You know how much I love story structure, right? I mean, if you can give me a template for how to put a story together, I’m all over it. Last time I talked about how Dramatica has added to my structural game by showing me how to incorporate throughlines and signposts in my work, melding them with my beloved Three Act Structure to fill in some of the gaps left in the method when planning a model.
Well, after I figured out how to make the story structure map work for me, I realized there was still plenty of room for error. I had long, long gaps between markers which left me with four basic parts to fill. While knowing the structure helped me put stuff where it belongs and told me what was missing, I didn’t have a sound method for filling in the long gaps. I had, in short, margin for error which I didn’t like.
So, I set out to see if there were more ways to do this. What I found was a reference to something called the Hero’s Journey. It goes by many names, but apparently Chris Vogler read a book by someone who’d studied myths and stories from around the world. He developed something he called “The Monomyth” or “Universal Story,” which essentially is the basic structure of every story ever told. From fairy tales to epic poems, Mother Goose to Doctor Seuss, War and Peace to Star Wars, all of ‘em used this map.
Initially, I was skeptical. Then I got hold of James Scott Bell’s masterful book, Plotting and Outlining, and he mentioned this Hero’s Journey method too. He also demonstrated how it fit directly into the Three Act Structure. And that, my friends, turned the light on for me. I had to have it.
So I got it. And I made a template. Literally. A Microsoft Word template, more precisely, and while I worked away on my last novel, I took time to outline my next novel using this method.
My beloved wife and I sat down and read the description of each segment of the Hero’s Journey. Not all of them, of course, applied to me. Some I could leave out. This, Chris Vogler maintains, is the strength of it. Use what you need, discard what you don’t.
Turns out, it was pretty easy. The explanations were clear. Before we knew it, we had an entire book outlined with brief descriptions of each of the segments. I tucked that outline away, pleased as punch with it, and turned it recently. In fact, I revisited that outline because it’s time to write that book.
So I pulled it out, but I’ve really been on this Dramatica kick because of the depth it can bring to a story. Thinking about the throughlines and signposts, I decided to tuck this Hero’s Journey outline into the Dramatica theory methodology and see if I could amalgamate the two.
But there wasn’t any need. At least, not with this book. When I filled in the Dramatica template – yes, literal template I’d made in Bryce’s amazing Text Tree program – I found the Story Goal, Signposts and Throughlines were already there. I just needed to identify them as such, and put them in place. I did that, but it was really just an exercise for me in translating one method to another.
Dramatica’s additional throughline thoughts will help me deepen the characters and bring out some of their traits, but honestly, it’s not necessary. The Hero’s Journey put everything in its place. I couldn’t have been more excited.
So now, I have multiple ways of breaking a story down, but from now on, I start with a Story Goal (duh!) and work through the Dramatic method, then move to the Hero’s Journey for the actual outline. And rather than do it in separate programs and moving them together, I’m going to do it all in Scrivener for Windows (probably), even though I have other writing software I’d like to use and try. (Scrivener’s organizational features are ideal for this, but Word 2010 or OneNote would do it too.)
So, I come up with a Story Goal. I determine the consequences of the Story Goal, then the requirements, the costs, dividends, forewarnings, preconditions, prerequisites, etc. Then develop the plot summary, and then put in the throughlines. Then plug it all into the Hero’s Journey template, and voila! I’m ready to write.
Or continue outlining. Which, you know, is sort of fun.
Thanks for following along. Hope you liked it as much as I did.