Who’s the hero?

by Suw on May 15, 2009

I haven’t worked much on The Revenge of the Books of Hay lately, mainly because I’ve been insanely busy with moving house, travel and work. It’s nice to be busy with paying work after the crappy year last year was, but it hasn’t left me with much mental space to think about, well, anything much.

It’s also been because I hit a bit of an impasse when I realised I had more backstory than story, and wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it. I haven’t felt particularly compelled to flesh out the story of the people of Hay and couldn’t really see why that would be interesting. It was only when I was talking to Kev over dinner the other night that I realised something I had, stupidly, failed to see.

The story’s main protagonists are a book and a cat. (Yes, yes, humour me.) I knew that, but I hadn’t really clocked that the most important character in the story is the cat, not the book as I had previously thought. It is he who is called to action, he who must fight the forces of evil, and he who must prevail in the final showdown in order to win… well, I won’t say what. If you’ve ready Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, you might recognise those as key stages of the hero’s journey.

When I wrote Tag, my one and hopefully only ever script, I followed the hero’s journey without even knowing it. It was only later, reading Hero with a Thousand Faces that I realised how cleanly my story fit the ‘monomyth’. It was, at the time, rather satisfying to realise that I had absorbed the archetypal mythical structure so well that I was reproducing it without thinking.

Looking now at Books of Hay and thinking that it’s already starting to fit the hero’s journey (in the way that an elephant fits in a Mini) is both comforting and depressing. On the one hand, if I wanted to follow the formula, it would be easy. I already have a call to adventure, a fragment of the road of trials, and a boon, and it would be a relatively simple thing to map out the rest of the formula and fill in the blanks.

On the other hand, it’s depressing to think of a story reduced to a formula, no matter how timeless that formula is. I don’t want to end up writing something that’s drab and predictable, but rejecting the formula and deliberately trying to write something that doesn’t fit is just as fraught with problems. Remember the last book you read or film you watched that tried too hard to be different? Annoying, wasn’t it?

Part of me wishes I’d never read Hero with a Thousand Faces. Then I’d be able to just write the story that is in my head and not have to worry about following/not following a predetermined plot. Although it’s handy to realise that I need to focus more on my ginger tom’s story, it’s going to be a bugger to not slip into predictable patterns.

Cat May 17, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Campbell only pointed out what was already there, Suw. Remember that. He didn’t prescribe the formula. Go with what your gut tells you, forget that there is a “formula.” Don’t force the story into a shape it doesn’t want to take; let it flow, and then later, six months or a year or whatever after you get it finished, take a sledgehammer and a chainsaw to it–not literally, of course. 😉

Tom Reynolds May 17, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Have a look at this for something a little different.


Vincent May 18, 2009 at 12:34 pm

I’m glad I’ve never read ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ and while I don’t know, I suspect the methodology used to create it suffers a bit from confirmation bias. I much prefer thinking of stories simply as metaphors – you have a theme that you illustrate through, generally, as few scenes as possible. Not that I actually pay much attention to that approach either…

Tom’s link is interesting though.

Eigon June 25, 2009 at 7:22 pm

It’s not so much a ‘formula’ – more of an ‘archetype’.
Like the similarities between (off the top of my head) Buffy and Lord of the Rings – a small group of disparate and seemingly weak characters are none the less the only thing that can stand against the Ultimate Evil.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: