Newbie Writer: Epic Writer Journey

It’s a series on Advice to Newbie Writers. This will last a while. Enjoy.

Advice to Newbies ~ Live and Learn

Herewith is the next part of my response to a Newbie Writer’s concerns. (See the 9/1 post to read her email. Names are changed to protect the innocent.) In the 9/5 post, I started with my FIRST and SECOND guidance based on her first paragraph of her email, offered in an abridged version as the 9/1 post.

My response has four major sections. Here’s the THIRD. (And I probably should have divided this one–it is close to 1,000 words, but every part is so connected to the whole body that it is a crime to slash and dissect.)


Plotting can be difficult.

No, I am not talking about the process (plotter / pantster / puzzler.

I am talking about NOVEL STRUCTURE.

And finding a novel structure that works for you will be your own Epic Writer Journey.

About 15 years ago I discovered Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey (you can pick up a new or used copy, both relatively inexpensively) $4.00 at this site

Vogler’s work is based on Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”. Here is an explanatory LINK ~

Frankly—and I am totally serious—the character arc of the Hero’s Journey is what the Beats formula and everything else is based upon.

I found that this story arc offers the best “plotting” method for me. I view this structure as both literal and figurative and make it mesh with other writing elements that I have learned. This is what I now use.

When I explore other structures now (see 7/15 blog), I see their weaknesses based on this Hero’s Journey as well as where those structures actually follow this rather than inventing something new.

The glory of the 12-Stage Writer’s Journey is that it fits every genre out there. That’s because it is “mythic” in that it follows the story structures our human brains are conditioned to accept after thousands of years of stories. I will admit that I constantly encounter people I consider “hide-bound writers” who say tat it doesn’t work. I think they are blind.

All I know about the 12-Stage Writer’s Journey is that I can apply it to Jane Austen’s novels and films, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Dorothy Sayers, Georgette Heyer, virtually anything on current and past fiction bestseller lists, Finding Nemo, Shrek, Up, Last of the Mohicans (film with Daniel Day Lewis), anything action-adventure, anything romantic, anything mystery and suspense. I might have to view the stages “figuratively”, but it does work.

Here it is in brief.

1] Ordinary World – present the character in daily life. This is to show how the character will change through the course of the book. My struggle is to keep this stage extremely short!

This step meshes with writing advice from ages ago about “starting at the first moment things are no longer normal,” meaning that the character encounters something that changes the ordinary progression of life.

Of course, we have to show the character in that ordinary progression before we explode it.

2] Call to Adventure – this is the event that starts the conflict.

3] Refusal of the Call – Most people don’t want to change their life. They try to return to things as they were. This stage shows that attempt as well as how the change cannot be stopped. More action. More angst.

4] Meeting with the Mentor – this can be a friend or an actual wise person. I once had a taxi driver speak the words of wisdom to the protagonist. This can be the character thinking words of wisdom while on a phone call to a sister or brother who tries to convince them not to go down a path. The mentor’s advice doesn’t have to be followed.

5] Crossing the First Threshold – whatever event occurs here, the protagonist cannot return to the Ordinary World from this point. Pure action or pure internal revelation.

6] Tests, Allies, and Enemies – this seems like a single short stage. Nope. It can turn into a series of chapters. This will form the bulk of the middle third of your novel. You can drop back and add in a new mentor or two, cross another threshold then restart the TAE as many times as you need. It’s up to you.

7] Approach to the Inmost Cave – nearing the crisis point. The bad part is coming. The angst in deciding to risk everything to achieve the goal is all that matters here.

8] The Ordeal, the Dark Moment, the crisis point. It’s about the 65-75% point of the story.

9] The Reward – the moment when the protagonist realizes that yes, this journey is changing, is life-threatening or emotionally threatening. BUT—and it is a powerful BUT—the reward makes all the hardships mentally and emotionally and physically worth everything.

10] The Road Back – things are settling, but hardships still occur.

11] The Resurrection – Evil resurrects and nearly kills the protagonist (either nearly killing a relationship or nearly killing the dream or nearly killing the person). AND the protagonist resurrects (relationship / dream / healing of the physical body somehow).

12] Return with the Elixir – which is pretty much self-explanatory.

Next Up

So, that’s the third part of my response to the first paragraph from that second email from the newbie writer. On the 25th will be the fourth part of my response, and October will follow with my answers to her specific questions (see the 9/1 post for her email).

If you have more questions about this 12-stage arc of the Hero’s Journey, Christopher Vogler’s book is a quick and easy read. Campbell’s hero’s journey itself is 17 stages and is found in his The Hero has a 1,000 Faces, which he should have considered his doctoral dissertation—but the man didn’t pursue such titles.

Smart man.

In my book Discovering Your Plot, I go into great detail about the purpose and necessary requirements for each of the 12 stages. For example, I break the Tests / Allies / Enemies stage into three explanations. You can find DiscPlot at this LINK

Come back on 9/25 for the FOURTH part, on REVISION.