Sunday, November 21, 2010

Journey's in Writing

A good story always takes me on a journey. I become immersed in the character and, if it's a good story, I arrive at the end satisfied. In my fantasy novel, Rightful Heirs, (which is in pieces) each of the main characters goes on a physical journey and the plot largely revolves around this necessity to travel to a specific place and all the things which befall them along the way. In large part they are being chased. However, the part I need to figure out is the character arc. I need to figure out how the journey changes them and why. I haven't figured that out yet and this is precisely why this story currently sits in pieces.

In the book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler, the author talks about the arch character types and the journey they go on. I have written about the way he works with plot in an earlier post, Journey's. In this way of plotting there are two important thresholds or climaxes. The first occurs when the main character leaves the "real world" or starting point of the story and becomes committed to the journey. Once the character has entered this domain he/she is tested and changed, finally to return back to the "real world" through the last threshold a having learnt something and become a different person. Of course there are mini thresholds in between. Definitely worth a read.

I, like all my artistic endeavours, have difficulty with the simple. I was the art student who, when we had to make picture using stencils, air brushes and at least 2 colours (so 2 stencils for a picture), decided to do a cat with a food bowl, a bow tie, different colour eyes and... I think I had like 5 stencils. When we did block printing instead of making a simple blocked image I did a squirrel, cutting out the feathered edges and leaving very little of the actual block. Why would my writing be any different? Perhaps this is why I love Christopher Voglers plot model so much. I have been able to adapt it and stretch it and squish many different threads and plots into this model to greater and lesser success.

Of course, there is more to a journey than plot. The character must change or shift in who they are from the beginning to the end of the piece. It is this emotional journey that the reader craves. I want to hold my breath in danger, gasp in surprise and cry at heartbreak. A recent article in The Writer's Guide to Fiction, published by the Writer magazine and titled The Driving Force Behind Plot, by Robert Olen Butler, refers to this as yearning. In the article he talks about how what the character want drives the plot and mentions that this is what can make the difference between a story being just words or pulsing with life. He's totally right. In the article he gives examples of how to convey this yearning through writing.

And so it is these pieces which I need to figure out for each story I write. Sometimes this means writing a whole lot of empty words first, kind of like walking through a forest until I stumble upon the right path. In Times Heart, the YA novel I'm working on amongst other projects, I wrote a scene where Fabula (the main character) goes out in a fog to feed the chickens. The story droned on and on with out much life until I realized that he didn't want to be there. He wanted to find Old Rumier, his mentor, because he was worried about him. So, despite the danger of getting lost in the fog and all the difficulties he might face, he took off to do that and when he did the story came alive.

Tonight, as I sit and ponder which piece to work on and consider their many journeys, I realize some have similar threads. I wonder why we as writers are compelled these journeys which our characters are forced to embark on? And what compels us to write different stories on the same theme? It's almost like we are completing the same journey in many different lives (a sub theme which runs strongly in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series)? Are they a refection of the journeys we are each embarked upon or a way of expanding our understanding? Is it because we have an inherent need to explore the unknown or the need to pass on our experiences and lessons? Is it to document what people are living and experiencing today or is it larger, a need to evoke a change in thought - to enable others to see the world in a different light? What is it that drives us to write what it is we write?

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