I have recently returned to the UK after a week spent in LA, in the Beverly Hills, courtesy of an old friend. While there I had beautiful weather, and was lucky enough to stay in a lovely hideaway which clung to the edge of a wooded slope, affording glorious views of the surrounding area. I had gone there to discuss the possibility of turning some of my writing into a short movie, as the friend, who used to work in films, had read drafts of my work in progress, and felt that the visual nature of the writing had movie making possibilities. Thus began my journey into another world, and a different way of thinking.
Outside the comfort zone
And so it is for the literary hero, setting out on a new journey, leaving his or her ordinary world to enter one outside the comfort zone. Given an inciting incident, he/she is called to action and embarks on an adventure. My own adventure therefore began when the friend asked me some searching questions about my writing, which at first unnerved me. The questions concerned how the story would be categorised as a movie, and what it was about, in just one sentence! In other words, ‘chunking down’. Over much coffee and West Trail Mix complete with M&Ms, we explored the latter first which was not as simple as it might appear. The idea was to produce a log line: what you see when browsing a list of films in the local paper. In the end, with much tweaking, we arrived at the solution – one that might entice someone to watch the film.
The archetypal hero
Finding the category was harder still. We went about this by eliminating one film genre, then another. This entailed discussing the story in some detail, with a lot of questioning about each of the main characters. Finally we landed upon Mythic Structure: the hero’s journey and the embodiment of the enemy within as highlighted by Joseph Campbell, the renowned American professor of literature. In 1949, he published ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ which explored the existence of the archetypal hero, common to all mythology from around the world. He gained fame when he was credited with influencing the Star Wars saga, and the journey of Luke Skywalker. Campbell’s work lives on the structure of many Hollywood films, stories and other art forms.
I studied the mythic structure carefully, then collectively analysed my own novellas, applying the journey points and the character archetypes. To my delight, I discovered that all the ingredients of the hero’s journey already lay in my narrative and that it would be possible to convert my writing into a screen play at some stage, if I so desired. More importantly though, the process has since added much greater weight to my writing and helped to sharpen the focus. As a student of writing, I had already received much help from indie author KM Weiland, in her wonderful books ‘Structuring your Novel’ and ‘Creating Character Arcs’. Weiland has clearly studied the hero’s journey and its magic formula in great depth. It lies at the heart of all good writing, accessing the secrets of collective consciousness, a narrative which drives not only countless story lines, but truths experienced in the lives of readers and moviegoers themselves.