Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Hero's Journey -- To Campbell Or Not To Campbell

Heroes walk around in circles a lot.
This week, let's look at the hero's journey and how it applies the work of creating stories.

When you create an adventure for your hero, do you think in terms of quest and journey, and to what degree? If not, why do they not appeal to you?

Lee Houston Jr.: To me, "quest" implies an actual search for something, while "journey" is more about the voyage itself, and life is the ultimate trip for everyone, so it would depend upon the character. Right now Alpha (my superhero) will be embarking upon a quest to discover himself and his place in the universe starting with his second book. Meanwhile, Hugh Monn, Private Detective has been more upon a journey. He's wanting to live his life the best he can and leave the dark past I've been hinting at in the character behind him. But in his third book...

Bill Craig:
Every story involves a quest of some sort, whether it is the answer to a question ie a mystery, finding a lost treasure, self-discovery, or the meaning of life.  No story can begin without there being an underlying quest.  Example: In my Decker P.I. Title A Cold and Lonely Death, after Sam Decker meets a girl on the beach, she is murdered so he sets out on a quest to find out why.  In my Jericho Walls, Texas Ranger title Trail to Trouble, the Texas Ranger comes across a dying man and sets out on a quest to bring his killers to justice.  In Atlas Shrugged, the reader joins a quest to answer the question Who is John Gault?  Every story is driven by a quest of some sort.

Van Allen Plexico:
My focus is almost always on the central characters and how they change (or are changed) by the events of the story.  I realize that in pulp this isn't "quite" as true as in other forms of fiction, since the serial nature of the stories (the main character bouncing from victory to victory across years or decades of publications) requires (or even demands) less change than in other fiction.  Nonetheless, when I write any kind of fiction I try to centralize most everything around "What is the protagonist like at the beginning, what happens to them along the way, and how have they changed as a result?"

H. David Blalock:
All writers use the concept of the hero's journey whether they know it or not. It's not difficult to do. It is, after all, instinctive even in writers.

Jim Park: Mostly with Me, the entire story-line form's by itself, easily and fully... then I just Name, sex, and fit all the Characters, clothes, even background fill-in's to the storyboard.

Nancy Hansen: I don't think of it in the classic Joseph Campbell sense, I'm just trying to get a tale told and make it interesting along the way. It often turns out sounding like a heroic quest or epic journey because that's what makes a good story more appealing. I'm generally not an outliner; I start with a visual idea for a pivotal scene, or now and then I might want to write something including an issue that speaks to me, and then the story builds itself around that. In the anthology I wrote that just got released (THE HUNTRESS OF GREENWOOD), there are two stories that contrast those criteria. For 'Winter Of The White Beasts' I had a mental image of a grieving farm wife standing in her snowy yard with the partly mutilated corpses of her father and husband before her, and I gave that story to Roshanna. In 'The Archer Monk' I'd been reading about how the VA was struggling for funding to treat our American military people who were wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I got thinking about how that would be handled in Roshanna's world—which lead to a former archer turned monk entering an archery contest with a cash prize that he wants to use to help treat neglected veterans. Sometimes I'm not sure what's the purpose of the adventure is until the story is pretty much told. Like it real life, my characters often have those introspective moments well after the crisis ends.

Raydeen Graffam: I tend to think of it as 'change' -- like the inciting incident. From that point, the character changes. Everything that happens changes not only the character but the path. And hopefully the reader changes in some way as well.

Shelby Vick: I like starting with action, whilst painting a colorful picture for the reader. Often my only 'outline' is: Hero is in trouble, is faced with a dilemma, is faced with horrific creatures that seem unbeatable, sometimes slips - but always pulls himself up, perseveres and, despite great opposition, wins.

For those who do use the framework of the journey to some degree, is it something you've internalized or is it something you consciously apply to your plotting and planning?


