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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Writing Lesson: The Hero's Journey

Talking to DD about her fantasy race across the desert, we got to talking about the kind of "rules" the participants would have to follow and how they would have enough adventures getting from point a to b to keep the story moving through an entire novel. That got us discussing the Hero's Journey.

Perhaps the most famous journey is that of Frodo in Lord of the Rings. But it is by no means the first nor only famous journey. The basic elements are that the Hero has a task to fulfill on which depends the doom of civilization. Or in some instances, simply the winning of fair maiden. There is some symmetry in that. On the way to accomplish this seemingly impossible task, the hero--often but not always a reluctant participant--encounters many obstacles or detours that are designed to keep him from his goal. Each of these he overcomes, learning about himself and becoming in some ways stronger until at last he faces a final challenge that seems to overwhelm him, but which he is victorious over nonetheless.

Funny, but the story is repeated in literature over and over, and elements are found in a fair share of television drama and comedy.

But the question DD and I were contemplating was "How do you make up a sufficient number of ever-increasingly treacherous circumstances to make the story of the Hero meaningful?"

Well, back in the 70s, there evolved the phenomenon of role-playing games spearheaded by the incredible "Dungeons & Dragons." In each game, a dungeon-master would write the circumstances and throw them at the players letting them act out the response and the success of their response. They used dice to determine how strong they were, what their skillsets would be, how effective their attacks would be.

This same process began gradually seeping into literature. A lot of fantasy books have been written that could have been played on a board. But you still have to come up with the obstacles. Will they be attacked by Orcs? Become lost in the Mines of Morah? Be betrayed by a member of their party? Be ensnared by Shelob's webs? Will their way be blocked by an enemy? Landslide? Wild beasts? Mountains? In NanoWrimo the most common is the group plot ninja. Everybody work a rubber duck into their story now.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but most of all, will the resulting adventure be believable enough that we are interested in reading to the end?

I want to mention a second form of Hero's Journey that helps to give structure. In this story, there are not simply random obstacles that are tossed in the way of the Hero. He actually has multiple tasks to accomplish. He has to gather together all three of the Deathly Hallows, or destroy all six of the horcruxes. And in the process, the one thing that the Hero depends upon and believes he needs in order to fulfill his mission is taken from him. Always the hero discovers a hidden talent, a common object, a new weapon that enables him to complete the ultimate task. Typically a combination of these two will move a story into an exciting realm that you can't put down.

So the advice here, in order to get your Hero story moving this fall, is to collect in advance a series of problems that the Hero will have to overcome, and a series of tasks he or she will have to perform in order to get to the end of the story.


I've been referring to The Writer's Journey as I've been replotting my MG fantasy novel--tremendously helpful!
It's funny how our own journey's often parallel those of our characters.