Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Hero's Journey From Muddles to Middles

You know those times when you've fiddled with your story so long that you've given up on it, several times, only to keep going back to it with the idea that there's still something there? You spend hours thinking about the problem, lying in bed chewing on the sheets while the story turns in your head like a kaleidoscope constantly changing shape. You look at it from every angle, always thinking the next turn will be perfect. You know what I'm talking about.

I've been doing that with one of my stories for ....well, let's just say a long time. I've gone over my notes, have written over 80K words in Scrivener, and have hashed it out with several friends who're very good at helping me unravel knotty problems. All to no avail. Dream Stealer... Simon Lancaster... MC extraordinaire, has been a pain in the neck from the beginning. He didn't shut up for a couple of years before going into stealth mode, where he remained quiet for another year before coming out once more, demanding attention. The only thing I can say in his defense is that when I've been really sick, he's kept his mouth shut. It would have been nice had he offered to do some cleaning but there you are.

After I retired earlier this month I promised myself I was going to do nothing that required a lot of mental calisthenics for several weeks. The first week I was away and sick most of that time. Since my return I've spent a lot of time trying to recover and relax, mostly reading and posting blogs and on Netflix watching Poirot, Numbers, and a couple of other mystery shows. My only thought was to let my body heal and to get my mental and emotional state to calm down after all the stress the last several years. Only over the last week have I begun to get my some of my brain back. It's a nice feeling, having your brain, even small portions. There are side effects.

Simon has shown up again. He was dressed nice, I must say. Spoke very prettily and said all the right things. Except what I needed him to say. We argued over this. Again. Several times. I'm very frustrated and ready to just toss this in the box with all the others. Never have I had such an insufferable character.

Last weekend we had our local writer's meeting at the Mall Cafe Court. One of my friends, Amanda Niehaus-Hard was listening to me discuss this story problem. She offered advice. "You've got a plot problem." I agreed. She told me about what she'd done when she has a similar problem. She suggested the book 21 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias and a couple of exercise I should try. I actually own that book so that's no problem. She wrote the exercise down. Then, with her lovely smile she said, "You're going to have to figure it out. The characters are not going to tell you." She's so nice, really. And our group is very proud of her because she just sold two short stories. So, with that thought in mind, I took her observation and advice seriously.

I decided it was time to do some review work. So, I pulled the Tobias' book from my bookshelf but I also remembered one that I wanted to read by James Scott Bell, that also dealt with plot. I've read a couple of Bell's books and liked them. The one I had my eye on was Plot and Structure. My local library has it so I checked it out.

Today, I started reading it and taking notes. Amanda had written Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. In the first two chapters of Bell's book he has something very similar. He calls it the LOCK method. The letters stand for Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knockout.  After reading it, I began to get a clearer idea of what Amanda told me on Saturday.

In the second chapter, Bell discusses the three act structure and the mythic structure. I've read about the mythic structure. There is a book called The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell that details this. I've never read that book but I've read numerous writing books that discuss it in various ways. Today, reading Bell's view of it, something clicked. I remembered some notes I ran across when I was straightening up a few weeks ago. It was in a small notebook I used to carry around. There were only a dozen or so pages used and some were notes about the back-story for  Dream Stealer. I sat down and read over them again.

Until now, the problem was that I had a beginning and an ending. The middle was, as Bell said, a muddle. I had a vague idea of what the objective was but it just wouldn't come together. We're often resistant to change where our stories are concerned and this story had blossomed in my brain long ago and had continued to grown in a far different direction than I had originally intended. At least, I thought so. Despite all my searching, racking my brain, moving the pieces around to get a new view of it, I couldn't find the central motivation for Simon doing what he was doing. I tried demanding Simon divulge his secrets and well, he can be difficult. As Amanda said, he wasn't going to tell me.

I took the mythic structure laid out by Bell and walked myself through Dream Stealer step by step. Then, in the middle of the muddle, something jumped out at me. It was a single line of notes in that little book. It was a note about part of the back story I'd written long, long ago. One sentence. And, mon ami, the little grey cells, they exploded.

My living room reverberated with my shout. "YES! YES! THAT'S IT! THAT'S IT!" I threw my hands up, clutched my head. I got up and paced around and started talking out loud. I live alone. Who will care? I went over and over it. And it fit. It fit perfectly. Well, as near as I can tell. I think it will work.

And wonder of wonders, Simon is sitting across the room, watching.

I glared. You know, you could have just told me.

"I did. A long time ago. It was in your notes."

I can't believe it was there all the time!

Oh, I can.

Some things are better left unsaid.

You do know that it means rewriting some bits."

Yes, yes, I know but not that many. I think I can make them work.

"You may have to eliminate some POVs."

"Yes, yes. I know but that's not a bad thing. Believe me, one voice, even if it is yours, is easier to deal with than four."

"Ah. So, you're going to kill someone?"

Don't tempt me.


  1. oh my! I don't have to tell you how excited I am at the notion of someone being killed, in order to move a story along!!!
    Perhaps Simon and your brain just decided you needed to wait until you had some time to spend on this.
    Wishing you lots of luck, and lots of good words.

    1. LOL, yes, Laurie I am very aware of your penchant for mass murder. It is one of your most interesting traits.

      I'm not sure what it was but the book seemed to trigger something. Maybe you're right, though. It seemed as if Simon already knew the whole mess. Really, I don't know how I could be expected to remember on line of text in the thousands of words I've written about this story. And it was stuck in a small notebook on one page. He should just have talked about it incessantly as he has about a lot of other things. Kept me up several nights past my bedtime yammering on about himself. Never mentioned this tiny tidbit that unlocked a lot of the story.

      Even fictional men are a real pain at times.


What do you think?

Photo Attribution

I've tried to attribute all photos to their sources. Should you find an error, please notify me.

If known, unless otherwise noted, all photos are either my own or from You may not copy, download, or otherwise use my personal photos. Visit for information on their photos.