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.