Saturday, August 21, 2010

Nutting out great story lines

I just went to a terrific one-day seminar - Christopher Vogler's 'The Writer's Journey' Workshop. It's so great when someone is able to make things fall into place for you.
I've known for years about the work of the late Joseph Campbell, the much admired scholar/historian who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for years and I kept looking at it thinking "I must get into that" but never did. After a few half-hearted attempts to penetrate his academic prose I put it back on the shelf. Which was fine except that I found myself, for the second time, with a novel at the 30,000 word mark and stuck on how to proceed.
Vogler, who has heaps of Hollywood script-writing and doctoring experience, demystifies Campbell with his own work. He's written a series of books which outline the essentials for every great story, whether on paper or screen. I raced home from his workshop dived into a novel with Vogler's notes in hand, analysing it at every step to see how well it conformed to Campbell's formula (which he worked out from studying ancient plays and myths going back thousands of years). Twelve hours later I was thoroughly convinced. And was intrigued to realise that in writing my first two published novels I had instinctively followed the magic pattern.
You don't need to attend a whole workshop as Vogler, bless him, has put the basics online as a free download.
It contains the text of a career-changing memo about story that he wrote to his Hollywood bosses way back in 1985. Mr Vogler is a nice guy. As we talked during a break I told him how much I enjoyed hearing his opening address. He talked about how reading Campbell's work was a huge revelation for him - so big that it was as if he felt an arrow of purpose shooting through him from 20 or 30 generations back - and that in that moment he knew exactly what he was here on Earth to do. Lucky guy - lots of us spend a whole lifetime trying to figure that out!
His breakthrough moment has been extra important to him, he said, because he's had no children, and the fact that his books are out there helping others with the secrets of good storytelling is hugely important to him in the sense of legacy. So... back I go to my manuscript...
Thanks to the great gals at the Romance Writers Association of New Zealand for bringing him to New Zealand!
See him here too