What is The Writer’s Journey?

At last! We get to talk about Story!* Together, we get to examine the threads that, when woven together, form some of the most memorable and awe-inspiring stories that we know. I really want this to be an interactive series, so each post will end with a question. I can’t wait to hear from you! This is exciting stuff, folks!

And yet I know what some of you are thinking right now: “I’m not a published writer. This series will not interest or benefit me in the least.” Au contraire, mon ami. You will indeed enjoy this series if you can answer any of the following questions in the affirmative:

Are you even remotely interested in writing?
Do you enjoy reading when you have the time?
Do you love to watch a good movie?
Have you ever gotten hooked on watching a show?
Have you ever felt betrayed when a movie, book, or show turned from interesting to boring, unbelievable, manipulative, or confusing?
Are you still reading this article?

If you answered, “Yes!” to any of those questions, then this is a series that you’ll really enjoy. Just trust me and give it a shot.

The Writer’s Journey

So! Down to business. What is this book that I’m going to be discussing, and what’s it about? The book is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.
“But hey! You told me this wasn’t just for writers!”
Pipe down over there. I’m getting to that part.

Anyway, this book is heavily influenced by an older book by Joseph Campbell called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s book organized and discussed the various components that are common to all great stories throughout history. He created what is called “The Hero’s Journey,” an organization of plot points and motifs that show up in myths, epics, the subconscious, and stories. It was a very important, ground-breaking book. I didn’t like it very much.**

So Vogler read this book by Campbell, was changed by it forever, and then wrote The Writer’s Journey as a modern version of those same concepts. Basically, if you’re only going to read one of those books, make it The Writer’s Journey, especially if you’re not sure you really love literary theory, archetypes, and the monomyth.

Tolkien’s The Hobbit

Wait! Don’t go! I promise not to say things like “archetype” and “monomyth” in the same sentence again for a long time. Instead, let’s talk about The Hobbit. In this series, I plan to look at the 12 stages of The Hero’s Journey and then apply them to the plot of Tolkien’s delectable little book, The Hobbit. Notice that I had to differentiate from Peter Jackson’s movie version of The Hobbit. They are unrelated except that they both have a Bilbo, a dragon, and a ring. If you haven’t read the book but you’ve seen the movies, that’s ok! You’ll know enough to track along with me. Just plan to be a little surprised now and then by how the real story goes. (Spoiler alert: as hot as that elf chick is, she’s not even in the book.)***

In conclusion, I hope to give you helpful summaries, personal opinions, and relatable examples. And in return, I really do hope you’ll give me feedback. Let me know what you find useful, controversial, irrelevant, or intriguing. Ask me questions! Share your opinion! Pass this on to a friend who might enjoy it too! And don’t forget to answer the question at the end of each post.

So, as a teaser, I’ll leave you with the mere titles of the 12 stages of The Hero’s Journey, and next time we’ll look at the first stage together. I can’t wait!

The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Ordinary World
Call to Adventure
Refusal of the Call
Meeting with the Mentor
Crossing the First Threshold
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Approach to the Inmost Cave
The Ordeal
Reward/Seizing the Sword
The Road Back
Resurrection
Return with the Elixir

Let the journey begin!

Your question: Think of one story (book, movie, show, myth, whatever) that you’ve really enjoyed. What is it, and what do you like about it?

Ready for more? Check out Stage One: The Ordinary World now!

Sources:

  • Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Second Edition. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine Books, 1937.

 

If you’re not sick of me yet, you can check out the asterisk footnote section below!

*I’m capitalizing the word Story here to differentiate it from the common noun that could refer to any ol’ story in particular. When I capitalize it, I won’t be talking about a story; I’ll be discussing Story—the concept, the topic, the art itself. Hope that helps. If it doesn’t, then just pretend I’m an older British writer. They seemed to capitalize words on a whim.

**In my very humble and outnumbered opinion, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces may leave you disoriented and bemired in the bogs of psychology. In his defense, the psychological ideas of Freud and Jung were still fairly novel and cutting edge when Campbell published his book in 1945, but I felt that The Hero would have been more helpful to me personally if it had spent less time mucking about in the subconscious. Granted, that’s a big part of what Campbell was trying to prove with his book: that the archetypes in our stories are intrinsic to human nature regardless of time or culture because they are based in our subconscious. There. Now you don’t have to read his book. Instead, just get Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, which takes all of Campbell’s ideas and makes them more accessible and relevant. You may now commence lambasting me for this opinion in the comments section.

