Home » Posts tagged 'Hero’s Journey'
Tag Archives: Hero’s Journey
TUFF: The Ultimate Flash Fiction
by Charli Mills
What if I told you that writing flash fiction will get you to where you want to be? Would you scoff, or consider the possibility? Would you think I’m handing you a magic elixir? Ah, an elixir. Let’s pause a moment and talk about the hero’s journey.
If you answered the call to participate in the Flash Fiction Rodeo this past month, you answered the same call every hero hears: the one the hero reluctantly answers. We think of heroes as Thor or Wonder Woman. Yet, the hero’s journey calls to us all. Winnie the Pooh and Frodo and Mary Tyler Moore are all heroes. It’s about the path:
- The call: the opening scene in which the hero is called out of the ordinary world.
- The test: the story develops conflict through tests, challenges, temptations, allies and enemies.
- The cave: the story leads to a crisis, the hero’s darkest hour in the abyss of ordeal.
- The transformation: survival transforms the hero who begins the journey home.
- The return: the hero returns to the ordinary world with the elixir of knowing one’s own transformation.
For many writers, the Flash Fiction Rodeo was a call to go outside one’s comfort zone. Even those writers who wanted the challenge pushed themselves to write more than one response or enter multiple contests. You were all stirred by the call. You are Heroes of the Rodeo. You faced tests, found glitches and helpers, made new writing friends, discovered stories within you.
Your crisis is personal, but I know you had one — doubt, fear, panic. Our inner critics chide, Who are you to enter a writing contest? The Black Dog rips our confidence. Even when we boldly go forth, we fumble a word, forget a rule, or worry that a form went to the bottom of the bull pen. Maybe your crisis rose from a topic that stirred a painful memory. Maybe your crisis eroded your time and forced priorities. Whatever it was, it is yours, and you overcame it.
You survived the Rodeo.
Contest #8 delivers your elixir. Yes, it’s called TUFF, a play on the acronym and the idea that it’s a tough challenge. It’s five steps, five flash fictions! Yet, it is a tool, a gift to you that you will understand because it will resonate with what writing flash fiction has already taught you.
So far in this Flash Fiction Rodeo writers have reflected back to childhood, poked at the hardness of scars, laughed when humor elicited fear, cast a magical spell with a new literary form, signed up for a twittering social platform to write publicly, braved the unknown with a bull draw, and contemplated murder despite being good people. This Rodeo was a rough ride, but you stayed in the saddle. You wrote.
Trust the surprises you made along the way. If you found yourself writing about a topic, or in a format or on a platform previously alien to you, you likely found a nugget of satisfaction. I’ll tell you something about flash fiction — it’s the constraint that shifts the gears in your mind to problem-solving speed. The 99-word format we challenge weekly at Carrot Ranch becomes satisfying because our brains recognize that we are going to solve a problem (write a story) and 99-words is the tool.
Now it’s time to challenge you to go where you want to go…as a writer, as an entrepreneur, as a creative person. TUFF is your elixir. TUFF teaches you that each flash fiction you write takes you closer to transformation. Call it creativity, an insight, an a-ha moment or a breakthrough. TUFF will return you to your ordinary world as a writer, author, educator, business professional, parent, creative with the elixir meant for you. Like your writing crisis, your writing breakthrough is personal. But it will happen.
Use this format any time you are struggling to write a scene, chapter or novel. Use it to write the various blurbs for your book synopsis. Use it to write out your goals, mission statement or vision for your blog, business or career. It’s a tool and it’s now yours. However, until November 6, it’s also the final Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest.
Using the form below, write about a hero’s transformation after facing a crisis. Each step is its own flash fiction, but it is the evolution of a single story.
- Use the form for all five steps to write about a hero’s transformation after facing a crisis.
- A hero is anyone or anything going from normal to a crisis to a transformation.
- Each step is a revision of the same tale, beginning with a free write and ending with a complete three-act story.
- In step one (free-write) time your writing to 5 minutes even if it’s incomplete.
- Enter the free-write unedited.
- You may edit steps 2-4.
- You must edit step 5.
- The final story has three acts: beginning, middle and end.
- Entries must be original (no cheating on the free-write; you’ll only cheat yourself out of the elixir).
- Entries due by 11:59 pm EST November 6. Enter each step in the form all at one time.
You have one week. Pace yourself.
CONTEST NOW CLOSED. WINNER ANNOUNCED DECEMBER 26.
CHALLENGE OPTION: Due to length, challengers are asked to use the form. Be sure to write (CHALLENGE) after your title. Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges resume November 2.
Charli will be joined by two Michigan authors over coffee, during a continuous Keweenaw snowstorm. Judges will consider the following criteria:
- The original idea expressed in the free-write.
- The process by which the writer uses steps 2-4 to work that original idea.
- The completion of the final story based on the original idea and the flash fiction process to get there.
- The unedited free-write reads like a draft.
- The final story shows insight, polish and has a beginning, middle and end.
- The interpretation of a hero (epic or common), crisis and transformation.
- The final deadline met: 11:59 pm EST November 6
Winner Announced December 26. All who stayed in the saddle and wrote for the first annual Flash Fiction Rodeo are heroes! Your journey is nearly complete. Thank you for your courage to express and share literary art with and among others.
Complete schedule of winner announcements:
Step right up and gaze upon the amazing feats of writers: 99 word stories from birth and reconciliation to phonetic and Freudian slips. If there was one thing Buffalo Bill Cody was known for, that was a show demonstrating amazing feats of riders.
Here we celebrate the written literary accomplishments of the Rough Writers & Friends.
