Who’s Calling, Please? ADVENTURE!

Posted by triloci | Posted in Movies, Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 21-02-2012-05-2008


Continued from The Ordinary World.

Once we’ve met the hero and explored his or her world, it’s time for something to happen. This is the adventure.

The Call to Adventure is the beginning of what in classic structure is called the Inciting Incident. The Hero’s Journey breaks it down into three parts: The Call/Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor, and Crossing the First Threshold.

Don’t be misled by the word “adventure.” Not  every story is about a swashbuckler. “Call to Adventure” refers to that event which tilts the playing field of the hero’s life and forces him into action.

In a romance, for example, the call to adventure comes when the two main characters meet. In some stories, the call is more literal. The call in The Terminator happens when Kyle and Sarah first meet and he says “Come with me if you want to live.” And in The Matrix, Morpheus calls Neo on the phone. And his words don’t diverge much from Kyle’s, essentially “Listen to me if you want to escape.”

Even if you’re writing a memoir or creative nonfiction, there’s still a moment when the protagonist’s life changes. In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert answers a call to go on a globetrotting adventure in search of herself. (Kind of like the Call in City Slickers. “Go find your smile.”) In a story about a mother coping with the loss of a child, the loss is the Call.

Liz, Meet the Terminator.

Termy, meet Liz.

With these events, you’re laying the groundwork that will lead to an emotionally satisfying climax. Make it count and don’t skip over it.

When adventure comes calling, the hero must answer.

So why do heroes sometimes Refuse the Call?

Ordinary? Extra-Ordinary!

Posted by triloci | Posted in Philosophy, Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 14-11-2011-05-2008


What makes the ordinary ordinary? That question is at the heart of the opening to any well-told story. 2300 years ago, Aristotle wrote “Poetics,” widely considered the first work about dramatic theory.

Literary Theory’s Beginnings

In Poetics, Aristotle gave us Beginning, Middle and End. In The Hero with A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell explained what makes up each of those parts, and how they are found in virtually all stories from all cultures and time periods. In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler explains how what Campbell describes is important for writers. Combine this with a solid knowledge of archetypes and dramatic scenarios, and you have a powerful tool kit for telling a tale, from the simplest fable to the grandest epic. From memoir to fantasy, all good stories have the elements of the Hero’s Journey coded within. In this series of posts, I will discuss each stage of the Journey and give some examples.

Simply put, the Hero’s Journey, as Campbell wrote, is: “A Hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boon on his fellow man.”

What is your world of common day?

Next: Adventure’s Calling, Should You Answer?

Approach Not the Beast

Posted by triloci | Posted in Movies, Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 13-04-2011-05-2008


Continued from Allies, Enemies, Betrayals.

Now that your hero has some idea of what’s going on, it’s time to reorganize, recommit and retest. Now the hero, having been forged upon the anvil of the First Threshold, now turns the tables and tests his allies. Are they really allies? Their commitment to the adventure must be tested. Things may go wrong, or the Man may come around with some tempting offers.

This is where Cypher in the Matrix reveals his true colors. He doesn’t care if it isn’t real. He’s sick of the shit. He’s the false friend, seeking only to exploit the hero. He sows dissension among the hero’s core group, accusing them of exploitation – projecting what he is guilty of doing himself. This sets up his nasty and nearly catastrophic betrayal. He’s the trickster archetype, who lives to raise doubt cause strife. Thus, he fulfills both his dramatic and thematic functions.

Now the stakes increase. Now instead of pulling off the revolution or getting the girl, the hero’s very life is at stake. In Toy Story 3, which is very intense and scary, they toys come to the brink of the abyss. About to go over the edge into the lake of fire, they are doomed. They are literally at the cusp of hell. At the last minute, our heroes are saved by the timely intervention of allies previously made – the aliens.

Next: Belly of the Beast.

Allies, Enemies, Betrayers

Posted by triloci | Posted in Movies, Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 11-04-2011-05-2008


Continued from The Hero’s First Test

So your Hero has made it to the Special World, figured out some of its rules, and met some of the inhabitants. Maybe he’s even figured out what he’s supposed to do. But how to get there? Who will help, who will hinder and who will just distract? Your hero will make some mistakes here, maybe ones that really hurt. He may trust the wrong person, or try to apply the rules of the Ordinary World to the Special World.In the instant classic Enchanted, what does Princess Giselle do upon finding herself in our world – the Special World of the film? Why, she heads for the castle, of course, to her chagrin and our comic delight.

In many stories, a false ally will befriend the hero. The wicked witch acts friendly towards sleeping beauty, but she just wants to get rid of her. The false friend is so common it’s almost its own archetype.