***Am I getting carried away with these asterisks? Yes, definitely. But I wanted to make sure you knew how much I LOVED Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies! I think that’s why I was so disappointed when I watched his version of The Hobbit. I forgive you, Peter Jackson, but only because your first trilogy was so splendid.

 

10 Comments on “What is The Writer’s Journey?

  1. I have to say Harry Potter honestly. That will forever be one of the greatest stories I have ever read. You would kill me if I told you I haven’t really thought about why I love it so much. ( I’m sorry mrs)
    I think it just sets up a world and story that I would love to live in and be a part of. Now that I’m thinking about it, I will spend some time thinking in depth about the series and why I love it so much

    PS
    The hot chick made that Hobbit movie good 😉

    • Hey, I won’t shame you for not knowing exactly what you love about Harry Potter. I feel the same way. If you’ll pardon my pun, that’s the magic of the series. 😀 Maybe my upcoming posts on The Writer’s Journey will help us both think through how Rowling managed to accio the hearts of so many muggles.
      PS: That hot chick was hot. That’s the most I can say about it.

      • I’m glad to hear it! You won’t regret it. It’s thorough, helpful, and full of examples.

  2. Well I guess the one story that I enjoy the most isn’t The Flash comics! That’s a surprise if you know me. Although I do love them. I would have to say that I really enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia. Although I’m a weak fan in that I haven’t read all the books. I’ve read the Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Growing up I remember watching the BBC tv series of Narnia, and it was awesome to watch as a kid. It really captured me and as a kid into the world of Narnia. And now that I’ve actually read some of Lewis’ books his writing style is amazing. What’s amazing to me is that some how he captures readers of all ages and brings his imagination down to earth and makes it tangible for us. He goes the extra length to make sure you get what he’s saying, but without being too wordy. He uses just the right amount of words. Back to Narnia, I guess what inspires me about it is the rich contrast of Darkness vs. Light/Evil vs. Good/Right vs. Wrong. It’s such an amazing contrast to the world we live in. Narnia was waiting to be restored by Aslan and the whole world and it’s people longed for Aslan to return and do that. So as a Christian I can’t help but relate that to what Jesus did for us. The world of Narnia also has fun characters that shouldn’t work in the same story but they do, a great lion, a witch, and Father Christmas! It’s a beautiful story and can be read over and over again.

  3. And just in case you felt obligated to choose a very impressive literary selection in your comment, don’t! I’ll tell you that my favorite movie story is “You’ve Got Mail.” It’s funny, nuanced, and well-done. I think what makes it one of my favorite movie stories is that it is kind of a tribute to (or retelling of) Pride and Prejudice. They reference the book several times so that you don’t miss the similarities, even though I missed the similarities for a long time. I love the dynamic between Kathleen Kelly, the quaint, small-businessy, literary lady, and Joe Fox, the arrogant, rich, hopeless romantic in disguise. I love the use of seasons to show the emotional and personal progress of the characters. Also, Meg Ryan is just so cute. So next time you watch it, picture the evolution of the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and look for other reasons that it’s a great story!

    • “You’ve Got Mail” has been my parents’ favorite rom-com for as long as I can remember – so much so that I could quote half the movie before I ever saw it myself. And it is extraordinarily clever (and, in my biased, masculine opinion, Joe Fox was still a lot more right about Pride & Prejudice and You’ve Got Mail is way better :P)

      • Haha! I do love Pride and Prejudice, but I think you’re right in believing that You’ve Got Mail has much more universal appeal these days.

  4. Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ is probably one of my favorite collections of stories. He takes the comic medium to a whole new level. It was the first comic I can remember getting into for more than just the artwork. The stories are riveting, and Gaiman seamlessly pulls in so many different genres (fantasy, horror, history, mythology, folklore, etc.) to create a backdrop for his original cast of characters. I highly recommend camping out at the local Barnes and Noble for a couple days if you can’t find them at your local library. There are 10 volumes in the original run, each with really unique short story arcs that are entertaining in and of themselves, but also move the big picture forward to a pretty amazing climax by the last volume. My personal favorite is Volume 4, ‘Seasons of Mist’. Forewarning: this is mature content, not something I would recommend to teens or my grandma for light reading.

    • Wow! Even though my husband is very comic-y, I hadn’t even thought about enjoying a comic series for its plot! That’s awesome to know. I listened to Gaiman’s retelling of Norse mythology and browsed a bit of “American Gods,” but I may check out “Season of Mist” when I grow up! 😉 I’ve heard good things about this author, so I’m sure his comics are no exception. Thanks for posting, Ben!

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