The following stories are based on the September 14, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an amazing feat. We hope you read and say, “Wow!”
Niagara by Jeanne Lombardo
The rapids appeared along the side of the road, sidling swift and headlong into my consciousness. What had I expected: the Falls with no river?
An hour earlier you sobbed in my arms. The world can be dark at twenty-four, but why bludgeon yourself with your mistakes?
In the visitor center we read of Annie Taylor, who, in 1901, at sixty-three years of age, plunged over the Horseshoe Falls in a mattress-lined barrel clutching a heart-shaped pillow. She lived but failed to wreak material success.
You see my sweet, it’s not the spectacle but the living that’s the feat.
By a Century by Elliott Lyngreen
I NEVER REACHED Elsie Maxwell; and, in tragic places she neatly understood in uncurious browns and gross hair, in her plain tights she wore without needing explanation, which sent her a century ahead from such apathy I impressed by not expressing anything;
In flashing glints through moments she excitedly, too peripherally, fast-forward, stung her psyche; excessive chattering; tilted me into preoccupation and distracted nerves split at the ends;
I will never know Elsie Maxwell (save for thee age with the only available thoughts to surely think we would last 1000 years – that Elsie reached, before she was there).
Flash Fiction by Gordon Le Pard
The skull arrived on the wedding day, all through the ceremony he thought about it.
Was it a primitive human? was it an ape? All agreed it was incredibly old and that more of the skeleton had to be found.
In the quarry where it had been discovered, the manager pointed out the blocked cave and the search began. After several weeks fragments of bone were discovered, the palaeontologist was ecstatic.
“What is it?” the manager asked, looking at the tiny scraps of bone.
“The feet, the amazing feet.” He replied in delight, “It walked upright, it was human!”
And that, oh best beloved was, more or less, how Australopithecus, mankind’s most primitive ancestor, was discovered.
The Efforts of Three by Paula Moyer
Still more pushing? Jean had no more to give. Fourteen hours of labor, pushing for two. No baby.
Shift change. New nurse-midwife. New point of view.
“OK. When you feel the contraction, push here.” The midwife, Mary Jo, put her hand on the place.
A new wave came. “Yes! Here!” Mary Jo cheered her on. Next contraction, the midwife was in the bed, Jean’s foot on her ribcage to widen the pelvis. “I can feel the head.” She grabbed Jean’s hand to touch the wet lump emerging.
Then the whole, crying baby.
“Lydia Marie!” Jean crowed. “Come to Mama!”
One Small Step by Norah Colvin
Everything she had ever done was preparation for this moment. All eyes were on her. The audience’s expectation was palpable, bolstering her determination. She pulled herself up to full height and looked around, smiling. The audience waited. She checked the positioning of her feet, and her balance. She held up one hand, signifying that an attempt was imminent. She put one foot forward; then raised the other hand as she brought her back foot alongside the first. She paused, poised, momentarily. Immediately cameras clicked and cheers erupted. After two more steps, she launched, triumphant, into her father’s waiting arms.
Feats by Irene Waters
“What’s ya doin’?” John ruffled his grandson’s head.
“I’m doing feats.” Jason barely glanced up from his game.
“I’m acquiring feats. If I meet the prerequisite for the feat then I can work at gaining it.”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Dungeons and Dragons Pa. Don’t you know anything.”
“Yep. I know in my day Feats were Little Feat. Dixie Chicken just brilliant but then the big feat, Feats Don’t fail me now was a mind boggling feat. Every one of the band was showcased at his best. Yep. Those sure were feats to remember.”
From Death, Rebirth by Geoff Le Pard
Paul studied the hairy knuckles. He looked at the lined face: unmistakably Leon Patrick. How many years? 20? He felt the strong grip. ‘You good?’
Memories flooded back; that hand pulling him down, those knuckles swelling his lip. He nodded.
‘Probably too late to say sorry, Paul, but anyway. Sorry.’
Paul looked up. Genuine concern looked back. Anxious too.
‘Funny, you know, remembering what I did. That got me into anger management.’ Leon began to turn. ‘I’d better go.’
Paul stopped him. ‘Drink?’
An hour later they still talked. Amazing, they said, how Jerry’s death had brought some closure.
Reconciliation by Sarrah J Woods
Mary was cutting her dog’s hair in the yard when an old blue pickup truck turned into the driveway below and started up the hill. She frowned. Who was this? “Go inside, please,” she called to her son, who was playing nearby.
As the truck crunched up the gravel drive, she gasped. Surely it couldn’t be him, after all these years. How long had it been?
The truck stopped and her father got out. Mary stared confusedly at his white hair, his trembling hands.
“Hi Mary. You look good,” he stammered. “I just wanted to say…well, I was wrong.”
Card Trick by Larry LaForge
“Pick a card,” Ed said confidently. “Any card.”
Edna complied, looking at her card without showing Ed. As instructed, she slid it face down toward him.
Ed reinserted Edna’s card into the deck and reshuffled several times while spouting some nonsensical words. He spread the deck on the table, closed his eyes, selected one card and showed it.
“Edna, my dear,” Ed proclaimed with flair. “This is NOT your card.”
“Wow,” Edna feigned. “That’s amazing. Can you do it every time?”
Ed looked around, leaning in as he whispered: “Almost. It seems to work about 98% of the time.”
Options by Bill Engelson
Dobbs made the calculations. He held a losing hand. To survive, he
would need at least two sharpshooters. And quickly.
Aggie Runacre was still at the Taylors.
He made his case. “They will ravage the town. Men like these…”
“Henry’s a crack shot,” Merle said. “Or so he tells me.”
