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My Study of the Hero’s Journey: An Adventure in Structure

I suck at structure.

Well, I suppose I should broaden that to plot structure, pacing, broad-strokes storytelling … the whole package, really. And maybe “suck” is too strong of a word, but I can say with confidence that it’s among the weakest aspects of my writing.

I’d guess that’s because it’s hard to teach any broad-stroke writing qualities. In my undergrad program, I was taught how to make beautiful sentences. My word choice, sentence clarity, lyricism, imagery, ability to cut needless verbiage, and other aspects of “tight prose” were repeatedly tested and refined. But while I could write thousands of sentences and learn through that process, it is a touch harder to write thousands of novels.

My awareness of this shortcoming has nagged at me for a long time, and I’ve made efforts to improve. Right now, though, I’m intent on focus-firing the issue until it’s nothing but ash.

My approach? Well, the number one thing I’m doing right now is studying conceptual frameworks for classic story structure. It’s not that I want to use this as a paint-by-numbers solution (tiny gods, no). But as I dissect various stories, having the language to describe what I’m seeing seems bound to make those readings more fruitful.

There is no singular framework that “defines” what a classic story is, but there are a few people who have done what they can to analyze the topic. I’m reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces, exploring ideas from Save the Cat, thumbing through Wonderbook, and otherwise diving into the idea. The goal will not be to choose the “right” model for me but to define my own framework and come to my own language.

While I make no guarantees, I currently believe that writing here in a rather free-form way will be to my advantage. I intend to revise and re-revise my way of thinking as I move forward, but provide updates here along the way as long as that approach remains useful.

So it’s a sort of adventure of my own into the mysteries of the hero’s journey. I’ll link to new posts below as I write them.

Write on,

Rob

7 Storytelling Lessons from Game of Thrones / ASoIaF

7-storytelling-lessons-asoiaf

I’m a big fan of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (commonly known by the name of its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones). It boasts a cast of richly complex characters, its setting is one of the most fascinating I’ve encountered, and it’s easily one of the most compelling stories I’ve read.

I’m currently on my second read-through of the books, and I thought I’d share some of the many storytelling lessons I’ve learned from the series. Let’s get to it!

1. History is a great place to draw inspiration.

Wars_of_the_Roses_Game_of_Thrones

Image courtesy of Starcasm

George RR Martin has made no secret of how much he’s pulled from history: While the Game of Thrones is being battled by Lannisters and Starks, the War of the Roses was fought by Lancasters and Yorks. Battles from our history and mythology play out in Westoros and Essos—but often with a dash of alchemy, dragons, or dark powers. Even weaponry and technology, like Valyrian steel, is based on mysteries from history, like Damascus steel.

It would be an exhausting process to list all the historical inspirations of the Song of Ice and Fire, but whatever specific instances we make note of, the lesson is clear: History makes for great source material, even in fantasy settings. After all, history was the result of complex conflicts between complex people—and that makes for a pretty compelling narrative.

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How to Touch a Bleeding Dog: Full Text and Analysis

Image courtesy of eple.us. Not originally associated with Rod Kessler's work.

Image courtesy of eple.us. Not originally associated with Rod Kessler’s work.

The following is the full text of Rod Kessler’s “How to Touch a Bleeding Dog.” It is a piece of flash fiction that can, broadly, be classified as “literary.”

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Punishment by Seamus Heaney – Full Text & Analysis

Since I’ve had trouble finding the full text of Seamus Heaney’s “Punishment” elsewhere on the web, I decided to transcribe it here. I’m pulling this directly from his poetry collection titled North, which you can buy here.

Bog Body - "The Adulteress"

Punishment

I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

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A Writer’s Review: Lessons from The Hobbit

I remember the curious faux-gold cover of my family’s 50th anniversary edition of The Hobbit, the curious incomprehensibility of the runes across the surface. I was familiar with the story of The Hobbit from before I could read at all (thanks to the animated movie), and reading the book itself was inevitable.

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit‘s release, I’ve re-visited the story. Now as then, it was a pleasant, easygoing read that launched me into a world that mixed equal parts fantasy and danger.

General Thoughts

4/5 stars

The Hobbit is a highly accessible adventure that mixes a powerfully constructed macro level (the plot is great, the world is enthralling) with a gritty sense of micro level (the everyday struggles faced by the cast). The balance between these two poles makes the book simultaneously relate-able and fantastic.

The narration is charming, the dialogue memorable, and the work itself founded a genre. If you haven’t read The Hobbit, you kind of have to. If you read it when you were young, it’s well worth re-visiting.

Lessons from Tolkien’s Strengths

Image via the Examiner

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