Assessing My Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey.

Or, as Suzanne Adair’s workshop is called: Plotting with the Hero’s Journey: 12 Essential Steps to the Elixir.

I look at the handout Suzanne gave us, and my notes.

Stage 1: The Ordinary World –

The purpose of this stage is to establish a here-and-now, the baseline of the book. It’s the starting place. It is to grab the reader, hook them by introducing the protagonist. Without this, there is no point of reference to start from, or to anticipate where we are all going.

Ok. So, this is the world my characters live in, their starting point, the scene set.

I read this and it makes such sense. Then I sit down with my rough draft, pull up a glass of tea and gather my characters around me – in this case, the five sisters.


“I don’t know what  you think is so hard about this. The book is obviously about all of us and what terrific women we are.” That’s from Frankie, but she adds, “most of the time.” with a sidelong glance. I can’t tell if she’s looking at Claud or Billie.

“It is about all of us,” agrees Shelley – who is satisfied I finally re-christened her Shelley. At least that battle is over. “But it’s mainly about my fears about being sick, and wondering how to tell  you, and how to clear up our differences. But, I don’t know if we can, because I don’t know how you’ll all react.”

Claud purses her lips and turns to pull her latest design towards her lap. “I don’t know why you always get so upset over things, Shelley. I guess it’s a sign of a writer, all that high intensity drama.” Clearly she doesn’t want to discuss these things. I’m not even sure Claud is comfortable being in the book.

Billie looks hesitantly at her twin, then back to me. She seems to want to say something, but swallows it, letting herself get engrossed in Claud’s design. What is it she wants to tell me?

It’s Rhonda, the dancer, who seems to sum it up, ticking off points like a metronome. “Claud, I think we all have some questions over Mom’s death, over how  you did things. And I don’t think it’s over-dramatic to want answers. Besides, some of us may be at risk, and I think we want information. We’re getting on in years. We don’t know how many more of these trips we can take. And it’s wonderful the way our schedules all came together.”

Aha! I’m beginning to get it. The theme is family and how you can always look to family – although you may not be sure of what  you’ll find. At the beginning of the book, there’s a sort of estrangement, the kind that comes from long lives not lived in each other’s pockets, and the questions of whether or not that estrangement can be overcome. What will it take? How can them make it happen? And what ‘elixir’ might they find at the end?

The women’s relationships and personalities are history, problem, and solution all at once. The journey – well, not to sound too stupid – is how  you get there. The road trip is the goal, the journey, and the story, all at once.


I don’t know how much sense this might make to you as a reader, but it was a start for me in understanding both how the hero’s journey concept works, and how my book fit at least the first stage. It was fascinating to me to find that this rough draft already had in it characteristics that met the criteria.

Does this mean my book will be a success? I don’t know. There’s so much more to it.  I don’t even know if meeting all the criteria actually guarantees you’ve written a good story.

I can see for myself that the stages Adair elaborates on are components of a good story. They make sense to me.

I believe in my story, in what I’ve written.

So, if my writing meets criteria I believe in, I can only expect that it will satisfy me. That should bode well. I am, after all, the first reader I must satisfy.



–> Given that we are often our own worst critics, how do you know when your writing satisfies you? What tells you you’ve ‘hit it’?



*one more thank you to Suzanne Adair for her workshop. If  you have a chance to take it, you should.







In a previous post I made reference to the fact that this book has gone through some title changes. And those changes meant I also needed to change the protagonist’s name. Probably someone else would have decided, heck, just don’t put her name in the title. But I’m as capable as the next writer of being enamored of a certain title format, and I didn’t want to give that up. Better, I thought, to change her name.

Well, I’ve lost track of how much time I’ve spent thinking about this, but apparently the last name — and title change — is in. It’s not Vivvie. It’s not Hedy. It’s not even Audrey. It’s Shelley. Back to the original. Shelley.

Seems every time I started making fresh notes for the book, I was thinking Shelley. When the time came I wrote it down and didn’t even notice it until a few lines later, I realized that no amount of re-writing was going to change her name.


So, now the question is this: Do I not worry about alliteration ( which might only bother  me and nobody else) and use ‘Finding Shelley’s Shoes’? or do I go one step further and call the book ‘Finding Shelley’s Boots’? Gonna take some more thought. I’m open to suggestions.

Sometimes titles are organic; sometimes they suggest themselves – even before you start writing. How many of us have written the story to fit a title we couldn’t resist?

If you want to see about titling your book with an eye toward sales, read this on creating a bestselling book title from Tools of Change for Publishing. Or this, by agent Rachelle Gardner. And here’s one more, a blog post on “How to write  the Right Title.”

Do you struggle with titles? What’s your latest?





New Tricks

‘They’ – whoever ‘they’ are – tell us we should seek out more education, more training, more betterment of ourselves as writers. Attend conferences, join groups, listen to speakers – all  to improve our craft.

Well, I have no beef with the advice. Although sometimes it is difficult to be in the right place at the right time. That has led me to believe that it is not always a case of “you get what you pay for”. Most of the conferences and workshops I’ve attended have been free, perforce, a byproduct of raising a large family with an aim of all the kids attending college. And yet I don’t think I’ve ever been totally disappointed with any event I’ve ever gone to. I’ve managed to learn some thing from each one.

Over the next couple of entries, I’m going to attempt to discuss in reasonable detail two of the best presentations I’ve attended. Hardly the only good ones, just the two that are the most pertinent to the work in this project.

Both were part of a fabulous two-day event, Writer’s Workshop @ Your Library, presented by the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Library in November 2014. One was a presentation by Suzanne Adair, who writes  historical mysteries (Revolutionary War). She spoke about The Hero’s Journey, a topic that has been covered by others, but Suzanne managed to break it down into questions to ask yourself about your work-in-progress. That made it useful and easy-to-apply. The other presentation was by Les Edgerton, author of Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go and several crime noir novels. His technique was to examine, nearly frame by frame, the movie Thelma and Louise, explaining at each point how the scene worked, how it advanced the story, and how all of it came together to arrive at an inevitable ending.

What I learned at both these workshops will – I hope – have a strong and positive effect on Finding Vivvie’s Shoes. If, of course, I can decipher my notes.  While I’ll be covering these things in my next posts, the point of this post is simple.

Take the advice. Continue learning more about writing. Go to workshops. Talk with other writers. Talk with those more advanced and with those not as far along the path as you. Talk with those you think may never make it, because learning what pitfalls to avoid can be just as valuable. Besides, you may be the person who helps them. And while every industry is competitive, the truly great participants are those who see the big picture well enough to realize that we all have to help each other.