“Then fetch him,” Dobbs directed. “And he might know of one more man with a deadly eye…”
“Man?” questioned Aggie.
Dobbs and Merle looked at her. She had their attention. “I have my late brother’s Spencer Repeating rifle, Mr. Dobbs…and I’ve been known to shoot a snake or two.
When He Was Young and Innocent (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Hickok crossed his arms and drew his pistols, shooting the tossed sardine can. Nancy Jane howled with laughter, but Sarah frowned.
“Don’t you like my neat trick,” he asked, feigning hurt.
“I’m studying your grip,” said Sarah.
“Grip? What are y’all serious about now,” asked Nancy Jane.
“Why do you wear your guns backwards?”
Hickok returned each pistol to his red hip scarf, butts facing out. “It’s how I learned to cross draw. Fastest way to sling guns.”
Sarah nodded. “Ever shoot anyone?”
Hickok drew again, twirling the pistols. “Nah,” he said with a smile that reached his eyes.
It Takes Only Moments by Denise Marie
Her hands were bound behind her back. Yet, Ellen managed to tear her wrists loose of the rope that bound them. Her hands started to bleed as they scraped against the prickly twine. She had only seconds to untie her ankles and scurry toward the door before he came back. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably. He grabbed her on her walk home after class. No one would know she was gone for hours. Would she even be alive that long? She shook her head, knowing it was too much to think about right now, escaping, that was her goal.
Flash Fiction by Angela Dawson
A road trip for a writer is akin to soil to a gardener, it’s foundational.
We recently drove from Wisconsin to Oregon. The beauty of the mountains is unmatched. The land is breathtaking. The amazing feat is God’s awesome design.
But true to American irony, we saw her shadow side.
In the middle of our trip we faced racism in Bozeman, Montana.
Our truck broke down and we were refused service by local businesses. The truck is still in Montana three weeks later.
It’s curious how race creeps through every crevice of this nation, right through the Mountains.
Navigating Thorns by Ann Edall-Robson
What took you guys so long? You never listen to me. I told you to stay away from the wide open slopes. All the predators can see you. The gooseberry bush next door is the best way to travel. Takes a little longer navigating the spikes and thorns, but hey, it gets you up here without the worry of your life ending. Up here in God’s country. Where the sun shines and the nectar percolates from beneath the budding petals. The trip is gruelling, but so worth it when you make it to the top. Ant heaven. Peony buds.
Metamorphosis by Jules Paige
Finding a Monarch caterpillar is a feat in and of itself with the
scarcity of the species. When one has children…who play in the
dirt and bring home bugs, you get some interesting chances to
watch nature unfold.
One summer the caterpillar was found, brought inside,
carefully handled, housed, doted on, feed all the milkweed it
could eat everyday as well as provided with a roosting stick.
It is an amazing thing to watch the cocoon be strung. And then
to wait (seemingly as if forever) for the Monarch butterfly to
unfold…And then to set it free.
Speed Dial by Anne Goodwin
Phone clamped to my ear, I throw clean underwear into a bag. I hate to miss her birthday, but Gill will understand. Grabbing my toothbrush, I blurt out what I know. The idiot’s done it again. I’ve got to go. There’s no-one else.
Silence at the other end. Why doesn’t she speak?
“The idiot?” A man’s voice? Offended. How could I call him instead of Gill?
“Sorry!” I cringe to think I’ve hurt him. “I didn’t mean it.”
But I did. “We need to talk about this.” Time he got some proper help. Stopped relying on me.
The First Trick (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Bubbie sat, quivering. His brown eyes crossed to gaze at the biscuit perched on his snout. Nostrils flared, and thin drool hung from his lips. Danni backed away and the children in the clearing held still. No one spoke. Then Danni gave a command and Bubbie snatched the biscuit with his darting tongue. The children erupted into cheers.
Mrs. Gunnerson held up her hand for silence and order returned to the fourth-grade field trip. “Listen up, children. Dr. Gordon and her archaeology dog will lead you to the park petroglyphs.”
Danni exhaled, grateful for the dog that was her ice-breaker.
Hat Trick (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee
“We’d like to offer you the position. “
Jane almost drops her phone. Emotions flood her bloodstream: relief, amazement, gratitude – and a whole new nervousness.
She did it. She beat out the younger, fresh-faced, idealistic, just-graduated twenty -somethings. It’s only a file clerk job, but it’s a start. It’s a paycheck.
“Oh, thank you!”
Her mind races over hygiene and wardrobe logistics. Shower at the gym. An outfit for each weekday at the thrift store. She should have just enough money. If she can keep anyone from finding out she’s homeless until she isn’t anymore, that will be the trick.
His back is to me as he casts his flies. Hoppers or nymphs. He’d know; he discerns to the insect hatch. I observe not to plop a reading seat on an ant hill or encounter anything crawling across stones in the creek.
He’s Sgt. Mills, ex-Army Ranger and I’m the buckaroo writer he teasingly calls the Cowardly Cowgirl. He tosses a live grasshopper at my open Kindle and I squeal. He laughs and asks how I’d ever survive in the wilderness. I’d manage. After all, I’m a survivor.
We each have our own kind of toughness. He has physical, mental and moral strength; not someone to be broken. If you’ve ever watched a special forces movie with the proverbial ring-the-bell-to-quit element, know that Ranger Mills never rung the bell. The Army pushed him until it proved he was a soldier with no quit in him. He never quits.