In your story, who helps your hero, who hinders your hero, who supports, who denies, and who pretends? It’s a maze out there, and it’s your chance to be Ariadne.

Next: Approach Not the Beast.

The Hero’s First Test

Posted by triloci | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-04-2011-05-2008


Continued from Red Pill or Blue?

Once the Hero has crossed into the Special World, everything changes. People and places differ, often catching the Hero off guard. New rules apply and old ones fall away. Even the basic rules for survival may change, and the Hero’s must watch her step or be swept away by a minor misunderstanding turned large.

In The Wizard of Oz, the filmmakers rendered the change by switching to color from black and white. The Hero of The Matrix literally wakes up in a different world. Both excellent metaphors for the monumental change the Hero has encountered.

Having accepted the call, the Hero now finds herself needing to test her skills – can she understand or even survive the special world?

Many Hero’s fail the first test. “No one makes the jump the first time,” Neo is informed in The Matrix, and the characters even bet on whether he will or not.

In the traditional three-act structure, this is the first half of the second act, a time where many stories drag. The rush of discovery upon entering the Special World has worn off, and the Hero is probably in some real danger and in need of allies at this point.

Next: Allies, Enemies and Betrayers

Red Pill or Blue? Accepting the Call.

Posted by triloci | Posted in Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 30-03-2011-05-2008


When Neo takes the Red Pill, he makes a choice to cross the threshold of adventure. He must find out what the Matrix is. He takes a leap of faith that foreshadows his later, greater, leap of faith when he comes to master the Matrix.

The threshold, the ordinary world of the hero and mentor combine to form the motivation to push the hero over the edge.

Many heroes enter the adventure unwillingly. In Back to the Future, Marty is pushed into the past by the Doc’s reckless reliance on Libyan terrorists. In Groundhog Day, Phil’s inability to love literally catches him in an endless, hellish time loop. Even Luke Skywalker needed to go clean some power converters or generators or whatever. Dorothy is carried over that great metaphor, the rainbow. But all of them get pushed on by forces beyond their control – by an arm of the shadow archetype.

Other Heroes embrace the adventure willingly. In Sideways, Miles and Jack can’t wait to get on the road, although their ideas of the adventure are very different. One of my favorite thresholds can be found in Stardust, where the hero has to outwit a crusty old guard that he cannot defeat through sheer force and leap over a low wall to get to the land of adventure.

So the manner of the threshold affects the crossing. If the hero does not commit by the time he reaches the threshold, he will spend most of the adventure fighting himself and will lose sight of his goals.

The true hero recognizes that he must commit, that the leap of faith is not an option. He must confront the adventure head-on or he will die. The threshold represents the leaps of faith we all take whenever we commit to something. Fulfilling even the simplest commitment can often drain a person.

Willing or not, we live. We experience adventure at every turn. Without the leap of faith, what is the point of life?

Mentors and Thresholds

Posted by triloci | Posted in Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 22-03-2011-05-2008


The Mentor guides the hero, gives advice and provides information. The Mentor encourages the Hero to take the leap of faith, even if that leap is not in the hero’s best interest. The mentor will often test the hero to prepare him for the special world.  Ultimately, the Mentor is the person who pushes the Hero over the Threshold of Adventure.

In Greek Mythology, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus. Athena took the guise of Mentor to help Odysseus’s son fight off his mom’s suitors. Morpheus, Gandalf and Obi-Wan Kanobe are classic mentors. Morpheus “tests” Neo in the training sequences. In military stories, the mentor is often a drill instructor, like Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey) in Full Metal Jacket.

The Mentor archetype is connected to the concept of masks. The mentor will don disguises to convince or trick the hero. In The Family Man, Cash Money (Don Cheadle) plays something of a trickster mentor. He gives Jack (Nic Cage) the opportunity to experience the “glimpse” of his life with family. We never find out if the lottery ticket is “real” or not, for Jack it was the ticket to the land over the rainbow. He wins the lottery because he gets to meet his kids. Cash also “helps” Jack when he arrives in the special world. He lays down a few ground rules, and then leaves him in the dirt without so much as a “You’re on your own!” When Jack sees Cash again, he has shapeshifted – he’s now the shopkeeper, and he heralds the end of the adventure.

“Four Leaf” Tayback (Nick Nolte) in Tropic Thunder is also an unreliable narrator. He gets the director to make the movie (mentors him) and the director gets killed almost immediately.

Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for portraying one of the great mentors, Hannibal Lecter, who infamously wears a gruesome mask at the end.

Is there a character in your story who is a full-blown mentor? Do other characters wear the mask of the mentor at some point?

