As you may remember, I've been stuck the last several weeks in figuring out how to structure my current novel. I've even taken a 10-day hiatus from early morning writing and worked on poetry instead. Now I'm on an 8-day writing retreat up on Whidbey Island north of Seattle. At the last minute (well, about 20 minutes before I was to leave), I glanced at my bookshelf and saw The Writer's Journey, a classic on the structure of story based on Joseph Campbell's work, by Christopher Vogler. I've had this book on my shelf for about a year and took it on another writing retreat some months ago but didn't even open it. But this time, something said, take this.
So, on Wednesday, my first full day of the retreat. I read several chapters, including a piece called "A Practical Guide" that Vogler circulated among his colleagues at Disney Studios for analyzing and repairing scripts. In the guide, he outlines the 12 phases of the hero's journey, derived from Campbell, and I could very quickly see which parts of my story (i.e., phases) were present and what was missing.
As I've said before in this blog, I'm a "pantser" as a writer. I write by the seat of my imagination, letting the story unfold, rather than outlining and engineering it all in advance. So in the unfolding of the first 3/4 of this novel, characters have appeared that I wasn't quite sure what to do with, in particular, a young boy. At first, I thought I was writing a mystery novel about this young boy but that isn't how the novel began to evolve. And then I couldn't figure out what to do with him, why he was there. I thought about eliminating him but it was too intriguing a beginning to the story.
When I read through Vogler's 12 phases, I suddenly knew why he was there and it was extraordinarily exciting. While that hasn't solved all my structural issues, it has resolved several other major plot problems and I am happily writing again.