In my wilderness, I know what it is to quit and be broken. My toughness comes from fighting back. There are some bells I’ve never rung — I escaped a family dynamic few ever do. I know to be hopeful, to persevere and to believe in a greater good. I’ve learned that quality of life is worth fighting for and that every individual has a right to his or her full potential. I am empowered.
We both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The gift of surviving; the mechanism itself that allows one to survive.
I’ll advocate for others with PTSD, and even share snippets of my story, but frankly I’m not a fan of labels. While diagnosis can offer insight, I don’t ever want it to be an excuse. When I was first diagnosed 24 years ago, it explained so much. I had a great team of therapists who loaded up my toolbox with ways to cope — emotional reprogramming, art therapy, parenting classes, group therapy. Recently I learned of the Human Givens approach in the UK and although that wasn’t my course of therapy I found several similarities. It starts with awareness.
Yet it I’d be unaware for years about my husband’s PTSD. It wasn’t until a mutual military friend asked for my help with her volunteer service to the Army psych unit at Fort Snelling (in St. Paul, Minnesota). She was using auricular acupuncture in a study to reduce combat stress. I did intake and brought rocks (that’s for another story, one day). Slowly, I began to see patterns in these soldiers that I recognized in my own Ranger Mills. She wasn’t the first person to point to him and PTSD.
I met my best friend Kate the first day of college. We were both writing majors and OTAs– older than average students. Our adviser was a no-show and from day one we looked out for each other. Our bond was instantaneous, but it took the normal paths of trust and disclosure to learn that we both had been diagnosed with PTSD two years earlier. She was married to a combat veteran who was irresponsibly put on medication and pulled off without thought to consequences. In a PTSD fugue state (where he’d wake up in the middle of the night reenacting scenes from Vietnam), he shot himself.
These are hard topics to share; hard for discourse. Many people squirm and change the subject. Yet Kate and I found in each other a friendship that had at its core an understanding of the brain’s survival mechanism. We could discuss symptoms, therapies, studies and stories without censure and feel a peace at knowing what each of us had gone through was familiar.
Kate never came out and said that my husband had PTSD, but she cleverly included him in key conversations over the years that planted a seed in my head. Even after my other friend suggested that my husband reach out to the VA, I never disclosed my thinking to Kate until she was on her deathbed. She nodded. She knew. And that’s when she gave me the second best piece of deathbed advice: “Charli, you go home and tell him, you have his back.”
Simple words soldiers understand.
When in the heat of combat, when my husband jumped into Grenada with 110 pounds in his rucksack and landed with his parachute looking like Swiss cheese from bullet holes, all he fought for was the brother next to him. Not flag and country, not God and humanity, but for the soldier in the same firefight as he. 110 pounds was nothing. He’d easily carry a 175 pound Ranger because not only do they not quit, they don’t leave anyone behind.
I came home from Helena and told Ranger Mills I had his back. He teared up, nodded and choked out a “Thank you.”
His PTSD is unlike mine in a few significant ways. First, I developed PTSD as a child which impaired personality development. He went into the Army mostly developed (18 is young for the male mind which some scientists suggest isn’t completely hardwired until the early 20s). Second, I’ve had a formal diagnosis and therapy. His diagnosis happens tomorrow at a hearing and he hasn’t once been examined by a qualified (or unqualified for that matter) professional. Typically, the VA assigns a diagnosis upon proof of combat service.
I have his back tomorrow. And I know I’m preparing for a fight because I’m going to push against the grain. I don’t believe that Ranger Mills has PTSD from a single point of conflict — the invasion of Grenada. I believe he already had PTSD before he jumped. I believe the Army Ranger School actually triggers the PTSD response and then qualifies those who can use it to become soldiers who don’t quit. Hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal, both symptoms of PTSD, are also traits of the elite soldiers.
The Army trained its Rangers “live” between Vietnam and Desert Storm in conflicts we never heard about in South America. Panama, Nicaragua, the Rangers were essentially the CIAs backup army, but shh, I never told you that. Neither has my husband. He’s loyal to the creed. I found out through a Catholic group (in college) who protested the School of Americas and had stories from nuns and priests in South America that never hit the news. What it does explain is his sustained exposure to PTSD triggering events. Ones the military will never grant him officially. But he has Grenada to count. Officially.
My next fight is against medication. Not once was I medicated until I voluntarily joined a PTSD drug study in the late 1990s. I had already been through my therapy and in control of my triggers for several years when I saw an ad for the study. Thinking I was going to help others, I went through a series of discomforting sessions until I received my second diagnosis of PTSD. Then they gave me pills. I wish I recall what they were; but I know they triggered symptoms I couldn’t control. I quit the meds immediately and the symptoms abated. I told the researchers what happened and it became a footnote in side-effect warnings.
Because of my experience, I don’t believe in medication as a way to cope with PTSD. Already, I think our culture is too quick to believe in the pill-that-solves-all. I’m not saying that drug therapy doesn’t have its place, but it should be either an emergency intervention to stabilize a person or the last tool in the box after trying other non-invasive therapies. In fact, the Journal of Psychiatric Practice posted a review to NOT recommend anxiety medication for PTSD. Had Kate’s husband not been medicated (he had lived with PTSD for over 20 years prior to being medicated), he might have lived to be the one at her side while she battled cancer.
Consider this statistic:
According to the VA, 22 veterans commit suicide each day. This means approximately 8,030 veterans kill themselves every year, more than 5,540 of whom are 50 or older.
