Getting Lost in Your Own Genius

Posted: March 28, 2014 in crime, Heroes, Mysteries, Plot, Suspense, Thrillers, Uncategorized, Writing
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In a March 20 New York Times Sunday Book Review, Harlan Coben: By the Book, Coben said, “I’m not big on the term ‘genre’, though that complaint may sound self-serving. I look at it not as a “genre” but as a form, like a haiku or sonata, where you can still have large themes and move people with language and story, and play with their expectations. Certain forms are wonderful because they compel you to tell a story and not get too lost in your own genius. This is often a healthy thing for a novelist.”

The Power of MythThe form that many thriller writers use to “stay on course” comes from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, which was synthesized by Christopher Vogel into the very readable The Writer’s Journey.  At least I do.

Campbell identified seventeen stages of the hero’s journey, which Vogel distilled into twelve. They are:

  1. Ordinary World: This step refers to the hero’s normal life at the start of the story, before the adventure begins.
  2. Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with something that makes him begin his adventure. This might be a problem or a challenge he needs to overcome.
  3. Refusal of the Call: The hero attempts to refuse the adventure because he is afraid.
  4. Meeting with the Mentor: The hero encounters someone who can give him advice and ready him for the journey ahead.
  5. Crossing the First Threshold: The hero leaves his ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: The hero learns the rules of his new world. During this time, he endures tests of strength of will, meets friends, and comes face to face with foes.
  7. Approach: Setbacks occur, sometimes causing the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
  8. Ordeal: The hero experiences a major hurdle or obstacle, such as a life or death crisis.
  9. Reward: After surviving death, the hero earns his reward or accomplishes his goal.
  10. The Road Back: The hero begins his journey back to his ordinary life.
  11. Resurrection Hero – The hero faces a final test where everything is at stake and he must use everything he has learned.
  12. Return with Elixir:  The hero brings his knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world, where he applies it to help all who remain there.

I’ll be periodically reviewing these stages. But I must warn you:  I don’t always follow Campbell’s path.  (Why don’t I? Well, as Campbell once said, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

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