I digress today from writing and children.
But not from imagination and creating.
The Iranian people have taken to the streets to push for their freedom. We forget that this happened before, has happened for years now. Dissent has steadily grown. Will change come this time? Or will it take 30 more years? We’ll find out soon.
Thirty years ago, Iran was an extremely westernized, educated nation. Then the Shah took power, and the Dark Ages returned.
I worked at an international shipping line in Houston in the 80’s. One night I worked late, and went to the copy room. The Iranian-American teletypist was there, tippity-tapping away. But she wasn’t working. Her brother was employed in Iran at a firm with a teletype machine, and they spoke once a month. On the sly. It was the only way they could communicate. If he had been caught…well, not good.
Now they would be on Twitter. Because as fast as the government shuts down the protesters’ papers and phone lines, outsiders are helping them with satellite feeds.
Be a part of that.
Well, Little Shane from Maine, it’s time to Return Home. You still have a few motifs to demonstrate.
Shane wanders around and around and around the traffic round-about…
until he moseys into a warehouse, where the Unfettered Routing of Provolone Society (URPS)
has convened for their bi-annual semi-pro invitational confab.
“Oh, the unbelievable coincidence, that I should end up here!” Shane intones. He climbs upon a pedestal and begins his tale.
“I come from a distant land, where the need for provolone is critical. I searched the stores all up and down Main Street, but no provolone. I offered my sandwich customers swiss. I offered them cheddar. But nothing I did could ease the suffering of the provoloneless. So I boarded a plane…” Blah, blah, blah.
We’ll let Shane drone on as he milks Motif #14…the hero explains himself. Man. Only one motif left and we can blow this guy onward to the Common Day, where he’ll bring back the cheese.
“…at the Spanish Steps, where I sat, and sat, and sat…”
Glorioski. What a bore. I just want to get him on a plane, speed him back to Maine, put his cheese in a sandwich and say toodle-loo to this cheesy Hero’s Journey.
“…a man-sized rat! With a green eye-shade! So then I…”
A bold young lass jumps up and says, “If we throw you a banquet will you stop talking?”
“A banquet?” Shane stops to take a breath, URPS takes that as a “yes”, and the party is on. Finally. Motif #15, the Hero goes to a celebration.
Then URPS loads him down with provolone. Shane hops a plane back to Maine, crosses the threshold back into his Common Day where he distributes hero sandwiches replete with the precious provolone he so perfectly procured.
And they lived happily ever after.
Egads, we’re done. No, I can’t believe it either.
In parting, dear reader, let me remind you that motifs can be used in any order, or not at all, if the story doesn’t call for it.
And heroes come in all shapes.
Shane has had it up to here.
Luigi takes Shane to Mousealini’s office in the Palazzo del Governo, on the THIRTEENTH FLOOR! Time for the confrontation, better known as the Supreme Ordeal.
Without knocking, Shane bursts through the door to find…
…a man-sized rat with a green eye shade sitting at a desk.
“What is the meaning of this?” Mousealini squeaks.
Shane withdraws an ancient purchase order from behind his ear. “I might ask you the same thing, you little vermin. I have tried time and again to get provolone cheese from Italy, but my quest has always been foiled by someone. Someone with a rubber stamp.”
A sinister smile spread across Mousealini’s face. He waved a wooden-handled item in the air. “You mean this?” Then he laughed. “BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!”
“That’s the one!” Shane leapt across the desk, knocking Luigi sideways in the process. Luigi spun, wobbled, then fell across a Delta Dolcevita Collection Desk Set. The fountain pen pierced his heart. (Motif #12, The Hero loses an allie to death. Sometimes The Hero Dies, Motif #13. But not here. My emotions can’t take it.)
Shane grabbed his temples and screamed, “Noooooooooo! You’ve taken my only friend in the world! Except for Sam, Jim, Harvey, Jessie, Lonnie, Thurgood, and Will. And Steve. Oh, I almost forgot Phineas. And…”
Now Mousealini grabbed his temples and screamed. “Stooooooooop!”
While he was incapacitated, Shane snatched the rubber stamp and ran. He didn’t stop running until he got to the Tiber. He threw the rubber stamp in and watched it sink. “As God is my witness, I’ll never be ‘Refused Delivery: Out of Area’ again!”
He even shook his fist a little.
He turned around to look at the traffic round-about, where sixteen different streets converged.
“I never thought I’d get this far. Now what?”
Poor, poor Shane from Maine. He’s been stuck on those Spanish steps for months.