Would it benefit your story to develop a mentor character where there is none?

Cross the Threshold of Adventure.

Identifying Archteypes & Characters

Posted by triloci | Posted in Movies, Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 10-02-2011-05-2008


Continued from Holding Out for A Hero

Next time you’re deeply involved in a film or a book – fiction, non-fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction, even a TV show (where it’s often most obvious), whatever, try to identify the traits of the characters in terms of the most closely matching zodiac sign. I know the zodiac well, so I often also assign moon and house signs as well.

You don’t need to “believe” in astrology or even know it very well to do this. Just take a simple list of characteristics and use it as a starting point.

For example, you might have a character who is very impractical. Impracticality is a Sagittarius trait. Sag is also seeker, usually of esoteric or spiritual knowledge. But they can be very dogmatic. They can be broad thinking and optimistic, but easily discouraged. So now you have a short list of traits that you can apply to your own character, thus fleshing and rounding the character out.

You’ll find, when you encounter a story with well-defined characters, their behavior is predictable. They, like real people, are who they are, and they will always act the same way. The cop (Saturn/Taurus) always goes after the shady, slippery criminal (Neptune/Pisces). Neither can help who they are. This defines and sharpens their relationship, and tells us as the writer how to write them.

The recent film Black Swan, written by Mark Heyman, Andre Heinz and John J. McLaughlin and directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a push-pull between a Pisces character, Thomas (Vincent Cassel – “I want there to be no boundaries between us.”), and a Virgo character, Nina (Natalie Portman – “I just want to be perfect.”)

A lack of respect for boundaries is a classic Pisces trait. Perfectionism is a classic Virgo trait. So those lines, along with their motivations and the very definition of their conflict, is simply encoded by understanding the archetypes of Pisces and Virgo.

One of the best places to play this game is with the old TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation. To me, the show plays as a postmodern “Greek Gods to the Stars” and each character has easily identifiable traits. Picard is the wise ruler – astrologically, Saturn (ruler) in Pisces (wise). Data is Sun (self) in Virgo (the student, the amateur). Riker is Pluto (executive) in Leo (swashbuckler) – and he slyly represents the Pluto in Leo generation (the Boomers). Look for more on this topic in future posts.

Holding Out for A Hero

Posted by triloci | Posted in Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 10-02-2011-05-2008


Continued from Is There A Black Swan in Your Hero’s Recipe?

The four basic baking ingredients have analogues in the Hero’s Journey.

Sugar represents passion, drama, theme and motivation.

Flour represents plot, setting, description and archetypes (character)

Salt represents dialogue, tone, relationships [actually, connections] (functional and dysfunctional), and conflict.

Oil [and/or water - any liquid, really] represents emotion, humanity, relationships, resources, sympathy and empathy

This “basic ingredient” list for storytelling can serve as a device to help you analyze your stories for depth. It’s also a handy reference tool to help you see if all the ingredients you need for a good story are present.

A good story begins with good characters. I like to start building characters with archetypes. I don’t always stick to the form, but they make a great starting point.

When working with archetypes, you inevitably come across the zodiac and it’s classical “elements” of fire, earth, air and water. While of course we now know that things are made of more than just these, they haven’t entirely lost their usefulness. In the postmodern age, these classical elements and the zodiac signs make convenient groupings for our archetypes. The zodiac is a ready-made character generator with which most people are at least passingly familiar.

The four elements also match up with our basic ingredients.

Element         Ingredient           Hero’s Journey

Fire               Sugar                   Passion

Earth             Flour                    Structure (Plot)

Air                 Salt                     Dialogue

Water            Butter/Oil              Emotion

Next: Identifying Characters & Archetypes

Is There A Black Swan in Your Hero’s Recipe?

Posted by triloci | Posted in Movies, Storytelling, Writing | Posted on 05-02-2011-05-2008


Basic baking requires only a very small number of ingredients used over and over again in different proportions, combinations and forms. The number of things you can bake with just sugar, butter, flour and baking soda is nearly uncountable. Oh, there are a multitude of additional items that will enhance the final product, but those four are the most basic. More importantly, you cannot bake without them, or their equivalents. With these, you fashion your dough. All baking requires dough.

Once you have that dough, you can embellish it to your heart’s content with all the cinnamon or chocolate or extra eggs you can find.

By the same token, the Hero’s Journey is a recipe. It has a few simple ingredients, without which you don’t really have a story. Once the foundation of your story is in place – once you have your dough – you can go from a simple tale to a heartbreaking work of staggering genius by adding a few enhancements.

Continued: Holding Out for A Hero