Nanowrimo Prep: Campbell, Vogler, The Hero’s Journey, and a Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Eight days and counting. Yes, I know, Halloween is seven days. I’m actually talking about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.

I said that I’d do some prep here, but that’s not really feasible when I only blog twice a month (some of you have been prepping over at my blog, of course!). Still, I wanted to post SOMETHING useful for NaNo.

(If you have been living in a cave for the last ten years and have not heard of NaNo, you can read all about it here.)

I’m always encouraging you guys to read EVERYTHING you can about writing processes and structure, and I feel like this is a good time to nudge you all again to do a little reading about Joseph Campbell and the monomyth he details in his classic Hero With a Thousand Faces, and Christopher Vogler’s  Hollywood Cliffs’ Notes version of the same: The Writer’s Journey.

Wikipedia is a perfectly fine overview, and has all the info and links for you to explore further if you are so moved, and I hope you do.

Campbell 

Vogler

It’s easy to get lost in Campbell (such a GOOD lost!) so Vogler’s is a more streamlined version, but as useful as it is, and it is – I think it falls short in one major way. 

Here are the twelve steps of the journey that Vogler details: 

  1. The hero/ine is introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD
  2. they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE
  3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
  4. are encouraged by a MENTOR to
  5. CROSS THE THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
  6. they encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
  7. They APPROACH THE IN-MOST CAVE, cross a second threshold
  8. where they endure the ORDEAL
  9. They take possession of their REWARD and
  10. are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
  11. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
  12. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the ORDINARY WORLD.

 Absolutely!  But let’s break that down into where those steps fall in the three-act structure:

Act One:

  1. Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD
  2. they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE
  3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
  4. are encouraged by a MENTOR to
  5. CROSS THE THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where

Act Two:

  1. they encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
  2. They APPROACH THE IN-MOST CAVE, cross a second threshold

Act Three:

  1. where they endure the ORDEAL
  2. They take possession of their REWARD and
  3. are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
  4. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
  5. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the ORDINARY WORLD.

Do you see the problem with this template?  All good for Acts I and III… but there are only two steps to guide you through that vast, interminable, suicide-inducing second act.  And the second act is a full HALF of the story.

That’s not a whole hell of a lot of help when you’re in the middle of the damn thing.

I have another problem with Vogler, in that THE ROAD BACK step.  I have far too often seen fairly new writers struggling with that concept, when the fact is that not all stories even have this step. It’s a great element for a pure Mythic Journey story, like Lord of the Rings (the first), Star Wars, and The Wizard of Oz. But NOT ALL STORIES FALL INTO THIS PATTERN.

So I’ve composed an alternate version of this journey that gives a little more detail to help you through that treacherous middle.

————————————————————————–

NARRATIVE STRUCTURE CHEAT SHEET, from Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

Act I:

We meet the Hero/ine in the Ordinary World.

S/he has:

— a Ghost or Wound

— a strong Desire

— Special Skills

And an Opponent, or several, which is standing in the way of her getting what s/he wants, and possibly wants exactly the same thing that s/he wants.

She gets a Call to Adventure: a phone call, an invitation, a look from a stranger, that invites her to change her life and crystallizes her desire.

That impulse may be blocked by a

— Threshold Guardian

— And/or the Opponent

— And/or she is herself reluctant to take the journey.

 

But she overcomes whatever opposition,

— Gathers Allies and the advice of a Mentor

— Formulates a specific PLAN to get what s/he wants

And Crosses the Threshold Into the Special World.

 

Act II:1

The hero/ine goes after what s/he wants, following the PLAN

The opponent blocks and attacks, following his or her own PLAN to get what s/he wants

The hero/ine may now:

— Gather a Team

— Train for battle (in a love story this can be shopping or dating)

— Investigate the situation.

— Pass numerous Tests

All following the Plan, to achieve the Desire.

No matter what genre, we experience scenes that deliver on the Promise of the Premise – magic, flying, sex, mystery, horror, thrills, action.

