We did a webinar Saturday, the first of the “Write a Halloween Story in a Month With a Sentence A Day” class we’re doing all month. (you can join at http://www.lifewrite.com)
Got a question today from “Judy”:
“Good morning Steve, I enjoyed the 1st. part of the short horror story we’re going to build together. I wasn’t able to tune in live as I had guests from out of town. I can already feel the anxiety starting that always seizes my mind when I want to write. I think that I have pinpointed my issue. I don’t have a full understanding of story structure. I have some great books that I have read and am reading but the “click” moment that everyone says will happen, isn’t happening. Is there a foolproof approach that I could use. I’m tired of freaking out about it. It’s zapping the fun out of a creative process that I want to get better at. Thank you. Judy”
Judy isn’t alone in this. “Pantsers”, people who can just sit down and write, can be very intimidating. In reality, everyone is a “Pantser” about some aspects of life, and not in others. All “Pantsing” is is having all the component skills at that “Unconscious Competence” level so that you can enter flow state and run with it.
If one of those component skills is NOT integrated, you hit a road bump. Frustration, fear, and “writer’s block”. If everything is fine, just drive down the road and enjoy the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair. But if the car breaks down, pull over, pop the hood and haul out the tool box.
Lifewriting is the tool box. What is Judy’s need? To have a form of story structure that will serve her, that she can then integrate to the level of Unconscious Competence. O.K.–got her covered.
The Hero’s Journey. Yep, back to basics. A story is like a circle. Once you understand geometry, if I give you three points, you can draw the rest of the circle. So…IF you will apply the HJ to a dozen movies (movies are great because the storytelling if usually more direct and easier to extract than stories and books, more of which can be experimental in structure), you are going to start to get “A-hah!” moments. Then, once you understand how it works, you can play with it. So…ask yourself the questions implied by the ten steps: EVEN IF YOU CAN ONLY ANSWER THREE OF THEM, YOU SHOULD START TO GLIMPSE THE REST OF THE “CIRCLE”.
- Hero Confronted with the challenge. Who is the hero? What is their challenge? Does it take them by surprise? Could they see it coming? Why or why not?
- Hero Rejects the challenge. If the challenge will change their lives or make them grow, it is likely to be frightening on some level. Why?
- Hero accepts the challenge. Why do they finally own their situation? How are they forced to, or allowed to, engage?
- The Road of Trials. What are the steps a character must take to resolve this? Where must they go? What must they do? What actions must they take, and what will they learn as the result of taking them?
- Allies and Powers. What must they either express of their core capacities…or what must they learn? Who are the people they must align with or learn from to achieve this goal?
- Confront Evil and Fail. The largest defeat usually happens in the last 1/3 of the story. What is it? What goes catastrophically wrong?
- Dark Night of the Soul. This defeat will empty them out, destroy their self-image, or throw them into the depths of despair. What is their psychological response to the structural disaster?
- Leap of Faith. Always one of three things: faith in himself. Faith in his companions, faith in a higher power. Which is it, and why?
- Confront Evil and succeed. What is the victory? How does it come about?
- The Student Becomes the Teacher. What transformation occurs as a result of the action?
Now…note that this is the basic structure of story. It can be twisted, turned, minimalized, repeated, expanded or shrunk. Every story actually does variations on it, but I can take ANY story that has been at all recognized as “story” by a significant number of people, and show how it fits.
I consider it a perfect starting place, because, unlike any other structure, you can also apply it to your “journey” of writing.
- Judy is confronted with a challenge to write a story in a month.
- It’s scary to do, because she doesn’t understand structure.
- She decides to take the challenge anyway.
- She starts writing and planning.
- She asks me for tools to help guide her. (“What is structure”?)
- She WILL hit a major stumbling block. Possibly, this was it! Most likely, though, it will be found along the way.
- She will feel fear, despair, even want to quit.
- She will find a way to keep going (or…she will QUIT! In which case this story ends there, but it is a part of a larger life saga)
- She will finish the story.
- She becomes a more accomplished writer. Possibly, she will be able to teach others how to travel this path, because she now has greater knowledge.
See how this works? If not, take a dozen movies and “map” them on this pattern. Choose simple, straight-forward movies, not complex delicate emotional dramas. They can be harder to “map”.
By the time you do that…you’ll be a different writer. Stronger and clearer on your process.
Now get to work!
Write with Passion!