Get up, Bucko, it’s time to journey.
First, our hero must become wise in the ways of the Magical Woods. Like most of us, he’s got to learn through trial and error. (Better known as “ the hard way“.) He will overcome these obstacles, these tests of his mettle to grow into the hero he must become. The new skills he develops, the new depth of resolve he finds, will prepare him for his encounter with the Evil One.
After two months, Shane leaps to his feet and bellows, “It is provolone I need, and provolone I shall have!” He bolts willy-nilly into the streets.
And is immediately felled by a spider.
(What did you expect? This isn’t Harry Potter, sister.)
Here is our first MOTIF: The hero is willing to die for a cause. Sometimes he actually dies, but Shane is lucky. He is pushed out of the way at the last second by Luigi the Sewer Swimmer. (Motif #2: The hero is rescued by an ally. Another possible Motif is #3: The hero is saved by Divine Intervention. You don’t want to use either of these more than once. Readers want their heroes to get out of fixes by themselves, but being saved once proves that someone cares about them.)
“Ay! What are you, a-crazy?” yells Luigi. “You can’t just-a-go runnin’ into traffic! And what is that you’re a-wearin’? Pajamas?”
“I will admit that this flannel shirt and these lumberjack boots are a little warm in this strange land. And especially my Dickie’s.
“Lets-a get you some new clothes.” (Motif #4: The hero changes costume, signaling growth.)
So Luigi decks Shane out in a white long-sleeved shirt, folded up to mid-forearm and black gabardine pants.
“Now you’re a-cookin’ with gas!” says Luigi.
“I’ve got to find some provolone.”
Why didn’t you a-say so? I know where they have the best provolone in all of Italia!” Luigi says, and he drags Shane through the back streets and underbelly of Roma.
But Shane doesn’t know that he is being watched. Benito Mousealini, leader of the Committee to Keep Provolone at Home has video-cams on every street corner in Rome. (Motif#5: The hero has magic used against him. In this case, technology serves the same purpose. If Shane was a more interesting guy, he could employ the corollary, Motif #6: The hero uses magic. But our little Shane has to rely on his brains and guts. And his big toe.)
Mousealini knows Shane is on a quest for provolone, and he even has help. So Mousealini sends a plague.
Of paparazzi. (Can you say minions? I knew you could.)
Luigi and Shane arrive in front of Casa a Formaggio. “It’s-a cheese market, Bambino. The best in all of Roma!” says Luigi.
“Eureka!” Shane yelps as he heads for the entrance to cheese nirvana.
But he is swarmed by dozens of paparazzi, bulbs flashing.
“What’s going on?” says our bewildered hero. He stumbles about, blind.
“Oh no! Look out!” Luigi cries. He lunges for Shane, but the paparazzi keeps them apart.
“Save yourself!” warns Shane. “I’m going down!” And he does. Hard. (Motif #7: The hero faces natural fears…acrophobia, fire, combat, wild beasts…)
An hour later he wakes up in Luigi’s hairy arms, (Motif #8: The hero has a change of consciousness.) He has a bump above his left eye, shaped like a kazoo. (Motif #9: The hero is marked. With a scar, brand, tattoo. It signifies a change of character.)
“Who did this, Pilgrim?” Shane asks Luigi. He sounds like John Wayne. (Motif #10: The hero undergoes a death and rebirth.)
Luigi is shaking and blubbering so hard he can barely answer. He clutches Shane to his breast. (Is this Motif #11, The hero falls in love?) “It’s-a Mouselini. He’s-a scourge on the whole nation of Italia. He refuses the Free Exchange of Cheese.”
“How dastardly,” says Shane. He leaps to his feet and orates, “Cheese is the foundation of every great sandwich, and I will bring it to the unwashed masses I left behind!”
He hitches his britches and makes his way to Mousealini’s headquarters.
for writers: the hero’s initiation in the magical woods, and 14 characters plus one he might find there
So our little Shane from Maine stumbles into the airport, his regulation-sized carry-on rolling behind him.
The Magical Woods does not need to be literally “magic”,
It is simply a place that is out of the Hero’s every day world. He will be tested here with tasks and hardships, though he may not always pass the test. Even so, the Hero will pick up special skills and powers, and grow in strength. Because until the climax, the worst is always yet to come.
Poor Shane wanders the streets of Rome, gawking at the traffic cops leaning on their motorcycles smoking fat cigars, and the nonnas skittering down the alleyways dressed entirely in black and carrying a cloth bag full of garlic and tomatoes.
