Vaughn Hardacker here: I’m a pantser. I try to be a plotter but can’t seem to get through the process. Lately, I’ve been researching not for a new novel but into the craft itself.
Enter Joseph Campbell. I came across his book THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES and was intrigued. Campbell had a life-long fascination with mythology and comparative religions. In this book, he presents his findings. What immediately caught my interest was a quote from his book. “It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into the human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.”
Campbell states that across all cultures, “from the mumbo jumbo of a witch doctor of the Congo, the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse, the hard nutshell argument of Aquinas there will always be the “one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story…” He called this The Monomyth.
The Monomyth, based on his concept of The Hero’s Journey, consists of three stages: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Each of these stages has several steps. To discuss these components in a single blog would create a blog entry too long. Therefore I will discuss each of the three elements in individual blogs. In this blog, I will discuss the first.
Departure (Disrupture and Awakening): The Departure deals primarily with disrupting the hero’s everyday world.
The world in which the hero exists before his present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It’s his safe place. His everyday life is where we learn crucial details about our hero, his true nature, capabilities, and outlook on life. It establishes the hero as a human, just like you and me, and makes it easier for us to identify with him and, later, empathize with his plight.
1. Call To Adventure
The hero’s adventure begins when he receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his safety, family, way of life, or the peace of the community in which he lives. It may not be as dramatic as a gunshot, but simply a phone call or conversation, but whatever the call is, and however it manifests itself, it ultimately disrupts the comfort of the Hero’s Ordinary World and presents a challenge or quest that the protagonist must undertake.
2. Refusal Of The Call
Although the hero may be eager to accept the quest, he will have fears that need overcoming at this stage. Second thoughts or even deep personal doubts about whether or not he is up to the challenge. When this happens, the hero will refuse the call and, as a result, may suffer somehow. The problem he faces may seem too much to handle and the comfort of home far more attractive than the perilous road ahead. This refusal would also be our response and once again helps us bond further with the reluctant hero.
3. Supernatural Aid
At this crucial turning point where the hero desperately needs guidance, he meets a mentor figure who gives him something he needs. It could be an object of great importance, insight into the dilemma he faces, wise advice, practical training, or even self-confidence. Whatever the mentor provides the hero with, it dispels his doubts and fears and gives him the strength and courage to begin his quest.
4. Crossing The Threshold
The hero is now ready to act upon his call to adventure and truly begin his quest, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional. Whether they go willingly or pushed, they finally cross the threshold between the familiar world and that in which they are not. It may be leaving home for the first time in his life or just doing something he has always been scared to do. However the threshold presents itself, this action signifies the hero’s commitment to his journey and whatever it may have in store for him.
5. The Belly of the Whale.
The passage through the magical threshold illustrates a rebirth that symbolizes the worldwide womb image, represented by the belly of the whale. Rather than conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, the hero is swallowed into the unknown and appears to have died. The emphasis is on the lesson that that passage is a form of self-annihilation.
Campbell based his writings on mythology, and all mythology is a story. I believe that even in our genre of choice, the Monomyth model holds. All we have to do is change the hero to read protagonist and go from there. The model easily fits the amateur detective as the hero but also works when the protagonist is a professional investigator. IWhen I took time to study the Monomyth diagram above, I said to myself, “Hey, this is really a plot outline!” I am working on the sequel to WENDIGO and have been using Campbell’s model as well as a Three Act Template. I’ve plotted out better than half the book and it has really helped. (If you are interested in reviewing the template email me at email@example.com and I will gladly forward it to you.
Until my next post, when I will discuss Initiation, the second phase of the Hero’s Journey, STAY WARM & KEEP WRITING!
This is great Vaughn. Just woke up with the notion that I was going to write about my own particular model that I follow for my Thursday blog. This was waiting for me when I opened my laptop. Great minds think alike.
Thanks for this reminder of Campbell’s book. I keep his steps in mind when I plot. Yes, I am a plotter. Looking forward to your next post.
You’re very welcome, Susan. There are times when I wish I had the self-discipline to plot. I think it may help one get through the saggy middle easier.
Great mental stimulation and fodder here. Thanks Vaughn.
You’re welcome, John.
Enjoyed this reminder. Read the book years ago. It’s interesting how much we Maine Crime Writers are focusing on craft these days. I think there’s something about the winter, and hunkering down, that draws us back to our writing books, to thinking about our craft. Great post!