During the Writers at the Beach conference last month (and particularly during Khris Baxter's workshop, Screenwriting Techniques for Fiction Writers), I was forced into the realization that the novel I began way back in 1987 was (1) worthy of resurrection, (2) poorly structured, and (3) in need of major rewriting. (See my earlier blog entry, Writers at the Beach, 3/28/10.) In the intervening weeks since the conference, the novel has been flopping around in my brain like a fish on deck. But, the more I contemplate the story, the more frustrated I become. And the problem is clearly structure.
So, I've decided to once again read The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. I've read Joseph Campbell's work on mythology, most notably the Bill Moyer interview, The Power of Myth, and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It's dense reading and highly academic, to be sure, but the truths concerning the importance of mythology in our lives (and our writing) are clear and illuminating.
Vogler's book, borrowing heavily not only from Campbell but also from Carl Jung's archetypes, nails down mythic structure for the writer in the most succinct and user-friendly form I've seen. Some may say it takes an approach to writing that is too formulaic. Well, only if you're looking for a lazy, cookie-cutter approach. For the true writer, Vogler's book is a "bible" of sorts, providing a foundation for story structure that does not necessarily stifle the writer's imagination and style. As with any tool, it's all in how you use it. Read the book. Learn it. Absorb it. Most important of all, USE it in your storytelling. And that, my friends, is the lesson that I must now learn—knowing is not the same as DOING.
I'm aware of character archetypes, and I think the characters in my tale are fairly well defined in that regard. But the story structure of my novel does not follow the three-act "hero's journey" in Vogler's book. And I now think it should. I managed to write about 150 pages of the novel, years ago. Most of that will now be scrapped. So, back to the blackboard, so to speak.
The novel, a suspense/thriller tentatively titled Harvester of Sorrow (yes, it's coincidentally a Metallica song), will fit beautifully into the stages of the "journey"—the Ordinary World; Call to Adventure; Refusal of the Call; Meeting with the Mentor; Crossing the First Threshold; Test, Allies, Enemies; Approach to the Inmost Cave; Ordeal; Reward; Road Back; Resurrection; and the Return with the Elixir. Yes, my story will indeed work with these stages—I just haven't structured the novel that way yet.
I have work to do.
And, once the novel structure is determined, I'll be free to let the story grow from that solid foundation. Perhaps the final novel will be far different from the way I currently envision the story. And that would be superb! I'm all for story evolution, particularly if the characters usurp the storytelling.
A few years back, Ed Dee, excellent writer of police procedurals, told me that writing a novel is much like driving a car at night on unfamiliar roads. You may know your destination, may even have a roadmap on the seat next to you or the GPS glowing on the dash, but you can only see as far as the headlights extend on the road in front of you. You have no idea what may be on the road ahead, or what detour you may have to take en route. No matter how detailed you've structured and outlined your novel, be prepared for—indeed, welcome—side trips and detours as your characters and plot mature in the storytelling process.
But, I'm not even in the car yet.
Back to work!
I'll keep you posted ...