What is he doing here?! What are the rules? Who can he trust? Who should he avoid?
If Shane knew the list of characters often found at this point in the story, he would know:
1. Evil Sidekick–would be not a friend. He might be stronger than the actual Evil One.
2. Femme Fatale–also not a friend. She is the siren calling the Hero to his ruin.
3. The Rival–is often seen in a romance novel. He is also in love with the Hero’s Lover, and is usually the one preferred by friends and family.
4. Hero’s Lover–ah, if the Hero meets a lover, she ain’t no help to him. She is an important character, but she’s an antagonist. They do a dance of repel and attract. They are opposites, yet they see the heroic qualities in each other.
5. The Trickster–is an interesting fellow. He’s the office jackass that fills our Hero’s office with popcorn while he’s on vacation. He’s the Pied Piper that lures away the children instead of the rats. He’s a clown. He’s a troublemaker. He shakes things up. He sticks pins in inflated egos. Is he fer ya or agin’ ya? The hero’s never quite sure.
6. The Crone–ugly old woman. She might be an Oxford Professor. She might be a paranoid schizophrenic.
7. The Fool–better not let him pull the wool over your Hero’s eyes. This character walks around muttering in his beard. The Hero better listen. It’s something he needs to know.
8. The Mother–who is good and wise and kind and all the stuff a mama should be.
9. The Goddess–see above, but throw in beautiful and sexy.
10. The Saint–innocent and pious.
11. The Nymph–a flirt.
12. Bitch–so I really need to tell you the characteristics of a bitch?
13. Temptress–often the whore with a heart of gold, but can be nasty. Her main claim to fame is selling her favors. And I don’t mean party horns.
14. God with Feet of Clay–almost always a male figure, he seems supreme and wise, but in the end he doesn’t measure up. A female hero often falls for him and may become either her mentor or lover. Might even be the Evil One.
15. Shapeshifter–any of the characters can be a shapeshifter, changing their mood or look behaviors.
Writers need not use this entire motley crew.
And these folks can be combined, such as a Bitchy Nymph, or a Croney Rival. (Now THERE’S an interesting twist.)
We’ll leave poor Shane sitting on the Spanish Steps, his head on his knees, wondering what will happen next.
Okay, let’s get our Hero going.
Shane from Maine has prepared for his trip and received counsel and his talisman. He has given a tearful goodbye to his significant other, Piddles, (the incontinent poodle), and is ready to proceed.
He goes to the airport and meets Stacie Stewardess, better known as the THRESHOLD GUARDIAN. This archetype may appear at the start of the Hero’s Journey, right before, or right after.
“Your carry-on must fit in the overhead bin, sir,” she says.
“It will,”, he says.
“Looks to big too me,” she says.
“That’s what she said,” he says.
“Huh?” she says.
Stacie Stewardess directs him to place his luggage in the sizing box.
“It fits,” she says.
“That’s what she said,” he says.
“Huh?” she says.
What you have just witnessed in this amazing exchange is a test from the THRESHOLD GUARDIAN. He/she/it must be sure that the hero is worthy of passing the threshold. Through his amazing packing ability, Shane from Maine has passed the first test.
But wait! There’s more!
“Ticket?” she asks.
Shane from Maine smiles smugly, as he is equipped with the magic talisman known as “ticket”. He is allowed to board the plane, leaving the Common Day and crossing the threshold.
Before taking off, Stacie Stewardess, like a good THRESHOLD GUARDIAN, warns our hero of the perils ahead.
“In the unlikely event of a drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend.”
“The temperature in Italy is currently ninety degrees.”
Stacie Stewardess leans over Shane from Maine and says, ” Cheese exporting from Italy has been banned.”
But Staci Stewardess is a small and weak female. What could she possibly know? THRESHOLD GUARDIANS are full of doomsday warnings, but they are weak characters. The Hero ignores him/her/it, though companions may be affected by her pronouncements.
Shane from Maine pays her no never mind, and blithely deboards in Rome.
And now the fun begins.
The Hero’s Journey begins in the Common Day, veers off into the Magical Woods, and returns to the Common Day.
The first steps happen in the Hero’s day-to-day world. This is where the writer draws the readers in, constructing a character we identify with. This is also where the conflict starts. Plant the seeds for your Hero’s growth deep. There’s got to be a point to the suffering you’re about to inflict on your poor Hero. Remember, a Hero’s Journey should assure readers that in the end, life makes sense, goodness is rewarded and there is order in the chaos.
