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I live on the ocean, write women's fiction, love to read so much that it's an addiction rather than a hobby (I read an average of a book a day). I live on the wet west coast so it's a good thing that I like to walk in the rain.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hero's journey - Stage 1 the ordinary world

Alice Munro says that all stories begin with a door opening, Margaret Atwood that all the best stories are at borders - and both of these ideas fit in perfectly with Stage 1 of the hero's journey (I'm using hero to mean both male and female protagonists, just as actor is used for both male and female actors).

We need to begin stories with a view of what the ordinary world is like - the world the hero is going to be leaving. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of ways of doing this, but some of the most common, and that make sense to us as readers, might include:

  • the living room just before the phone call
  • the town or city just before the earthquake or the fire
  • the office just before the "you're fired" conversation
  • the relationship just before the divorce, the death, the argument
  • the hotel just before the murderer appears
  • the satisfactory life just before the One appears to screw everything up

You'll notice that I've used the word just in each one of these examples and that's because no matter what kind of story you're telling, you want to start in the middle of the action. It might be as simple as picking up a bag before stepping out a door on an errand or on a trip. It might be as complicated as Alice sleeping in the garden before she falls into the rabbit hole.

This is where you start thinking about the problem - what is it that has to be solved? Why are we interested? Right here, right here in the world when everything seems okay is when we need to start thinking about the conflict.

You need to start by setting it up so we see the hero and the relationship to the background they begin with. This relationship - between hero and the life they're living - is crucial. We don't need to know everything but maybe we do need to know enough to understand why the journey is going to be both crucial and difficult for the hero. If you have a hero who loves order, whose whole life is organized, we know that if they're thrown into chaos they're going to panic and they're going to have to learn to cope.

Because the hero's journey is all about going somewhere - intellectual, emotional, physical - where we have to learn something we didn't know before, something that forces us to grow as a human being.

This stage allows you to set up the potential dichotomies - the accountant who's forced into a war, the high school dropout who has to go to university, the person who's always in control forced into a situation that cannot in any way control, the man who prides himself on his intellectual acumen forced into a boxing ring, the woman who hates kids forced to become a mother.

Think of the books you've read, the movies you've seen that do this kind of thing.

Get your first step right, the relationship between the hero and their background, allow us to see who they are, what they prize the most (order, control, calm, stability, physical challenges, intellectual challenges), and we know, though maybe not consciously, that the thing that is going to happen to the hero is the thing that challenges them the most.

The entire story is built upon this - Christopher Vogler says to remember that "every hero starts somewhere" - they have a place to live, a family, a past. Stage 1 helps us set this up.

If you have any questions about this, don't hesitate to email me. I'll try and answer them.

Kate

1 comment:

readingissomuchfun said...

WoW this was an interesting read :)


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Linda.H.