Ranger Mills is 52. Tomorrow he gets his diagnosis. I will fight for him to get the best in the VA’s toolbox that doesn’t include medication first. I wonder how many of those veterans who died were offered nothing more than a prescription? They trained this Ranger never to quit. They can train this Ranger to know how to stand down his hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal. They can train him to manage his anger, to allow that civilians do things differently. They can help him with job-training or help him start a business, stand up for him when employers are unfair (his current employer pulled his route from him because he has this appointment tomorrow). I’ll help him communicate tomorrow; I’ll help him with future therapy; I’ll help him understand that PTSD is not a label or stigma.
I have his back.
August 12, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who is called to have the back of another. What circumstances led up to this moment? What are the character motives? Think about the interaction, the setting, the tone. What does it look like to have another’s back?
Sarah’s Deliverer by Charli Mills
He’d hid the kittens Mr. Boots had in the barn. On those nights when coyotes yipped and she felt abandoned on the prairie, Hickok read to her his mother’s letters. Last night, after Cob raged that he’d clean out Rock Creek, Hickok calmed her fear. “I got your back, Sarah,” he said.
Now that Cob had thrown Wellman to the ground, Nancy Jane growled by the door and young Sally whimpered from under the kitchen table. Hickok strode tall and calm from the barn, walked right past Cob.
“Friends, aint’ we Hickok?”
No Cob, it’s my back he has.
Also, I’m going to give you a disclaimer: the process I’m sharing works for me. I don’t expect it to work for everyone. Some of you may be kindred spirits; some of you exact opposites. Wherever you stand, take a stand for your own writing. Try a different way or analyze it; you can improvise, accept or discard.
Okay, I said it. Stop outlining your novel before you write it. And yes, I know that there are outliners and pantsers, but I have always been an outliner. What I’ve found is that you need both skills, but at different times in the process. When I was 13, I outlined my first novel. I’m not going to tell you how many novel journals I’ve outlined since, including two independent projects in college.
However, it was also in college that a professor taught me to write in scenes. I’ve never looked at movies the same way because movies are constructed that way. It’s easier to see the construction in a movie than in a novel, so I’ve studied movie scenes ever since. It’s also how I began to recognize the hero’s journey.
But I didn’t know how to bring it together–outlining, scenes and journey–until I took Mary Carroll Moore’s workshop on book development. That is where I learned to map the hero’s journey to a storyboard. It also provided me with a big “a-ha” moment regarding scenes.
When I took Moore’s class, I was proud of the fact that I had 99 pages including my outline. She was unimpressed. She explained that in order to work the storyboard, you needed material to break down into scenes. So, she had me break down all my pages into scenes.
You see, we tend to write linear and put all the back-story in the front of the book, as if needing to explain what is happening. Outlining is also linear and these processes tend to shut down the creative possibilities.
My professor who taught me to write in scenes also told me to let my characters talk. Whenever I let a character have dialog, I feel like I’m channeling somebody else. I’m not crazy, it’s just that dialog allows me to tap into that creativity stifled by my years of rigid outlining.
And the characters always take the story in a different direction than I intended.
I was beginning to understand what it means when writers advise other writers to “just write.” So stop outlining and write. You might be surprised at what happens. I actually finished two novels in less than one year. Granted, one novel took me four years to get to 99 pages. The next novel, I cranked out 400 pages in less than 30 days with no outline.
I’m going to give you three scenarios for writing a novel scene by scene using the storyboard. The first is based on my introduction to the storyboard. The second reflects how I tossed outlining to the wind. The third is a compromise if not outlining unsettles you. You can improvise, use your own colors and change up the process.
Scenario #1: Incomplete Manuscript with Outline
- Buy a stack of yellow sticky notes, a black pen and a red pen.
- Break down your manuscript into scenes. A chapter is made up of many scenes, so make sure you are breaking down into small chunks.
- Use a pen to line across the page to indicate a scene-break.
- Summarize each scene concisely (such as, “Mindy robs the candy store,” or “Detective Bard books Mindy downtown”).
- Write each scene that you have written in black on a yellow sticky note.
- Refer to your outline and write down each scene that you don’t have in red (next week, we’ll talk more about finding gaps).
- Pick out your most crucial five scenes. These are your anchors that express the hero’s journey. In “Miracle of Ducks” I opened with my character’s husband leaving for Iraq which sets her up–reluctantly–for the hero’s journey.
- Map out your novel according to the “W” and write the “red” scenes that you don’t have yet.
Scenario #2: Use NaNoWriMo to Write Your Novel
- Sign up for National Novel Writing Month at nanowrimo.org.
- Commit to 1,667 words a day for 30 days in November.
- Write. Just write. You will be so surprised! I wrote an entire novel, scene by scene by just writing each day in November and I had no idea what I was going to write beyond my opening scene.
- If that makes you freeze, but you want to break the “outline the whole book first” habit, just start with a single scene the first day. Place the scene on your “W” and think of a couple more possibilities without outlining every chapter. Give yourself the creative freedom to jump around.
- Write scenes as if they were islands. During revision (in a few Mondays from now) we’ll explore using the storyboard to revise. Set yourself free from your inner critic and write. Don’t worry about gaps. That comes later.
Scenario #3: Use the Storyboard to Map the Five Anchors of a Hero’s Journey
- If you can’t breath unless you have some sort of outline, try outlining just the five anchors of the hero’s journey: the call, the test, the cave, the transformation, the return.
- Write a scene for each of those.
- Next, write the scenes that connect each anchor to the other.
Be a writer and write. Give yourself material before you start committing to structure. Structure is the first step of editing, and editing is not writing. Allow yourself to make big mistakes; to not know if your scene is plausible or accurate. That’s research and research is also a part of editing, not writing. Allow yourself to make little mistakes. If you are constantly scanning and going back and correcting punctuation or spelling, you are editing, not writing.