We also enjoy the hero/ine’s Bonding with Allies or Falling in Love

And usually in this Act the hero/ine is Winning.

Then at the Midpoint, there is a big Reversal, Revelation, Loss or Win that is a Game-Changer.

Act II:2

The hero/ine must Recover and Recalibrate from the game-changer of the Midpoint.

And formulate a New Plan

Neither the Hero/ine nor the Antagonist has gotten what they want, and everyone is tired and pissed.

Therefore they Make Mistakes

And often Cross a Moral Line

And Lose Allies

And the hero/ine, or if not the hero/ine, at least we, are getting the idea (if we didn’t have it before) that s/he might be WRONG about what s/he wants.

Things begin to Spiral Out of Control

And get Darker and Darker (even if it’s funny)

Until everything crashes in a Black Moment, or All is Lost Moment, or Visit to Death.

And then, out of that compete despair comes a New Revelation for the hero/ine, including understanding what s/he has been wrong about from the beginning

That leads to a New Plan for the Final Battle.

 

Act III

The Heroine Makes that last New Plan

Possibly Gathers the Team (Allies) again

Possibly briefly Trains again

Then Storms the Opponent’s Castle (or basement)

The Team (if there is one) Attacks the Opponent on his or her own turf, and all their

— Skills are tested.

— Subplots are resolved,

— and secondary Opponents are defeated in a satisfying way.

Then the Hero/ine goes in alone for the final battle with the Antagonist. Her Character Arc, everything s/he’s learned in the story, helps her win it.

The Hero/ine has come Full Circle

And we see the New Way of Life that s/he will live.

 

————————————————–

 

If this works to make the process a little easier for you, great! It may be more useful to look at it later, during your rewrites.

And if not, no problem – forget it! I’m just always looking to try to explain things in different ways, because I know for myself, sometimes it just doesn’t sink in until I hear it for the tenth or ten thousandth time.

So are you doing Nano? Do you use Campbell and/or Vogler in plotting or revising your stories? Tell us about it!

Alex

 

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Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in a e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

 

 

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Amazon UK

Amazon DE

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Nanowrimo Prep: Campbell, Vogler, The Hero’s Journey, and a Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet

  1. Sarah W

    I love your posts about structure, Alex. I like to check them against my work to see if I'm on the right track (or near it).

    My comment was eaten on your last excellent post about Act One over at your place, but thanks to you I'm far more prepared for Nano than I was the last time. Or for any other writing project I've ever attempted, to be honest.

    And since I'm using Nano to jumpstart my next book project, if nothing else, I'll be thoroughly prepped for that, too.

    Thanks, Alex!

  2. Robin

    I've done Nano every year since 2007. Up til now haven't used Vogler but just purchased the book and will be taking mythic structure class through Writer's University online next year. All your posts have been really helpful and given me much insight into the process. Thanks!

  3. Rebecca Cantrell

    Thanks, Alex, for posting this! I'd downloaded a sample of your screenwriting book, but hadn't had time to look at it. Now, I'm just going to buy it and promise myself a chance to read it as a special. treat. I've read Campbell (tough going), Vogler, and Blake Edwards and this is a great amalgam of those theories.

    What a terrific cheat sheet!

  4. Jake Nantz

    I can never do NaNo because of grading (it's right in the heart of my second 9-weeks, and my High Schoolers have papers I gotta grade). Still, I love your posts on plot structure because I can not only use them in my writing, but I'm building a whole host of my creative writing students, partially by using the methods you've taught me to help them figure if they are a plotter or a pantser, and what to do when they find out.

    This is, yet again, an awesome assist. Thanks Alex!

  5. Reine

    Hmโ€“ my comment disappeared. I've been doing your NaNo prep, Alex. Very helpful. I don't follow form well. The more I write, however, the more it helps to review the story with form in mind. Each time I start out with at least a basic outline, the more I am able to write. I still find that my story is more revealed in the writing of it then through the outlining. I realize that could be misleading in that an outline might not reveal what I've done directly and may only appear to develop through the actual writing.

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