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. 

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