December 31, 2010

happy new year!

Seeing as I am still sick, my brain has yet to pick up to optimal cognitive functioning capability. In lieu of a somewhat educational post, I say only this:


Raise your glass to a productive (and healthy) 2011.

And enter my contest by midnight tonight, or you are full of fail.

December 30, 2010

looking to 2011

While I wait ever so patiently for the New Year to get here, I’ll throw out another post of me rambling about things. I need to take a break from all those helpful posts I put up over the past three months and give you guys some garbage to munch on. Also, I’m sick with who knows what, so I don’t really feel like thinking today. I have to conserve my energy for writing later.

Non-writing things I’m looking forward to next year…

December 29, 2010

instinctive editing

Today's wisdom comes from my experience with editing manuscripts, whether they be my drawer full of half-finished novels, or those few short stories I write every once in a while.

When in doubt, cut it out (or, more positively, go with your gut feeling).

Now, this isn't to say hold the delete button over paragraphs that you aren't sure about. When you're going over your rough draft, and something doesn't feel right, take that word/sentence/paragraph/scene/chapter and move it to a blank document. Delete it from your original draft, and analyze the story again without it. Nine times out of ten, the story is better off. On the other hand, sometimes, what you've taken out needs to be woven into the story elsewhere, because it is an important part of your story, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You'll usually have a gut feeling about these parts of your story, but you'll be scared to change anything, to cut anything, because you just worked so darn hard on it.

December 28, 2010

what i learned this year

Since we’re coming to the end of the year, I thought I’d share the things I learned about writing over the past twelve months. Feel free to share your learning experiences from this year in the comments.

Stowing away a freshly finished first draft for a month (or five) really does help with revisions.
I don’t think I looked away from my manuscript for more than a few days when I first finished it. I revised immediately, and at that point, I nearly had the story memorized word for word. Once I started querying (and getting absolutely no interest), I thought that maybe it just wasn’t what those particular agents were looking for. I thought I had a great story… just no one else recognized its amazingness. Meet December, the five month anniversary of my finished manuscript. I took a hard look at my story and realized that it didn’t need just minor revisions; it needed an entire rewrite. It needed to be restructured and refocused. I started on that. Would you believe that it already feels like the story I intended to write?

December 27, 2010

2011 debut author challenge

Through my lovely friend Amanda, I found out about the 2011 Debut Author Challenge. The objective is to read at least twelve Young Adult or Middle Grade novels by the end of the year. The books must be the author’s debut with a release in 2011. Here’s my list, to be read and have a review posted as I read them.

TIGER'S CURSE – Colleen Houck (1/11)

TIMELESS – Alexandra Monir (1/11)

I AM J – Cris Beam (3/1)

KAT, INCORRIGIBLE – Stephanie Burgis (4/12)

ENCLAVE – Ann Aguirre (4/12)

ALICE-MIRANDA AT SCHOOL – Jaqueline Harvey (4/12)

RUBY RED – Kerstin Gier (5/10)

ASHES, ASHES – Jo Treggiari (6/1)

POSSESSION – Elena Johnson (6/7)

SIRENZ - Charlotte Bennardo & Natalie Zaman (6/8)

BAD TASTE IN BOYS – Carrie Harris (7/12)

THE PRINCESS CURSE – Merrie Haskell (9/6)

There are a few others I may read, but these are the ones that I will definitely read and review. Dare to join the challenge?

December 23, 2010

the hero's journey - return with the elixir

So we’ve come to the end of it at last. It’s been a fun few weeks getting the Hero’s Journey organized for you all. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and I hope you’ve learned a bit too. The last stage in the Hero’s Journey is the Return with the Elixir.

Having survived all the ordeals, the heroes leave the Special World. Sometimes, they begin a new journey, and other times, they go home, but in both cases, they are leaving this adventure behind them and starting anew. The proceed with a sense that they are starting a new life, one much different that their previous one. The reason the stage is named Return with the Elixir is because of the idea that for the adventure to have meant anything at all, the hero must return with something from the Special World, proof that he actually partook in the journey.

December 22, 2010

holiday contest!

In lieu of wisdom, I offer you a contest!