The importance of thinking in scenes is that you are creating a movie of sorts in the reader’s head. You will later link scenes to tell the story in such a way that is engaging. Don’t tell everything. Decide what to withhold, how to pace, when to reveal your character’s motives–but that all comes with revision. Write like the wind; revise slow and bright like a long summer day.
Use your board to track or map your progress as you write scene by scene, and next week we’ll discuss how to use it to find gaps.
How would you use the “W” storyboard to write a novel?
It’s appropriate to begin a discussion on the hero’s journey by quoting the man we now equate with modern understanding of mythology. Joseph Campbell theorized: “all myths are the creative products of the human psyche, that artists are a culture’s mythmakers, and that mythologies are creative manifestations of humankind’s universal need to explain psychological, social, cosmological, and spiritual realities (Joseph Campbell Foundation).”
As a writer, I’m a mythmaker. My private dreams are the stories I want to tell, but I believe that if I can map my story to public mythology, those stories will resonate with readers. I believe that the hero’s journey (coupled with quality writing) is the difference between a mediocre book and a best-seller.
At its most basic explanation, the hero’s journey is a pattern of public dreams that Campbell recognized in myths across multiple cultures. In “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” he writes:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
In 2011, I attended a retreat at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in LaCrosse, WI called, “Awakening the Soul of the Writer.” While the hero’s journey sounds perfect for fantasy or paranormal genres, what that retreat taught me is that we are all everyday heroes. The workshop leaders revealed at the end of our five day retreat that they intentionally led us on the hero’s journey. It was transformative.
The hero’s journey fits any genre, even memoir. But I struggled with matching up the cycle to my progressing novel, “Miracle of Ducks.” Every chart I could find was an arc, linear or a circle. This is the one I studied at the retreat (note that the graph is popular online and cited as public domain):
While it helped me understand how to shape my story, it didn’t help me understand my story’s shape on the page–or 400 of them. Then, in 2012 I quit my career, downsized my possessions and moved in with my eldest daughter and her husband. I was going to finish that novel and live where it was set in Bayfield, WI. As it happened, another writer’s workshop was offered on Madeline Island, across the bay from where I was writing. That’s where I met Mary Carroll Moore and her storyboard.
While trying to make sense of the “W” storyboard that Moore implements to develop a book, I realized that it was a navigable map to the hero’s journey. In fact, Moore teaches in her workshops and book, “Your Book Starts Here,” that the most successful books and films are those that use the ancient three act structure. Furthermore, the three act structure can be adapted to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.
Bingo! This was the storyboard for me!
So, keeping that diagram in mind up above, let’s look at my storyboard in its bare-bones stage:
Moore says that you can use poster board or even tape together multiple (6) pages as I did on Madeline Island:
The idea is to map your book according to three acts and the most significant scenes. We’ll discuss the three act arc more thoroughly in a few weeks. The most significant scenes correlate to the hero’s journey. They are represented on my permanent board as five circles or on my temporary board as blue sticky notes (there are two sticky notes to each circle which represents inner story and outer story which we’ll address with the three act arc).
Each circle, in order from left top, to bottom left, to middle, to right bottom to right top represents the hero’s journey:
- The call: the opening scene in which the hero is called out of the ordinary world. Therefore we need to see the ordinary world, there hero’s attachment to it and thus her refusal to accept the call. We also meet the character who will be the hero’s mentor or a supernatural aid.
- The test: here’s where you (as writer) develop conflict through tests, challenges, temptations, allies and enemies. It’s the beginning of the hero’s transformation.
- The cave: this is the crisis, the hero’s darkest hour where she falls into the abyss of her most extreme ordeal. It’s a place where it feels like the hero has met her end, but is reborn. Her own power or will to live is revealed and she crawls out of the cave.
- The transformation: having survived, the hero is changed and begins the journey home. There are rewards and resurrection as the story heads toward resolution.
- The return: the hero returns to her ordinary world, but is changed. We now see her with the gift or the elixir which is her knowledge of how she’s changed.
Do you better see the map on the W versus the circle? It gets even clearer as we then write scene by scene and place those scenes on the board. And that, will be for next week: Writing a Novel Scene by Scene. Here’s my significant scenes from “Miracle of Ducks”:
A closeup of the opening scene:
As a writer, you are on the hero’s journey. Let me leave you with this final thought from Campbell:
“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
“You should take Mary Carroll Moore’s class on developing a book.” A newly published author offered me this advice in 2012 when I told her I was quitting my day job to finish writing my novel. She took this workshop, published and won a literary award.
Moore teaches in NYC, Minneapolis and on Madeline Island. Of the three places, I actually lived in Minneapolis, but along with quitting my marketing career I was downsizing and moving in with my eldest daughter and her husband. They lived in WI six miles south of where my novel, “Miracle of Ducks,” is set.
Together we would move out west where I’d rejoin my husband who had taken a contract earlier in Idaho. My kids were headed to grad school in neighboring Montana. So I had a blessed but small window of time to actually live where I had imagined my characters.
As serendipity would have it, that setting included Madeline Island. And, Moore was offering her book development class while I’d be living in the area. Of all places–so yes, with my final “real” paycheck, I paid for the workshop.
In order to get to Madeline Island, which is the largest of the Apostle Islands that buffer Chequamegon Bay from Lake Superior’s inland sea, you have to take a 30 minute ferry. The ferry lands at La Pointe which is a significant place to my novel’s protagonist and an ancient community first settled by Ojibwa, French, British and finally American.
