At my last writer’s residency, sitting in my hotel room with a glass of wine in hand, a fellow writer and good friend pulled out a piece of paper and educated me in the fine art of plotting. I previously had miniature lessons in plot (“your story must have three things…”), but nothing as in-depth as the little mountain range of “rising action” and “denoument” my friend drew for me.
Thankfully, she also introduced me to The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. A guide more than a formula or prescription, his book provides an approach to understanding the ingredients of a story as a hero’s journey with twelve stages. I’ve been reading his book while working on my own novel. Here is a glimpse of my daily “writer’s journey” using the Character Arc from Vogler’s book.
Character Arc/Ashley’s Journey
1) Limited Awareness of a problem: Ashley thinks she has enough coffee to begin writing, but really doesn’t.
2) Increased Awareness: Her frequent yawing and eye-rubbbing has made it difficult for her to see her computer screen, and as a result, nothing has been written.
3) Reluctance to Change: Ashley surfs the interweb, thinking the morning’s headlines will encourage her to write. They don’t.
4) Overcoming Reluctance: Her computer freezes in the middle of a cat-video. She realizes she’s been watching cat-videos for the past half hour. She resolves to start writing after a reboot.
5) Committing to Change: The computer refuses to reboot. Ashley finds a Steno notepad and pencil, and begins writing.
6) Experimenting with First Change:
Ashley writes a sentence then crosses it out. She begins another.
7) Preparing for Big Change: With a full paragraph of scribbles, arrows, and margin notes pieced together, Ashley feels she deserves a break and returns to her kitchen for another cup of coffee.
8) Attempting Big Change: After her second cup of coffee and another paragraph, the winds of productivity pick up for our dear writer.
9) Consequences of the Attempt (improvements and setbacks): Now, Ashley has written 200 words. While in the middle of her next sentence, she remembers she left the coffee pot on. She scurries away from her desk to rescue the sizzling and odorous decanter from crusting over with inky sludge. And, after all the coffee she drank, she has to go to the bathroom. When she finally returns to her desk, her next sentence is lost.
10) Rededication to Change: In frustration, Ashley stabs the Steno notepad with her pencil. The tip breaks. Rifling through her desk drawer, she notices that her computer screen is glowy again. She opens her word processing program.
11) Final Attempt at Big Change: She begins to transcribe the writing from her Steno notepad to her word processor, only to spill the remnants of her coffee on the notepad. Loss: 112 words.
12) Final Mastery of the Problem: Ashley starts her story over from the beginning. When her pinky reaches for her delete key, she finds that she has punched the key with such force in the past that now the key is broken. Her only choice is to keep writing. (Note to hero: call computer-repair-person when first draft is completed).