Whenever the Comcast Internet connection goes down here in KW, which it does on occasion, I wonder if the island’s entire population is staring bewildered, like I am, at their browser screens as “what do I do now?” panic races through their brains. In casting my glance desperately about the study to fend off blankscreenophobia [paralyzing anxiety brought on by an unexpected and frightening “deadpage” appearing in front of you], my eyes fall on Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey [TWJ]: Mythic Structure for Writers and the bewilderment in my brain turns immediately to guilt. Oh, yes, think I, I’m supposed to be working on my novel, the one I wrote a 50,000-word first draft way back in July 2016 for Camp NaNoWriMo and haven’t touched since. My intention in acquiring Vogler’s book was to read it and get ideas for expanding and better structuring Zombie Alien Dad (ZAD). Looking over at TWJ, I see that the paperback now wears a book jacket, one fashioned from agglomerated dust and cat fur.
Well, what the heck. Since I can’t dissonbrowze myself [distract through online browsing], I’m going to jump in and get started on TWJ. Here we go: Book One: Mapping the Journey, Chapter One: A Practical Guide. Vogler bases his story guide on Joseph Campbell’s classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The “Practical Guide” chapter opens with a quote from Willa Cather’s O Pioneers: “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they never happened before.” Next, he introduces “The Hero’s Journey (THJ),” which is less of a map and more of a 12-step story outline. “With this tool,” he promises, “you can construct a story that will be dramatic, entertaining, and psychologically true.” If you already have a draft, as I do, with the THJ “you can diagnose the problems of almost any ailing plot line, and make the corrections to bring it to its peak of performance.” Hot dog!
I won’t go into the twelve steps in detail here. I’ll just say that the journey begins with the “Ordinary World” and ends with the “Return with the Elixir.” As Vogler explains, “Most stories take the hero out of the ordinary, mundane world and into a Special World, new and alien.” First, as you might have guessed, you must establish the ordinary world. The final stage of the story provides the payoff in which the hero brings a boon or treasure, what Vogler calls the Elixir, to benefit the ordinary world. This Elixir comes in many forms. It might be knowledge, as in Dorothy returning to Kansas from Oz after learning “there’s no place like home.” Or it might be a positive change in status, as in Luke Skywalker defeating Darth Vader and bringing peace and order to the galaxy for a time. So, my task now is to create my own hero’s journey or, even more difficult I imagine, creating two parallel yet different journeys for two heroes: Will, a teenage human, and Wouylerlubro (let’s call him “Wylie”), a being from the planet Choewrluria.
As it stands, ZAD opens with this line: “It began as a school morning like any other school morning for Will Mender.” I’m already thinking about shifting things around to where these words start the book: “Will stared at the wall of shame across the hall from where he sat outside the principal’s office.” Both seem like good hooks. The first suggests that what begins as an ordinary day will turn into something not so ordinary. The second indicates that Will has done something to get himself sent to the principal’s office, something that might have to do with being shamed. This is where my journey begins. If I finish revising ZAD such that publication and monster sales and a movie deal ensue (no sense in holding back on wishful thinking), that would be heroic indeed. Wish me luck.
Well. This has been a remarkable discovery. When the Internet becomes inaccessible, the world doesn’t end and good things can happen. Who knew?