Now, this one isn’t going to be as easy as the last one (just kidding… yes it is), but the prize is still the same:

Any book under $20 from The Book Depository!
(you may choose more than one book as long as the total is under $20)

Here are the rules:

You must be a follower of either my blog or Twitter (new or old)
You must comment on this post, and your comment must include:
  • your hopes for next year
  • a link to the book you want

December 21, 2010

the hero's journey - resurrection

We’re coming to the end of it. The hero is on his way home, on his way toward a new adventure, just on his way somewhere. Now comes one of the trickiest and most challenging passages for the hero, and for the writer. For the story to feel complete, the audience needs to experience an additional moment of death and rebirth. This is the climax. The first half of the story may have been building to a particular moment of seizing the sword, but in all reality, this is the point of the story where everything comes together and confronts the hero with the last and most dangerous ordeal. Heroes have to undergo a final purging and purification before returning to the Ordinary World. They must be resurrected.

Just as heroes had to shed their old selves to enter the Special World, they must shed the self that has been on this grand adventure and take on a new persona suitable for the Ordinary World. This new self should reflect the best parts of the old self and incorporate the lessons learned on the adventure. The idea of this last death-and-rebirth moment is to see if the hero retained what he learned from the Supreme Ordeal near the middle of the story. To learn something in a Special World is one thing. To bring the knowledge home and apply it is another thing entirely.

December 20, 2010

the hero's journey - the road back

Continuing on with the Hero’s Journey (it should be wrapped up by Thursday), today we’ll go into Stage Ten, The Road Back. The hero has seized the sword, saved the princess, and defeated the evil warlord. He now faces a choice: to remain in the Special World, or begin the journey home to the Ordinary World.

The Special World has its charms, but few heroes choose to stay there. Should the hero choose to stay, the story ends in the last stage, once the hero has claimed his reward. Most heroes take the Road Back and leave the world of adventure. This stage marks a time when heroes rededicate themselves to the adventure. It is another turning point in the story, where the goal of the adventure changes from seizing the sword to returning home safely. 

December 17, 2010

the hero's journey - reward

Now that the hero has defeated the villain (or somewhat), he must reap the Reward, Stage Nine of the Hero’s Journey. The Reward isn’t always that, something positive. This stage deals with the consequences of surviving death. Encountering death is a big event. There will almost always be a period of time in which the hero is recognized or rewarded for having survived death or a great ordeal.

It’s a time for celebration. They’ve killed the baddie, and now they can enjoy their fruits of victory. Strength is needed for the return journey, so the Reward may be a time for rest, recuperation, and refueling. The heroes may brag about what they’ve done, relieved that the worst is over. It’s also a time for reflection. Having crossed into that strange territory of death, the hero can never be the same. For the reader, these scenes allow a moment for them to catch their breath after the ordeal. It is also a good time to get to know the characters better, and understand them more emotionally.

December 16, 2010

the hero's journey - the ordeal

So here’s the biggie.

Everything in the story so far has led up to this point, Stage Eight of the Hero’s Journey: The Ordeal. The hero stands in the deepest chamber of the Inmost Cave, facing the greatest challenge and the most fearsome opponent yet. He has prepared for this moment, and he is ready for the struggle to come.

The Ordeal has a single, specific function: death and rebirth. Certainly you don’t want to kill off your main character. He’s made it this far, and we, the readers, have been rooting him on from the beginning. He just can’t die… or can he? (Imagine me with a bulging eye and a raised eyebrow here… in fact, make it a unibrow worthy of Count Olaf). 

December 15, 2010

blog promotion

This should be a no-brainer seeing as you are reading this right now, but…

Read (and Comment on) Writing Blogs.

You don’t have to read every single one, but take it from me, I’ve learned more about the writing industry and writing itself in the past six months of reading blogs than I did in college. I should have started reading blogs years ago, but I was slow to enter the blogosphere, slow to enter the world outside of the people that I knew personally. I did it finally, and I’m glad that I did.

December 14, 2010

the hero's journey - approach to the inmost cave

Now that the hero has made friends, ruffled a few feathers of the enemy, and has learned what exactly he needs to do, he has to go do it. Stage Seven of the Hero’s Journey is the Approach to the Inmost Cave.

Structurally, it comes right after Tests, Allies, Enemies. However, that does not mean that as soon as the hero passes through the inn, that he should dive straight into the heart of enemy territory. As the writer, you have the right to allow yourself space and “creative license” to make these stages what you want them to be. As always, this structure is not rigid. You can follow it step by step, word for word, but you don’t have to. Also, the Approach doesn’t have to take only a page or so. The Approach is a journey. The hero is on his way, and a lot can happen between here and there.

December 13, 2010

the hero's journey - tests, allies, enemies

Once the hero has crossed the Threshold into the Special World of adventure, he will encounter the fifth stage of the Hero’s Journey: Tests, Allies, Enemies.