Anyway, let’s create a cheesy Hero’s Journey.
Shane from Maine owns a sandwich shop. Unfortunately, Maine is provoloneless. How can Shane make a good hero sandwich without provolone? Sure, he’s got salami and bologna and peppers and onions and olives. But Shane knows that without the right cheese, his hero sandwich is just a pale imitation of what it should be. He offers his customers Swiss. He offers them cheddar. But Shane knows he’s just kidding himself. His shop is close to closing. (That’s right. Close to closing. I like the echo. So sue me.) His mother nags him. And the Better Business Bureau is investigating whether a provolone-deficient hero sandwich is false advertising. Stray dogs bite at his ankles.
Bereft, Shane throws himself in a dumpster. “Woe is me,” he says. “Stray dogs bite at my ankles. I do not know how I can go on.”
But wait! In the dumpster, underneath his left arm pit, Shane from Maine feels something poke him.
It’s the Travel Gnome.
“Italy, Shane,” he says.
“It’s Shane Maine.”
“No, you idiot. Italy is where the provolone is.”
Just who does this so-called “Travel Gnome” think he is? Well, if he thinks he’s THE HERALD, he’s right.
Now Shane’s horizons expand. Does he take up the challenge? Does he journey to Italy, to encounter obstacles in that strange and alien land that will prepare him to finally secure the provolone and bring it back to his beleaguered hero sandwich?
Sure. Whatthehell. (He might refuse. We’ll talk about that in a later blog.)
Shane decides to skip town, but hasn’t got a clue as to how.
Enter THE WISE ONE or MENTOR. This guy/gal/owl/ghost/etc. trains and inspires the Hero. He builds the Hero’s confidence.
And maybe THE MAGICAL HELPER, to bestow a handy-dandy amulet of protection or shoe phone, depending on how you’re bent.
There also may be AN ARMORER who outfits the Hero with weapons and shields.
Sometimes the Hero acquires A SIDEKICK. This SIDEKICK has the attributes of the Hero, see here, but he’s not as gifted as the hero, nor is he wounded.
He slows and then stops right in front of…
…a travel agent’s office. The agent MENTORS Shane, giving him The Cheese Lover’s Guide to Lombardy and See It and Say It, Don’t Spray It in Italian. But wait! There’s more! In our story, the MENTOR and the MAGICAL HELPER are as one! The travel agent gives Shane his airline ticket, the talisman that will get him to Italy! (That’s right. I combined two of the archetypes. I can do that. I’m a writer.)
Shane from Maine is a loner. He doesn’t have a SIDEKICK, or even A LOVER to accompany him.
He packs an extra pair of briefs and a jar of peanut butter. He clings to his LOVED ONE, Piddles, and bravely bids him adieu. Isn’t Shane wonderful, foregoing the love of an incontinent poodle to bring back the fabled provolone to make his hero sandwiches complete, and thereby feed his community?
Well, we’ll find out.
Pressing writing needs have kept me from posting the next installment concerning the hero’s journey. I think about you often, Dear Readers, all six of you.
Now quit breathing down my neck.
I’ll be back Wednesday afternoon. Until then…
Yeah, yeah, I know I teased a different topic last time, but I’ve revised, okay?
This is one case where badder is better. A strong and interesting hero needs a powerful and cunning foe. Don’t be ambiguous when constructing the bad guy’s personality. You gotta make the trip worth it.
In a Hero’s Journey, the Evil One is the challenger-in-chief of the hero’s mettle. Often, the hero doesn’t have direct contact with the Evil One, only encountering his foe’s might through evil minions. The Evil One might be behind the scenes, but ultimately he’s the one responsible for the hero’s rocky road.
Paradoxically, (if that is a word), the Evil One and the Hero share many traits. Here are the characteristics of the Evil One, categorized for your viewing pleasure:
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EVIL ONE ALONE
1. No special birth or destiny. He might claim to be the seventh son of the seventh son, but really he’s only the sixth.
2. Motivated by narcissism, lust for power, unholy needs, etc. The Evil One is totally driven by the need to satisfy his sick ego. (Squirm.)