Madeline Island School for the Arts (MISA) is about three miles inland from La Pointe. For five days, I ferried my car and drove to MISA while other attendees stayed in cabins. Most were from the East Coast; a few from the Twin Cities; one from England and two from WI. And I was close enough to commute.
Writing workshops are nothing new to me. Like most writers, I value classes, workshops and conventions to learn and meet other people. And, like many writers, when I had a full-time day job I took at least one extended weekend a year to focus on writing. My favorite was in Lacrosse, WI at a Franciscan Spirituality Center where I studied the hero’s journey by living it in a guided retreat.
But, at the rate I was writing, I’d finish my novel in 2050. This leap of faith, this deliberate switch in focus, the whole idea behind quitting a good career, was to remedy that drawn-out process. I couldn’t afford to live on a dream, I had to work it into a reality. So I was trusting that earlier bit of advice to take Moore’s class.
My first day was disappointing. Of 20 attendees I was one of two who had not taken a previous class or joined one of Moore’s online writing communities. I felt like I was the starving writer surrounded by a bunch of rich groupies who could afford to hang out on a remote resort island for a fab lit retreat.
But I was wrong. Yes, these were highly successful people–lawyers, college professors, pilots, business owners–and they were mostly (except for a handful) published authors. I went from feeling like I was the studious writer to feeling last-in-class.
Yet Moore, from what I learned, had no patience with such feelings. She was not like the approachable workshop leaders I had met previously, she was the real-deal: a multi-published author who worked in the industry I hardly knew anything about. I shoved my feelings of inadequacy aside and began to learn what this group already knew.
Moore knows how to develop a book.
If you can’t take her class, buy her book, “Your Book Starts Here.” What I can tell you is that by the end of five days I knew how to write “Miracle of Ducks.” I learned more from this workshop in five days than I did in four years earning a degree in writing.
And it’s all in the storyboard. Now, a storyboard is nothing new. It’s Moore’s understanding of how employ both linear and non-linear thinking, using the storyboard. For me, I knew it was “my” storyboard when I learned that her process mapped the hero’s journey. No matter the genre or topic, I believe that the best stories follow the arc of the hero’s journey.
So this is my back-story (you know, the thing they tell you not to do in a novel). But I felt you needed to know why I believe in this process, how I used it to write my novel and how I’ve adapted it for revision. In fact, I spent my weekend revising the storyboard as a tool for my revision process and I’m excited by the results.
Because I’m revising the next few months, I need a bit of structure. My structure, I hope, will benefit you, too. Each Monday my tip for writers will be about this storyboard process and I how I’ve used and adapted it. This is what you can expect over the next few months and it all involves the storyboard:
- Mapping the Hero’s Journey
- Writing a Novel Scene by Scene
- Finding the Gaps
- Creating a Three Act Arc
- Using NaNoWriMo to Create or Complete Novel Projects
- Novel Project Versus a Novel
- Levels of Editing: When and Why
- Self-Editing, Beta Readers and Professional Editing
- Mapping Revisions
- Annual Progression of Projects
Roughly, this is my documentation of process. Feedback, questions and comments about your process are encouraged. We can all share in the learning together as we write our way to our goals.
Some inspiration from MISA 2012:
I’m just a writer, trying to undo the 9-to-5 rhythms that tethered my body and mind to desk and duty for years. Most of us can recognize the “career path” or “job market.” We make it ordinary by showing up every day with our rituals of Starbucks or bagels in the break room.
We taxi kids throughout each grade as if they are in prep-school for the ordinary world.
And one day I walked away. I resigned the position I loved, but one that had fatigued time from my bones and imagination from my days. Under ordinary circumstances, though, I would have stayed employed forever. I would have sprinkled my suburban yard with sun-gold tomato seeds and left wild places for weeds to harbor bees and butterflies; I would have barbequed brats and swilled canned beer with my neighbor. And called it good…enough…
But I walked away from that. Not kicking and screaming, or trumpeting and heralding, but with sadness and fear. Like a hero, I didn’t answer some call to be a writer. Oh, I wanted to; I longed for it; dreamed of it enough to take annual pilgrimages to writing retreats or conferences. I joined a terrific writers group. I bought books on the craft and I dutifully paid monthly on the student loans that earned me the writing degree that allowed me to work in marketing and management and business communications.
Stories skimmed the surface. They bubbled from time to time, breaking the waters like a turtle searching for a place to bask. I wrote a few starts; a few shorts. I taught my team to write cinquains and I loved the months that it was my turn to lead the writers group in Saturday morning prompts.
I had money, support, stories still in my blood. Why walk away from the ordinary world? After all, it was quite comfortable.
Ah, comfort. The comfort zone. Who wants to enter the abyss or cave–otherwise known as the “supreme ordeal.” Are you kidding me? Ordeal? Let’s not.
And truly that is insight to the not-yet-a-hero character. The ordinary world defines her–or his–comfort zone.
Consider the opening to the epic series, “Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan. The first chapter is about an ordinary world, despite the its opening line, “The Wheel of Time turns, and the Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.” We know it’s going to be an epic, but first we must see how ordinary the one-day-hero is. We see him in a thin cloak with wind gusting at his back; a sheep-herder’s son on the a walk into a very ordinary town. He’s just a common boy, nothing more.
Recently, I watched two movies that are classic hero’s journeys: “Gravity,” and “Captain Phillips.” The first opens up with Sandra Bullock’s character performing an ordinary service, albeit in an extraordinary setting. But she firmly focuses on staying in her comfort zone; she’s just doing a job. She’s an ordinary astronaut, not a maverick. In the second movie, we see Tom Hanks’ character preparing to go to work as a sea-faring cargo captain. He’s talking with his wife, discussing job opportunities for their kids, driving to the airport. He’s just an ordinary guy with a job.
