude or behavior. A hero can backslide at this point, as Han Solo did in Star Wars when he turned his back on the final attempt to crack the Death Star. But as all good heroes do, he decided at the last minute to take part, revealing that he had changed and was willing to risk his life for the cause.

In the Resurrection, the hero must prove that she has completely changed; the old Self is dead. Writers must show this change in appearance and action. “It’s not enough to have people around a hero notice that she’s changed,” cautions Vogler. “It’s not enough to have her talk about change. The audience must be able to see it in her dress, behavior, attitude, and actions.”

Once the hero passes the final exam, the Resurrection, she can move on to the final stage: Returning with the Elixir.

Return With The Elixir
“Returning with the Elixir means implementing change in your daily life and using the lessons of adventure to heal your wounds,” writes Vogler. True heroes “Return with the Elixir” from the Special World to share the spoils with others. The Return is also known as the “denouement,” the tying up of loose ends. There are two ways to untie the plot lines that created conflict and tension:
·      Open-ended approach, in which conflicts are unresolved, questions are left unanswered, and the circle is left open. This story form is more popular in Asia and in Australian and European movies.
·      Circular or closed form, in which the story comes full circle; there’s a sense of closure and completion. In this most popular story structure, the hero literally returns to the starting point of the story to show how far he’s come. In the movie Ghost, for example, the hero can’t say “I love you” at the beginning of the story. But at the end, after dying and passing all tests in the after-life, he is able to Return to the Ordinary World and say, “I love you” to his wife.

A good Return has an element of surprise. It may have a twist or provide an unexpected revelation. It should also dole out rewards and punishments. But above all, it should provide an Elixir, whether literal or metaphoric. The Elixir proves that the hero survived the Special World and serves as an example for others. The Elixir can be tangible, such as buried treasure or medicine brought back to save lives, or intangible, such as love, change, responsibility or even tragedy, from which the audience learns from the hero’s defeat what mistakes to avoid so they don’t suffer the same fate. 

An epilogue or postscript, on rare occasions, can also complete the story, by moving into the future to show how the characters turned out.

Vogler warns writers to beware of the pitfalls of the Return: unresolved subplots, too many endings, abrupt endings, and loss of focus. “The story should end with the emotional equivalent of a punctuation mark,” Vogler says. “A story, like a sentence, can end in only four ways: with a period, an exclamation point, a question mark, or an ellipsis.” An open-ended story may end with a question mark (“Will the hero Return with the Elixir or will it be forgotten?”) or an ellipsis (“She proved she’s not a killer, but…”). A circular story may end with a period (“There’s no place like home.”) or exclamation point (“Repent or perish!”).

Regardless of how the story ends—with a question mark, exclamation point, ellipsis, or period—Vogler’s work informs us that “a good story, like a good journey, leaves us with an Elixir that changes us, makes us more aware, more alive, more human, more whole, more a part of everything that is.”

Meet Today’s Contributor—Jane Jeffries
Jane Jeffries is an instructional designer at St. Petersburg College. She earned her Master of Arts in Writing degree from Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. She’s been published in Our Little Friend, New Dimensions, Kids’ News/Parents’ News, and The Tampa Bay Times Sunday Journal.