The hero is finally in the mysterious and exciting Special World. He has committed to adventure. He has (most of) the necessary tools and knowledge to survive. He is ready to face the unknown.

If you remember the first stage of the Hero’s Journey (the Ordinary World), you’ll remember that I explained that there needs to be a high contrast between the Ordinary and Special Worlds. The reader, who has seen the Ordinary World in all its un-glory, now experiences the Special World. Their impression of this new place should differ greatly from the Ordinary World. Where the Ordinary was mundane, everyday, and quite boring, the Special must be exhilarating, exciting, and unusual. Even if the hero remains in the same locale, there should be some sort of movement, a change in tension and energy. Usually a new emotional or psychological world is unveiled. The Special World has a different feel to it.

December 10, 2010

the hero's journey - crossing the first threshold

Up to this point, the hero has avoided entering the Special World of the Hero’s Journey. Now he stands at the Threshold to the world of adventure. He has heard the Call. He has doubted himself. He has prepared for what is ahead. Everything until now has led to this point, the most critical moment in the beginning of a story, where the hero commits wholeheartedly to the adventure.

Oftentimes, the hero’s final commitment is brought about by an external force which changes the course or intensity of the story. They generally don’t just accept the Mentor’s gifts and charge on ahead. There has to be one finally kick in the rear to get them going. Crossing the First Threshold is also known as the “plot point” or the “turning point” of traditional structure. The actual moment may last seconds, or it could take an entire chapter to unfold.

December 9, 2010

the hero's journey - meeting with the mentor

Stage Four of the Hero’s Journey sort of meshes with Stage Three and Five. Sometimes the structure of a story, even if it follows the Hero’s Journey model, doesn’t have distinct stages. They flow (which they should!), and feed off one another. The Refusal of the Call weaves in with Meeting with the Mentor, which weaves into Crossing the First Threshold. For sake of explaining each stage, they have to be categorized and separated.

Meeting with the Mentor usually happens around the time of the Call to Adventure, or the Refusal of the Call. As I said Tuesday, sometimes the Refusal of the Call is not a bad thing. Sometimes, the hero needs to prepare for the journey ahead. In most of mythology, the preparation is done with the aid of the wise, protective figure of the Mentor, who will guide, train, teach, or test the hero to see if he is really ready for the unknown adventure that awaits. It is this stage of the Hero’s Journey in which the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence to commit to the adventure and leave all fear and doubt behind.

December 8, 2010

take risks with writing

I sort of covered this in a post back in October, but I thought I'd reiterate today.

The common saying is "write what you know." I call bull crap. I've had several people tell me over the years that I wasn't ready to be published because I didn't have enough life experience, that it would take years before I would have enough suffering and conflict to put into stories, that I just wasn't old enough. Monkey doo.

Take that "write what you know" horse manure and fertilize your flower pots. We're writers. We have the capacity to dream up worlds and characters that have no place in our everyday world. Was J.K. Rowling a student at Hogwarts before she wrote Harry Potter? No. Did H.G. Wells build a time machine and travel to a far off future? No. Did Robert A. Heinlein fight in the Bug Wars before he wrote Starship Troopers? No. Well, H.G. Wells might have actually done that, but who's to know for sure?

December 7, 2010

the hero's journey - refusal of the call

Once the Call of Adventure has sounded, the problem of the hero becomes how to respond to it. It’s a difficult passage. The hero is being asked to journey into the unknown, into an adventure that will be both exciting and dangerous. As the hero is prepares to undertake a great adventure, the Ordinary World knows somehow and clings to the hero. The hero’s home holds him in the safety of its ordinariness. Countless distractions tempt the hero away from the threshold of the journey.The hero may be afraid, or hesitate before the threshold, which is only natural.

This halt is known as the Refusal of the Call, Stage Three of the Hero's Journey. The hero may hesitate for only seconds, or he may try to reject the call altogether. The purpose of the Refusal is to signal to the reader that the adventure is risky, that it’s not going to be easy for the hero. By crossing that threshold, the hero enters shark-infested waters, and those sharks have lasers on their heads.  The hero might lose companions, treasure, or his own life. The pause makes the commitment to the adventure a choice, even if it doesn’t really seem like a choice.

December 6, 2010

the hero's journey - call to adventure

Continuing with the series on the Hero’s Journey, I introduce to you the Call to Adventure, stage two of the mythic structure. You can link to the other stages from the introduction page.

As I said last week, the Ordinary World of the story is static and boring, but also unstable. The need for change and growth is due, and the hero only needs a small something to get him off his lazy butt and into an adventure. That something is the Call to Adventure.