The comfort zone of the ordinary world is what brings magic to the writing of a hero’s journey. Bad things start to happen, mentors show up to help, but we struggle to stay comfortable. Without that ordinary world perspective, we would not understand how transformative the hero’s journey is.
If the hero jumped right into being heroic, there isn’t the growth of tension or the deliverance of the elixir in the end. If we charge out on a white horse and win all the battles, our stories become predictable and ho-hum. But we can each understand what it is to struggle to stay comfortable and ordinary; we can hold our breath as trials and tribulations begin to mount; we can cheer the common sheepherder who emerges the Dragon Reborn.
If I hadn’t had a series of unfortunate events push me from suburban home and secure career, I wouldn’t fully comprehend how incredible it is that I can walk outside my door and see elk romping past in a gang. Then I can fix my coffee, write my words and share stories. It’s become my elixir. It’s not safe–I barely make enough money to get by; I rent this lovely home but it’s not mine; no one promises to publish what I write.
It’s no longer an ordinary world. So consider that when you think you have to open your novel with 100% thrill and action. Set the ordinary first.
And I’d love to hear from any writers about how they have done that! How do you set the ordinary world while hooking the reader into an extraordinary journey?
No more tweaking, second-guessing names, plot and character development. It’s whole, revised and under review. The review I’ve requested from my editor at Write Divas is to assess the hero’s journey. Is it working?
To me, a story’s strength is in nailing the journey of the hero from call to adventure to final transformation. I like stories and I’ve always been drawn to narratives that focus on this age-old cycle. The hero’s journey is what I love to read and tell. It’s what I chose to write.
So, I look for this cycle in all stories whether in books or on the screen. Since it is the beginning of my easy month, I watched a movie this weekend, “Gravity.” And I was delighted to recognize the hero’s journey.
Without spoiling the movie, I’ll just relate a few points. The journey is small compared to “Star Wars.” But that’s the beauty of the archetype; it can be contained in a small story. The setting is vast, of course, as it opens in space with the hero (Sandra Bullock’s character) orbiting earth on a mission to install a piece of engineered hardware.
Her reluctance to accept the call (to adventure) is understood with her ambivalent attitude toward her space walk. She’s there to do a job. Space? Earth below? So what. What follows next is typical–the tensions of challenges, the revelation of a mentor, the approach to the cave.
Ah, the cave. Finding the cave for a character on the hero’s journey can be tricky. The cave is a metaphor for the hero being forced to face what is happening. To be a hero she must first refuse the call. Because the hero refuses the call yet life keeps sending her trouble, the cave becomes that inward reflection of “do or die.” Death isn’t always imminent, but it reflects a major loss if the hero doesn’t become the hero.
In “Gravity,” the cave is literal. Sandra Bullock is tucked up in a small, confined space that all but yelled, “cave!” And she had her most important choices to make in that space. It is a major shift in the progression of the movie.
Reflecting on my own novel, I wonder if I did not enclose my protagonist in her cave as clearly. This thought is a revelation to me and probably what ‘s been nagging at me about my own story. Finding the cave means leaving your character in discomfort (and your reader) until a decision is made. It’s not about plot twists; it’s about character evolution.
Now I realize that I will be using my easy month to reflect on the cave and how I might better define it. Watching movies like “Gravity” that deftly defines the hero’s journey will help.
You’ve probably heard this phrase said another way: write what you know. To be honest with you, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in fiction based on what I know. It stumped me, but only until I learned about a writer’s truth.
In 2011 I went on a retreat held at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, WI along the upper Mississippi River. Sleeping in basic rooms often occupied by nuns or clergy, I committed to a journey called, “Awakening the Soul of the Writer.” At that time my fledgling novel manuscript consisted of a few scenes and I knew that I needed a break from my busy career to just focus on writing.
What I learned that week in retreat was that not only are my characters on a hero’s journey in their story, but as the writer, I’m also taking that same journey into transformation. We think we change the writing, but truly writing changes us. And how it changes us depends upon how deep we are willing to write into our truths.
On retreat, we took a riverboat tour on the Mississippi. We were instructed to observe and write. Watching a tiny spider in her web, I realized that her carefully crafted silk was knitted to paint and steel. When I shared my observation with my fellow writers, I had a huge epiphany. It wasn’t so much that truth resided in facts or that my writing was purely brain activity, it was how I perceived the world that gave me my own truth.
Think about your creativity a moment.
That creativity sparks when we engage with the simplest things around us, like a spider. Our truth is what it means to us, what we have to say about it. Suddenly, I realized that I could speak truth simply by paying attention to life all around me. That realization breathed new life into my writing; I felt connected. I had found my voice.
Driving home, the world looked different to me. Suddenly, my camera was fun again. It had become a point of frustration because I felt critical of my lack of technical skill with a camera. But the truth is, I don’t see with the aperture and other settings; I see with my writer’s eye for stories. I felt free to take pictures as a writer; I no longer had to be a photographer. Some of my best photos came from that trip home.
Use your own truth, your observations, experiences and natural settings to enrich the worlds and characters that you write about. Weave a web of words that can only come from you and connect with readers through simple truths as you connect silk to steel. Go into your writing willing to discover who you are, and accepting the writer that will emerge.
Next Monday, I’ll focus on crafting a writer’s statement as a way to empower your writing commitment.
© Image by Charli Mills from After the Retreat