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.

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