Other terms for the Call to Adventure are inciting incident, initiating incident, catalyst, or trigger. It’s ultimately the plot device that gets the story rolling once the main character has been introduced.

December 3, 2010

the hero's journey - ordinary world

Well, because I want to, I’m going to continue my discussion on the Hero’s Journey. I’ve got it mapped out to where I’ll finish the day before Christmas Eve, so most of December will be devoted to the Hero’s Journey. I’ll keep my Wednesday Wisdom going, as well as a contest at the end of the month, so you have that to look forward to!

Yesterday, I posted an introduction to the Hero’s Journey, quickly summarizing each step. Starting today, and running nearly until the end of the month, I’m going to go in detail with each stage – twelve in all – and share what the book says as well as my own opinions on the matter. You’ll notice that this deals a lot more with the writing craft than the archetypes series. As always, feel free to ask questions, and I’ll be happy to answer to the best of my ability.

December 2, 2010

the hero's journey - introduction

So, I'm considering another series, one on The Hero's Journey, since the series on archetypes was rather successful. It definitely made my blogging topic each day a lot easier! For now, I'll give a short rendition of what the Hero's Journey is, and then, maybe, I'll go more in depth some other day, maybe tomorrow. Let me know in the comments if you want me to continue immediately, or if you want a bit of a breather.

I could easily expand on this topic, because I feel like the Hero's Journey provides a great skeleton for writing fiction. My first novel somewhat follows this structure, and so does my current work in progress.

Without embarking on an adventure, the protagonist of a tale is just an ordinary person, but by partaking in the Hero's Journey, the protagonist evolves into a hero, someone who has traveled to the unknown and returned with treasures. Therefore, the journey is the most important aspect of a story. Without it, the protagonist cannot reap the benefits of a successful quest, but by accepting the call to adventure, the protagonist begins his journey into the unknown. He has taken the first step on the familiar winding road of the Hero's Journey.

The Hero's Journey was first dissected and organized by Joseph Campbell, explained in his book The Hero with A Thousand Faces. Campbell used examples from mythology to support the universal structure that he uncovered. Many years later, Christopher Vogler, a story analyst for Hollywood, took Campbell's work and revised it in The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. If the titles are familiar, it's because I based my entire archetypes series on them. Vogler simplified Campbell's terms and omitted some of the stages while keeping close to the original sequence of events that Campbell outlined. I'll be using Vogler's terminology and figures.

The Hero's Journey is not a formula. It is an evolving form of writing that can conform to an individual's style and needs for a story. The outline Vogler presents is not an exact structure that needs to be followed. Steps can be removed and revised to fit a writer's tale.

The Hero's Journey consists of twelve stages:

This stage acts as a comparative background to the special world the hero is about to enter, making the special world "unordinary" to what the hero is used to.

The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure to undertake.

This is where the hero shows reluctance and uncertainty.

The Mentor archetypal character encourages or prepares the hero for the upcoming journey.

The hero commits to the adventure and fully enters the Special World of the story.

The hero encounters new challenges and tests, makes allies and enemies, and learns the rules of the Special World.

The hero comes to the edge of a dangerous place, where the quest object is hidden and he must prepare before moving forward.

The hero faces the possibility of death.

The hero takes possession of the treasure he has been seeking.

The hero deals with the consequences of confronting the dark forces of the Ordeal.

A second life-or-death moment, where the dark forces have one last go at the hero.

The hero returns to the Ordinary World with the treasure.

That's it in a nutshell.

Now I have my own quibbles about this structure, but that's okay. It's not meant to be a rigid formula. You can alter, add, or remove steps to fit your own needs. The Hero's Journey is a skeletal framework that should be fleshed out with the details and surprises of the individual story. The structure should not call attention to itself, nor should it be followed too precisely.

Again, let me know if you'd like me to go more in depth right away. I'd be happy to! I am really passionate about the Hero's Journey, and I could easily go on forever about it. So let me know in the comments!

December 1, 2010

write with feeling

I'm an optimist to the ninth power. I believe in the power of positive thinking and dreaming and goal setting, but there is a time and a place and a limit to what these things can do. You can dream about becoming as famous as Stephen King. You can set a goal to be a best-selling author by age twenty-two (I only have two months in that case!). You can envision the movie version of your book, what the cover art might look like, if it will ever be banned, and if the President will endorse it. That's all fine and dandy, as long as you don't let the dreaming take over the reality. Nathan Bransford has a good post about dreams and expectations.