3. Never behaves idealistically. Doesn’t understand the concept. Maybe something went wrong in his toilet training.
4. Could be a whiny, groveling, obeisant (great word, huh?) little puke when brought to account.
5. Self-indulgent, he probably cannot be stoic. Not used to hardship.
6. In the end, he is loyal only to himself.
7. Usually not physically superior. He has minions for that kind of stuff.
8. Cruel. ‘Nuff said.
9. Often, the Evil One is lucky toward the beginning of the story. The poor Hero has to earn every victory he attains.
10. Unforgiving, which can be pretty bad for those incompetent minions.
11. Could be a quitter, running away when he sees the battle is lost. This underscores the Hero’s bravery and shows what a sniveling little coward the Evil One really is.
CHARACTERISTICS THE EVIL ONE AND THE HERO MIGHT SHARE
1. He must be intelligent. If he’s not a worthy opponent, the contest will extremely one-sided, which translates into: DULL. It’s even more of an interesting situation if the Evil One is actually a little more intelligent than the hero.
2. Might be wounded, like a hero, but unlike the hero, he doesn’t learn anything from it. He uses it as a reason to be really naughty.
3. Probably overly confident. A downfall for anyone.
4. Could be a rebel. Sure, he might be a troll living under the bridge, but he also might be a corrupt government official.
5. Might have a special talent, but of course, it’s used for bad stuff. The talent might actually be the same one that the hero has. Through the journey, however, the hero’s talent improves, and the Evil One may become overconfident.
6. Ooooo. The best Evil Ones are sexy.
Next time: Something about the Hero’s Journey. Don’t fence me in, Baby.
Really not what I meant.
My project ideas usually start with a premise or concept, but I can’t write the story until I have a picture of the main character. (mc)
I wish I was like Jack London, who reputedly wrote his stories down once, in longhand, and sent them to his publisher. We mere mortals have to write…and write…and revise…and write…and then revise some more.
Because the interesting thing is…while your hero journeys…he changes, and not always in the ways that you expected he would. Or he may end up where you planned for him to go, but he veers off course for awhile.
Of course, your hero can be a girl, or a dog, or a toaster if you are so inclined. I will use the pronoun “he” because it’s the easiest to type. (Excuse me: “keyboard.”)
Remember, I’m talking about the hero’s journey as it pertains to writing. While these criteria may be hard and fast for ancient myths and sagas, we writers can play fast and loose with the rules. IT’S GOOD TO BE A WRITER!!!
And now, without further ado or disclaimers…
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE HERO
1. He is the mc. No way around it. He is the protagonist, the causer of action, at least for most of the story.
2. Often has an unusual birth. He might be the child of royalty or a god or the president. He might have been switched at birth or been born in secret. He might float into bull rushes, be the son of Zeus or Brittany Spears. Poor kid.
3. Sometimes he is told before the main body of the story that he will be or do something unusual. Perhaps a scarfed gypsy tells his new mother that her child will save the world, or a piano teacher tells him he will revolutionize music.
4. He might have a unique talent that makes the reader like him, and sets him apart from the crowd. A supernatural green thumb. Plays the nose flute. Talks to dogs.
5. Must be capable and resourceful. If he’s not, you’ve got a comedy. Or a mess.
6. Is often overly confident. We all know where that will lead.
7. He can’t live by your rules, Baby. That doesn’t mean he has to be obnoxious about it, but he is the one who shakes things up. He’s a rebel, but there’s reason behind it.
8. Usually a stoic. Slap him, whap him, make him bleed from his body or his proverbial heart, he can take it.
9. Can have a smart mouth, stemming from that rebel, stoic thing.
10. Brimming with courage, or learns to brim with courage along the way. That’s pretty much the point of a HERO’S journey. Who the heckfire wants to read about a sniveling coward? Buck up, Pops!
11. He is successful at his job. This goes along with competence and courage. If our hero can’t master his own livelihood, we’re not going to believe that he can complete his journey.
12. He is often so goooood looking. Manifesting his inner qualities on the outside.
13. Conversely, he is maimed in some way or wounded in his soul, before the journey starts or along the way. He may be a hero, but he’s also human. The reader MUST identify with his suffering.
14. Sometimes he’s physically superior in some way. No, numbers 13 and 14 are not mutually exclusive. Superman runs faster, jumps higher, stops a speeding bullet, etc., but kryptonite renders him a quivering lump.
15. He might have a special mark on his body. Harry Potter, anyone?
16. Lastly, our hero must have idealistic motives, at least somewhere in the journey. He will sacrifice himself for others.
So go ahead and write you mc’s bio. Make him unusual, interesting, apart from society. When he’s someone you wish would walk in your front door, you’re ready to start his journey.
Next time: What happens BEFORE stuff happens.