And some journey over and over again.
Robert C. Roman Jr.:  While I'm writing, I keep things a bit more organic. I'm telling a story, and evolution of character is driven by and in turn drives events. It's not a question of appeal so much as habit. I turn to the journey / quest model when I'm stuck or reviewing, to see if there is something I've forgotten that will unstick me or enhance the tale. I'd say it's completely valid as an abstract, living model, but too many try to use it as a concrete, rigid structure. When used that way, it fails.

Nancy Hansen: It's definitely internalized with me. I have a series of novels right now starting with FORTUNE'S PAWN that have a journey aspect to them, though the main characters are basically just being swept along by both prophecy and events. I'm an organic writer, I let the story tell me what it needs. As long as I know where I want it to arrive, I just point and shoot from the keyboard.


Bill Craig: The quest is always going to be there.  The question usually comes in how am I going to use the quest to define both the characters and the story?  Because the events the characters undergo, the challenges they face, help define them as people and as characters.  What challenges will they face, how much adversity will it take to push them beyond what they thought they were limited to?  Will the experience make them stronger?  Or will it break them?  I usually work from a one-two paragraph outline, which usually defines the quest in the broadest possible terms, however it is always in the back of my mind as I work and comes out in the telling of the story by providing those defining moments for hero, villian, and peripherial characters.

H. David Blalock: The "hero's journey" concept is, IMHO, applicable to all literature, not just fantasy and highbrow. Joseph Campbell summarized the steps, but the basic idea is the hero gets a call, overcomes obstacles with and without help, faces the final
enemy alone then during the anticlimax may run into a minor problem to further imprint and accentuate his growth.

Lee Houston Jr.: Even if your writing episodic adventures of a character, where what happened in today's tale may never be referenced again; there is no way you can totally ignore past events within that character's life, because that's what adds the details and help shapes that person into who they are. The same goes for real life as well. While I do not make such a perspective the forefront of my work, it is a point of view that I always keep in mind when I write. For the Pulp Obscura projects I've worked on, I read all the previous adventures of each character, and then wrote my contribution as if it was the very next installment of that particular series.

Is it still even valid for today's stories, or should the hero's journey remain relegated to fantasy and highbrow fiction?

You mean there was a plan to this trip after all?
Charles Berton: My son brings up the hero's journey a lot. I always say fine, but let it not be deliberate. I'm always skeptical of formulas. I'm also skeptical about gearing your story towards a certain genre or demographic too. But I know that with many, business is business. I put art before business, but then after the art is created, THEN I put on my business hat.

H. David Blalock: Novels and short stories depend on that structure. It's what people expect because it satisfies some basic instinct in each person: that the individual can overcome any challenge. After all, if we can't, what's the purpose of life?

Lee Houston Jr.: While it may not be at the forefront of every story, or even an obvious search like for the deus ex machina of the tale, the journey is just as important (at least to me) as the adventures themselves, for the reasons I stated in the previous two questions about how they affect people, both real and imagined.

Bill Craig:
The Hero's Journey is part of every story that is told, be it about a homeless kid with nothing who goes on to be a successful business man or crook, to that of a frightend youn unwed mother striking out to make a life for her unborn child, it is all part of the same story laid out in the simple framework of the Hero's Journey.  It is valid today as it was when the idea was first put forth, be it fantasy, western, space opera, adventure story, romance, thriller, mystery or "mainstream" literature whatever that may be.

Nancy Hansen: What—fantasy isn't highbrow fiction? Nobody ever told me! I don't get too caught up in trying to moralize, because it slows a story down. My early writer training was in writing for children and teenagers. One thing that was stressed was not to preach or moralize to the readers, but to let the characters figure things out on their own, and show what they've learned in the course of the tale. I've never forgotten that, and it's served me well. I think you can do a hero's journey in any story—and that includes pulp— as long as you have light touch with it and don't let the weight of the lessons learned yank down the entertaining moments of action and adventure. So if you're going to have an introspective moment, either do it in the trenches while the bullets are flying and bombs are exploding all around, or later in the tavern while the swords are clean and sheathed, the ogre's head is on a pike outside the town gate, and a second round ale is on the house. Little snips here and there, inserted into a story, are enough to let the reader know our heroine has grown up a bit.